Former Rockets great Hakeem Olajuwon works with new Rockets big man Dwight Howard on his post game.
The Houston Rockets seem to have their best chance at winning a title this season since their back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995. Upon further examination, the rosters are eerily similar, which could be a sign of good things to come for Houston fans.
When the Rockets snagged Dwight Howard during free agency over the summer, they instantly became contenders. Howard added himself to a long list of great big men in Rockets history, most notably Hall of Famer and two-time champion Hakeem Olajuwon.
Dwight's post game will never be what Hakeem the Dream's was, but he still is the same dominant force on defense blocking shots left and right in the paint. What Dwight lacks on offense, he more than makes up for on defense, considering he is a three-time defensive player of the year.
Howard will be used similarly to the way the Rockets used Olajuwon a couple decades ago. The Rockets will surround Howard in the middle with several three-point shooters just like they did it with the Dream.
Pairing up Howard with James Harden creates a lethal duo. Harden is an elite scoring guard with tremendous athleticism and a sweet shooting stroke. Ring any bells, Rockets fans? That's right, he sounds a lot like Clyde Drexler from the 1995 champion Rockets.
Harden and Drexler are both great shooters, but their greatest strength is attacking the basket. Both of these guys can knife their way to the hoop with ease and are exceptional finishers at the rim. They also each took a lot of free throws, adding to their high point totals per game.
Not only are the two stars strikingly similar, but the supporting cast of this year's squad also has a lot in common with the former champs.
Robert Horry, the starting small forward during the championship runs, had a very similar skill set to current starter Chandler Parsons. Both guys are athletic wings who can shoot the three and cut to the basket very well. They are stat-sheet stuffers who can score, pass, rebound and defend. Parsons and Horry are the glue guys who can do a little bit of everything to help the team win.
The point guard situation also looks familiar. In 1994-95, Houston staggered the point guard minutes between Kenny Smith and Sam Cassell. Smith was a facilitator and Cassell was an energy booster that picked up the pace. The Rockets will mix up their lineups a lot between Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley. Bev is a hustler that can play at the point off the ball, and Lin is better at play-making with the ball in his hands. It will be interesting to see how coach Kevin McHale decides to divide the minutes between the two point guards.
In addition to Horry and Drexler, the 1994-95 Rockets had a plethora of three-point shooters to surround Olajuwon in the post. Guys like Kenny Smith, Scott Brooks, Tracy Murray, Vernon Maxwell and Mario Elie could all shoot well from deep. This year, the Rockets have a handful of shooters to surround Howard, such as Parsons, Harden, Francisco Garcia, Patrick Beverley, Omri Casspi and Reggie Williams.
During the 1994 championship run, the Rockets did not have Drexler yet. Instead, they had Otis Thorpe at power forward. The Rockets decided in 1995 that it was more important to have a scoring guard than a consistent power forward, which is a lot like the Rockets' situation today with Terrence Jones, Greg Smith and Donatas Motiejunas.
Last time, it was the scoring wing Drexler coming to help out the established big man Olajuwon. This time, the big man Howard chose to come and pair up with the elite scoring guard Harden.
The recipes for success are very common between these teams. The 1995 Rockets used a ton of shooters to surround Hakeem as well as an elite scoring guard in Drexler. The current Rockets have a similar strategy using Howard and Harden.
Even though the 1995 Rockets only got the sixth seed, they made a terrific playoff run en route to their second consecutive championship. Houston traded for Drexler midseason and didn't get things going until the playoffs began.
Many people are worried about the Rockets' chemistry this season with all of their new players. They may not jell right away, but as long as they make the playoffs, anything can happen, just like the 1995 season.
The Rockets dynasty in the 90's came to a quick end, even with stars like Charles Barkley and Scottie Pippen, because of old age. This time around, age should not be a problem for several years. Even if the Rockets don't win it all this year, their championship window is wide open, and they have the next several years to put together a run to bring Houston its first championship since Olajuwon and Drexler did it back in '95.