The Houston Rockets' youth movement will continue in 2022-23.
After a second straight season in the basement of the NBA, the Rockets added to their young nucleus by drafting Auburn standout Jabari Smith Jr. with the No. 3 overall pick.
Smith joins 2021 No. 2 pick Jalen Green and fourth-year point guard Kevin Porter Jr. as the faces of Houston's rebuild.
They will try to improve on last season's 20-62 finish, but the more experienced teams around the league are sure to make life difficult for the youngsters. But perhaps one of them will mature ahead of schedule and lead the Rockets to surprising success this season.
Here's a look at the schedule the young Houston squad will face.
2022-23 Rockets Schedule Details
Season Opener: Oct. 19 vs. Atlanta Hawks
Championship Odds: 500-1 (FanDuel)
Full Schedule: NBA.com
San Antonio Spurs (First game: Dec. 8)
As a rebuilding team, the Rockets won't have many favorable matchups on the schedule. But facing another rebuilding team in its own division might help their development as a unit.
The San Antonio Spurs are far removed from the powerhouse that dominated the Western Conference for nearly two decades. They went 34-48 last season and brought in three first-round selections in this year's draft, including No. 9 overall pick Jeremy Sochan out of Baylor. San Antonio also traded away All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks.
The Rockets lost three of four matchups against the Spurs last season, and the two teams are set to face each other four times again this year.
Perhaps Houston could use its games against San Antonio to assess how far along the team is in its development. Facing another young squad such as the Spurs should provide an even playing field for the Rockets.
Orlando Magic (First game: Nov. 7)
The Rockets are set to face the Orlando Magic only twice this year, but there's sure to be a ton of intrigue in those contests.
All eyes will be on the battle between Smith and Magic rookie forward Paolo Banchero, who Orlando drafted No. 1 overall.
Anyone who tuned in to watch the NBA draft will surely remember how disappointed Smith was about slipping to the third pick. He's likely to take his matchup against Banchero personally, which could make for some exciting basketball.
The fact that the two rookies play the same position only adds to the attraction, as they are likely to guard one another on the defensive end. Smith is known to be a top-notch defender while Banchero is regarded for his offensive prowess, and they both had strong showings at the 2022 Summer League in Las Vegas.
NBA fans are sure to enjoy the duel between the two forwards for years to come, starting with this season's set of games.
The benefit of being a young team is that expectations are low. Houston is projected to be the underdog in the majority of its games, so it won't be a surprise to see the team back in the lottery next year.
Still, there are measures of success the Rockets should try to achieve this season. Green is coming off a selection to the All-Rookie first team after averaging 17.3 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists in 67 games in 2021-22.
The 20-year-old should aim to build on his finish to the campaign that saw him score over 30 points in six of his last seven appearances, including a 41-point outburst in the season finale against Atlanta.
Green also needs to improve on his 34.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc after chucking 6.8 three-point attempts per game last year.
Third-year head coach Stephen Silas should strive for defensive improvements after ranking 30th in the NBA last season with an opponents' average of 118.2 points per game. Having Smith on the wing should make a difference, but it will take a commitment from the rest of the roster as well.
As long as the young players buy into what Silas is teaching, the Rockets should surpass their win total from last year. But it likely won't be enough to get the team out of the league's basement.
Record Prediction: 28-54
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