The ‘not a chance’ crowd
With apologies to Usman Garuba, Bruno Fernando, Daishen Nix, Marquese Chriss, David Nwaba, Boban Marjanovic, Sterling Brown, Josh Christopher, Trey Burke, and Kenyon Martin Jr., there is no chance anyone of them will be the Rockets’ best player. More than half of them will likely be on a different team to finish the season, and none are talented enough to be the best player on an NBA team. They’re NBA players, they’re amazing at basketball, but they’re not in the top-5% of the top-.1%.
What are the chances that one of the rookies is the Rockets’ best player?
Rookies usually struggle to make a dent in the NBA. Take last season as an example. According to FiveThirtyEight’s Raptor wins above replacement (WAR) metric, the best rookie was Herb Jones at 5.5 WAR. That was 57th in the league and had him tied with Royce O’Neal, Jordan Poole, and Max Strus, and on a rate basis, he was the 91st best player. Jones spent four years in college, entered the league at 23 years old, had a defined role that played to his strengths, and was just barely a top-100 player.
The Rockets' rookie trio of Jabari Smith Jr, Tari Eason, and TyTy Washington may have hall-of-fame careers, but chances are they’ll be bad NBA players this upcoming season. There isn’t a zero percent chance that Smith or Eason pop right away, but I’d wager that it’s less than one percent. They’ll have moments where they look fantastic, but at the end of the day, the NBA is tough on rookies.
Percent Chance: 0.75%
The dark horses
What are the chances that Garrison Mathews is the Rockets’ best player?
It may come as a surprise, but Garrison Mathews was by far the Rockets' best player last season by Raptor WAR. Mathews graded out very well by the metric for a few key reasons. His 3-point shooting gravity is exceptional, the Rockets' offense was substantially better with him on the court (112.84 to 106.29), and the system loves drawn charges which he led the league in by a massive margin.
Mathews isn’t the type of player you trust to run your offense or build your defense around, but he’s great at doing things on the periphery. He won’t be the Rockets' best player, but he could yet again be one of their most valuable players.
Percent Chance: 2.25%
What are the chances that Eric Gordon is the Rockets’ best player?
Eric Gordon would be a likely contender for the Rockets’ best player mantle if he was expected to finish the season with the franchise. However, he has been linked to contenders for years, and with this being the final season where he has guaranteed money left on his deal, it feels like this is the season when he’ll finally be moved.
Regardless of where Gordon finishes the season, his on/off impact last year was immense. The Rockets' offense was substantially better with him on the court (110.82 to 107.89), and he had a truly elite shooting season. Gordon has the shooting gravity of Mathews but provides far more on-ball juice, although his defense is now below average as he enters his mid-30s.
The Rockets should sell high and give him one more chance to chase a title while he can still be a contributor to a contender, but if not, he could end up being the Rockets’ best player if the young core doesn’t take meaningful steps.