After finishing just one win away from an appearance in the 2018 NBA Finals, the Houston Rockets are now revamped heading into next season.
While their core is largely intact, they lost key players like Trevor Ariza as well as Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency. While both veterans played key roles, Houston still looks to be one of the better teams in the league and can compete with the defending champion Golden State Warriors.
We looked at the starting lineup and rotation for the Houston Rockets next season. (Author’s Note: This post was updated after the team made a trade with the Phoenix Suns.)
Clint Capela, Big Man
PJ Tucker, Forward
James Ennis, Forward
James Harden, Guard
Chris Paul, Guard
From top to bottom, it’d be hard to find a better starting lineup than what the Rockets have next season. The team had beyond better than a winning record (.883) when all three played and nearly defeated the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Even though the Rockets lost veteran free agent forward Trevor Ariza, they can hope that James Ennis can replace his productivity. No team was more efficient than Houston was when running in a transition offense (1.20 points per possession) last season. Ennis was used on this play type for 22.4 percent of his possessions, averaging 1.42 PPP. He was one of the ten most efficient players in transition among those who had at least 50 opportunities.
Meanwhile, their backcourt of James Harden alongside Chris Paul offers two of the most efficient one-on-one scorers in the NBA. If they stagger their minutes, the team can always have two of the best ballhandlers in the league on the court at all times. Clint Capela, who returns on a long-term contract as their big man, matches up well against any of the best in the league. PJ Tucker plays power forward in their system and can add even more scoring on a good night. The four-man group outscored their opponents by 8.3 points per 100 possessions during the regular season and 11.8 points per 100 during the postseason. According to a model by BBall Index’s Jacob Goldstein, however, the starting lineup listed above with Ennis projects to outscore opponents by 19.1 points per 100 next season.
When looking at the same core group in Goldstein’s model with Anthony in to replace Ennis, the Rockets would only be projected to outscore opponents by 6.0 points per 100. If they used Anthony instead of Tucker with Ennis still in the starting five, the model projects them to have a 14.0 net rating. It seems their best bet is to have Anthony off the bench. While it’s unclear if he would accept such a role, the veteran forward can be another scoring threat when on the court with perennial Sixth Man of the Year candidate Eric Gordon. As a spot-up shooting power forward, Anthony would replace Ryan Anderson in the rotation for the Rockets. Anthony spotted up on nearly one-quarter of his total offensive possessions last season. He could play select minutes with the starting rotation but his poor defense wouldn’t need to be as much a liability in this scenario.
Brandon Knight, Guard
Eric Gordon, Guard
Gerald Green, Forward
Carmelo Anthony, Forward
Nene Hilario, Big
Assuming that the Rockets can eventually convince Anthony that this is what would best help him get his first NBA Championship ring, they’ll have one of the better second units in the Western Conference. The 34-year-old could also come in to close games. Eric Gordon, meanwhile, may be used more often alongside Paul and Harden, which would give Brandon Knight a bigger role in the second unit backcourt.
Isaiah Hartenstein, Big
Marquese Chriss, Forward
Michael Carter-Williams, Guard
Isaiah Hartenstein averaged 16.8 points and 13.2 rebounds per 36 minutes for the Rockets during summer league in Las Vegas. While his role with the team is unclear, any flashes of potential could help the squad. Houston also added former Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams and former All-Rookie Second Team recipient Marquese Chriss, who both have a chance to revitalize their career with the squad.
RJ Hunter, Guard
Gary Clark, Guard
Earlier this offseason, former collegiate teammate Jacob Evans (who was drafted by the Golden State Warriors) told me that Clark was “one of the best utility guys” he’d ever seen. “People are going to wonder why people weren’t talking about him.”
Zhou Qi, Big
Vincent Edwards, Forward
Rob Gray, Guard
Even if they are mostly used in the G League, both players are just 22 years old. They both played well during Summer League in Las Vegas and the two showed potential to eventually earn minutes with the NBA squad.
DunkWire, Top, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, De'Anthony Melton, Eric Gordon, Gary Clark, Gerald Green, Isaiah Hartenstein, James Ennis, James Harden, Luc Mbah a Moute, Michael Carter-Williams, Nene Hilario, PJ Tucker, RJ Hunter, Rob Gray, Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, Vince Edwards, Vincent Edwards, Zhou Qi, Houston Rockets