The Houston Rockets have come strong out of the gates, racing to a 16-4 start through the first quarter of the season. NBA analysts expected the Rockets to experience a regression from their 54-28 breakout season that gave the Rockets the #4 seed in the Western Conference and saw them ultimately fall in the first round of the playoffs to the Portland Blazers. However, this year’s new look Rockets team are proving everyone wrong by solidifying themselves as serious contenders early on, despite losing a few of their strongest players.
Specifically, last season’s starting point guard Jeremy Lin, starting small forward Chandler Parsons, and center Omer Asik left the team during the offseason, in a series of moves designed to bring a superstar talent to Houston to work with James Harden and Dwight Howard to create a “big 3” that would lead Houston to a title. Unfortunately, this ended unsuccessfully and left many fans wondering if the Rockets could recover from losing so much talent.
“Lin and Asik were good role players, and Parsons was a really good starter for us,” Junior Luis Berardi said.
However, the Rockets regrouped and picked up key players such as Trevor Ariza, Jason Terry, and Kostas Papanikolaou, meaning the offseason may have been better than it seemed.
“The offseason wasn’t that bad, especially given Ariza’s play,” Junior Will Beaty said.
Ariza in particular will face a lot of pressure this year to fill in the void left by third leading scorer Parsons last season. So far, Ariza has lived up to the challenge, with numbers very similar to those of Parsons.
“You build a team based on how you want it,” Senior Jason Shan said. “Being a great spot up shooter and defender makes Ariza a better fit than Parsons.”
Even with Ariza’s contributions to the team, the Rockets lack a third star player on the team besides Harden and Howard, in a league where many believe three great players are necessary to win a title. However, both have played exceptionally so far. Harden averages just over 25 points per game to go along with over six rebounds and assists per contest. Equally impressive, Howard’s rebounds and blocks numbers are both in the NBA’s top ten.
“Dwight Howard has been amazing,” Berardi said.
Luckily, even with Harden and Howard’s successes, the Rockets may not need to search for a third star player. They could have one developing right now in their third-year forward from Kentucky, Terrence Jones.
“He has only played in a few games, but so far he has played pretty well,” Berardi said.
Even with the team’s early success, many questions still remain for the team. The Rockets’ bench contains mostly young, inexperienced players that need to prove their worth and that they belong in the team. Jason Terry, the only exception, is instead trying to prove he can still play at 37 years of age, and so far has proven himself as both a strong bench player and mentor, playing big minutes when teammates are injured or in foul trouble. The December 5th game against the Timberwolves really comes to mind, as even with three starters injured and James Harden fouled out, Terry and Donatas Motiejunas propelled the Rockets to an overtime victory.
“The bench could spark the offense when the starters rest, but defense is an issue,” Shan said. “None of the bench players are known as good defenders.”
Injuries have been a big issue for the Rockets in the early part of the season, with several players missing time, most importantly starters Jones and Howard, who have missed the largest portions of anyone on the team. However, the Rockets have showed fortitude and continue to win games, showing the team may be deeper than originally thought. Either way, injuries for starters allow backups to play valuable minutes early in the season where they can grow as players, experience that may be needed later on should the team make a playoff run.
Also, the Rockets get a large portion of their points from three pointers, and take 33.9 three pointers per game, the most of any NBA team by over six shots per contest. However, when the Rockets struggle from beyond the arc, it will be challenging for them to win games, as shown by their 37.4% shooting on threes in wins but only 28.5% in losses. Despite this, some fans suggest the Rockets keep playing to their strong suits.
“The three point shot is statistically favorable when given a solid opportunity due to the fact that the three stretches the defense,” Shan said.
It may be too early to tell just how well the Rockets will perform over the course of the long season, but so far it looks great, and if they can keep it up there should be no reason the Rockets won’t be playing in the playoffs, and maybe even deep into the postseason.
“The Rockets have the potential to make the NBA Finals,” Beaty said.
Thanks for reading,