2015-16 NBA Record: 41-41
Additions: Ryan Anderson (New Orleans Pelicans), Eric Gordon (New Orleans Pelicans), Nene (Washington Wizards), Pablo Prigioni (Los Angeles Clippers), PJ Hairston (Memphis Grizzlies), Tyler Ennis (traded from Milwaukee Bucks)
Subtractions: Dwight Howard (Atlanta Hawks), Terrence Jones (New Orleans Pelicans), Jason Terry (Milwaukee Bucks), Josh Smith (free agency)
Projected Starting Line-up
PG – James Harden
SG – Eric Gordon
SF – Trevor Ariza
PF – Ryan Anderson
C – Clint Capela
Last season was very disappointing for the Houston Rockets and they’re hoping a new era under Mike D’Antoni will turn things around. They started the 2015-16 season by dropping 7 of their first 11 games, which led to the firing of Kevin McHale. The Rockets scraped into the playoffs despite some locker-room troubles, an in-season firing and inconsistencies on the court. The Rockets made some huge changes in the off-season by letting Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones walk, while signing former New Orleans Pelicans teammates Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. The addition of Coach D’Antoni will introduce a more up-tempo offense in Houston, which allows one of the best offensive players in the NBA, James Harden, to slice defenses every night. The Anderson and Gordon signings also allows the Rockets to spread the floor. D’Antoni has said he intends to start Harden at point guard, and Harden’s impressed in pre-season, putting up three point-assists double-doubles in each of his outings so far.
With the Rockets, it all starts with James Harden. Dwight Howard has gone to Atlanta, citing a lack of opportunities, which means the offense will well and truly be on the back of Harden’s shoulders. Harden will have to step up as a leader in order for the Rockets to head in the right direction. Other than Russell Westbrook, Harden has the best chance to be the NBA’s leading scorer this season. Last season, the All-Star averaged 29 points, 7.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals. With the added responsibility of playing point guard this year, Harden will be the leading playmaker on his team. Harden can shoot from anywhere on the court, can draw fouls and is one of the best at driving to the rim. However, he is a liability on defense. As mentioned before, Anderson and Gordon provides the shooting that will open up the offense, but will both need to stay healthy. However, all three of these players are a problem on defense. This is where the young Clint Capela comes in. Capela is solid defending the pick’n’roll, using his athleticism and speed. However, he still needs to improve as a rim protector, especially with Dwight Howard gone from the team. Trevor Ariza is a solid contributor with his 3-and-D game, and will be backed up by Sam Dekker, who performed well in the Summer League. Dekker was limited to just three games in his rookie year, but is capable of being an efficient scorer, as well as a decent rebounder and defender. Patrick Beverley is the only true point guard on this roster and his hustle plays and energy on defense will spark a light under the Rockets.
Houston has a top-five offensive player in James Harden and with an offensive-minded coach like Mike D’Antoni, this offense has potential to be one of the best in the league. The free agency signings will provide open shooting that can free up Harden and they have young players in Capela and Decker who are still developing. This side will be a great offensive side, but will most likely sturggle on defense, with only Capela, Ariza and Beverley the only credible defenders. Despite this, I think this side can be a playoff side.
Prediction: 3rd in Southwest Division