The Houston Rockets came into this season with a completely new roster and left the trade deadline with an even newer one. The Rockets made waves this offseason, signing Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik, and trading for James Harden. Now, there are only two players on this roster who were on the team last season—Chandler Parsons and Greg Smith.
Many pegged the Rockets to finish last in the Western Conference, but the team turned things around quickly. Now Houston is 41-33, good enough for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference, and James Harden is looking like an MVP contender.
Despite the success the Rockets are already having, they still are the team with the most potential in the NBA, and here are a few reasons why.
What people often don't realize is that Houston could easily be considered a "big market" franchise. The Houston metropolitan market has more than six million people, which is fifth in the NBA. When the Rockets start to win, their fan-base will explode, as we have seen with the Houston Texans.
On top of the city itself, Houston is noted for its fantastic Asian market. Especially after Yao Ming, Houston has a massive Asian following in both Texas and China. Now that it has the biggest Asian star in the NBA, Jeremy Lin, its impact on the market will be even more greatly felt all over the country—and all over the world.
When you watch Houston, you see a team that truly has fun playing together. A lot of this could actually be attributed to its style. The Rockets play an uptempo style that revolves around getting to the basket and knocking down the long-ball, both perhaps in transition.
This is a style that is fun to watch and fun to play.
On top of all of this, the Rockets are the youngest team in the NBA at only 23.9 years old on average. Other than Francisco Garcia and Carlos Delfino, every player on the team has three or less years of experience. If you remove James Harden, it becomes two years or less.
This team will grow together and will be incredibly dangerous in the very near future.
This is arguably the biggest piece to the whole puzzle: The Rockets are still incomplete.
Perhaps the most underrated part of Darryl Morey's offseason was that he signed a complete team while still maintaining flexibility for the upcoming future. This season, the biggest contract on the books is former Sacramento King's guard/forward Francisco Garcia, who makes a mere $6.1 million.
Next offseason, James Harden's extension takes effect, owing him $13.7 million. However, with the poison-pill Lin and Asik contracts, each player will be owed just over $5 million. So despite the Harden raise, the Rockets will still have over $25 million in cap room this offseason.
Right now, the Rockets have a hole at the power forward position. At the moment they start young big man Donatas Motiejunas, who has not showed enough to warrant the job as is. The Rockets also acquired Thomas Robinson from the Kings, but he is also a work in progress.
This offseason, Houston will be the favorite for any power forward, including Josh Smith, Al Jefferson or Paul Millsap. If the Rockets can acquire any of these players, it could catapult them to a top-three team in the Western Conference and make them legitimate championship contenders.
As things stand, the Rockets are 28th in the NBA in points allowed per game at 102.3, which is an insanely high number to allow. On the surface, this may look like a defensive trainwreck, but it is not as bad as it seems.
Houston plays with the fastest pace out of any team in the NBA, so all of its numbers appear inflated. If instead we look at Houston's opposing field-goal percentage, it ranks 18th. If you adjust for pace, Houston's Defensive Efficiency pushes it up to 17th in the NBA.
82games.com's opposing PER numbers appear to show a big part of the problem. Looking at PER of the team versus PER against, it becomes very clear where the problem is.
|Position||PER For||PER Against||Difference|
Looking at the chart, it becomes clear that there are two big holes. First is at point guard, where Jeremy Lin plays average but gives up above-average production. Part of this is just that there are so many great point guards in the league today, the average production is up.
The more glaring weakness, however, is in the frontcourt. Omer Asik puts up a good PER but allows a better one. The power forward position is the biggest issue by far. The Rockets run out a plethora of average players at power forward, and this will likely be resolved this offseason. If production goes up at the 4, it will help with Omer Asik's opposing numbers.
So even though this team is average now, it has the potential to improve greatly.
Yes James Harden, you are that superstar.
I must admit, I was not a believer in James Harden being a superstar when he was traded from OKC to Houston this offseason. However, since then Harden has averaged 26.1 points per game, which is good enough for fifth in the NBA. He also is fifth in the NBA in combined points, rebounds and assists.
Most impressively, Harden is also averaging a field-goal percentage over his career average.
Harden has catapulted himself to arguably the best shooting guard in the league—top-three at worst. The question will become: Can he lead a team to a title? The answer to that question is yet to be determined, but I believe we will learn sooner rather than later.