The Houston Rockets: 2016 NBA Champions?
*Photo via Getty Images
Considering that the Houston Rockets made it to the Western Conference Finals last season and just acquired arguably a top-10 point guard in Ty Lawson, why aren’t the Rockets getting any championship buzz?
The consensus seems to be that the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers or Oklahoma City Thunder will win the West this year. This leaves the Rockets, who finished second in the Western Conference last year with a 56-26 record, outside of the top four.
This off-season was one of the more memorable ones in recent NBA history, especially for the Western Conference. Some of the biggest moves include LaMarcus Aldridge to the Spurs, Lawson to the Rockets, and Josh Smith, Paul Pierce and Lance Stephenson to the Clippers.
These moves turned what was already a hypercompetitive Western Conference into what is expected to be a “blood bath.” There is a ton of hype about the upcoming NBA season, and rightly so, but the Rockets are unjustifiably being left out of the championship contender talks.
Out of the Western Conference teams listed as serious contenders, the Rockets have one of the best combinations of big men, up there with the Spurs and Clippers, among other teams.
The Rockets will have their star center Dwight Howard manning the middle, who is one of the best at blocking shots and finishing at the rim. Though Dwight has failed to resurrect his play with the Orlando Magic, he’s still an effective presence with star power.
Along with Dwight, the Rockets have a stud in Donatas Motiejunas. ‘D-Mo’ has the ability to stretch the floor and hit the three ball, as well as dazzle defenders in the post.
The question with these two guys is health, as Howard missed half of the regular season while D-Mo missed the entire playoffs. If they can find a way to stay healthy, The Rockets big men will help propel this team to success.
*Photo via Getty Images
With the acquisition of Lawson and the nearly forgotten Marcus Thornton, the Rockets have arguably the best bench in basketball. The Rockets are now legitimately 10 to 12 deep, as their bench is filled with players who could start on other teams.
The projected second unit for the Rockets is Patrick Beverley, Thornton, Corey Brewer, Terrence Jones and Clint Capella. Youngsters like KJ McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell will be competing for playing time as well.
Beverley had starter experience for many years, and Thornton gives the Rockets an added and much needed scoring punch off the bench to take the load off James Harden. Then, of course there’s Jones, who can run the floor and is developing a decent long-range jumper, as well as Brewer who is somewhat of a ‘Swiss army knife’ off the bench. Last but not least there’s Capella who displayed some athleticism and solid defense as the backup center in the playoffs.
Championship teams all have elite benches, so if the Rockets are to win it all next year, their reserves will be relied upon to carry the load while the starters rest. There’s no telling how it will play out, but on paper this bunch is as good as anybody’s in the league.
The perimeter is where championships are won now-a-days, and with the acquisition of Ty Lawson, the Rockets can compete with anyone in that area of talent.
Obviously the Rockets have MVP runner-up James Harden, who is expected to duplicate his extraordinary 2014-15 season. But, the team has always lacked a second playmaker/scorer on the perimeter, and they got that in spades with Lawson. Lawson can stretch the floor with the three ball, but he’s best in the pick and roll where he can use his speed to get in the lane and distribute to teammates.
Harden and Lawson should excel together, but the biggest weakness with these two guys is their defense. Neither are stalwarts defensively (although Harden is improving), so opposing guards could exploit that, but there’s no doubt this will be one of the most exciting backcourt duos in the league offensively.
The Rockets have quietly turned themselves into one of the most complete teams in the league. Also for the first time in a long time, they have established some continuity by resigning their core and only adding one player. If Head Coach, Kevin McHale matches intellect with the other coaches out West, and this team manages to stay healthy, then look for “Clutch City” to end their championship drought.