A new league year is here and with it, a new elite backcourt is set to debut for the Houston Rockets, who have legitimate title aspirations this season, especially considering the fall of the Golden State Warriors.
After the relationship between James Harden and Chris Paul reportedly got strained late in 2018-19, Paul got shipped to the Oklahoma City Thunder in exchange for an old running mate of Harden’s, Russell Westbrook. Now, the fit between Harden and Westbrook may not be perfect (after all, they did most of their damage together back in the day when The Beard was still merely a Sixth Man), but either way, they should form the most productive backcourt in the entire Association.
It’ll be fascinating to see who’s the one taking the late-game shots in Houston, but the team should be so good that on any many nights, they won’t need game-winners to secure victories.
It’s the playoffs where things will get truly interesting for the Rockets, a stretch of games where the team has struggled during the Harden era.
This year could very well be different, however.
STAYING: Clint Capela, Gary Clark, Michael Frazier, Eric Gordon, Gerald Green, James Harden, Isaiah Hartenstein, Danuel House, Austin Rivers, PJ Tucker and Nenê.
ADDED: Ryan Anderson (Miami), Tyson Chandler (LA Lakers), Chris Clemons (Campbell), Ben McLemore (Toronto), Thabo Sefolosha (Utah) and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City).
GONE: Chris Chiozza (Washington), Trevon Duval, Vince Edwards (Oklahoma City), Kenneth Faried, Chris Paul (Oklahoma City) and Iman Shumpert.
STRENGTHS: Having two former MVPs still in their primes as your backcourt is insane … The fact that Westbrook and Harden have a previous relationship should help both with Russ’ adaptation to the team, as well as with the duo not getting on each others’ nerves when it comes to having to share the ball … Judging by preseason, it’s safe to say Harden is going to have another historically productive season in 2019-20 … Clint Capela getting back to full health is an important development for the Rockets … His defense, screening and finishing around the basket is huge for them … PJ Tucker remains one of the stingiest and most versatile defensive wings in the league, who can cover most, if not all, positions … They have some decent 3-and-D role players to place around their superstars … The additions of Tyson Chandler and Thabo Sefolosha gives them valuable veteran experience off the bench.
WEAKNESSES: If Westbrook and Harden can’t harmonize their roles in the backcourt, that could spell huge trouble for Houston … It could even lead to another major trade … Mike D’Antoni’s coaching, which should have been listed among their strengths, could be an issue considering the way his extension talks over the summer went … He’s currently coaching on the final year of his deal … Gerald Green’s injury was a brutal blow to their bench scoring … He had the ability to catch fire and go on one-man runs … Sefolosha, Chandler and Ryan Anderson bring solid veteran leadership to the locker room, but if they’re asked to give Houston big minutes every night, the Rockets will be in trouble … They don’t have it in them to carry that type of role-playing load anymore … General manager Daryl Morey’s Hong Kong tweet started a major firestorm in the middle of preseason, and could add unneeded instability to Houston’s season.
PREDICTION: 1st in the Southwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference.