Additions: Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis, Marquesse Chriss, Michael Carter-Williams, Brandon Knight
Subtractions: Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, Ryan Anderson, Tarik Black
Projected Starting Lineup:
PG: Chris Paul
SG: James Harden
SF: Eric Gordon
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Clint Capela
Key Bench Players: Carmelo Anthony, James Ennis, Brandon Knight, Gerald Green, Nene, Marquesse Chriss
This Rockets team lost a lot over the offseason after 3-and-D specialists Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute signed with the Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. Stretch-4 and defensive liability Ryan Anderson was traded in a package with rookie point guard De’Anthony Melton to the Phoenix Suns to offload his awful $41M contract over the next two seasons. In exchange, Houston received a big man with loads of potential in Marquesse Chriss and guard Brandon Knight in an effort to shore up their second unit. Do not fear Rockets fans. You still have last year’s MVP James Harden and one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul to lead your team to the number two seed in the Western Conference. Alongside them is emerging star center Clint Capela who had a breakout year in his 4th NBA season.
The Rockets have the best backcourt in all of the NBA in James Harden and CP3. Yes, even better than the Splash Brothers in the Bay Area. They led their squad to the number one seed in the West last year with a league-best 65-17 record, the best Offensive Rating in all of the NBA, and the most 3-point attempts (and makes) in the league, per Basketball Reference. The pair averaged a nightly 49 points, 16.7 assists, 10.8 rebounds, and 3.5 steals. They took Golden State to seven games in the Western Conference Finals and could have won if Chris Paul was not sidelined with an injury in the final two games. Behind Mike D’Antoni’s patented pace-n-space style and Harden and CP3’s playmaking and scoring abilities, the Rockets can play with any team in the league when they are raining from 3, but as evidenced in their Game 7 loss to the Warriors in the WCF, it can also be their downfall.
The aforementioned Clint Capela had his best season to date in his NBA career, posting career-highs in points (13.9), rebounds (10.8), blocks (1.9), and a league-leading 65.2% success rate from the field. He is the perfect complement to Harden and CP3’s scoring and playmaking, as he can catch their lobs, run the floor with them in transition, and thrive in the pick-and-roll. He may not be flashy, but he works hard and gets the job done. The Switzerland native may never be a superstar in the league, but he is a valuable part of the Rockets’ Big Three as evidenced by the 5 year/$90M deal he received over the summer.
The Rockets recently came out and said Eric Gordon will now be a starter after two seasons as one of the best sixth men in the NBA. A deadly sniper and scorer (he averaged 16.2 and 18 PPG in his past two seasons, respectively) will take over and improve upon Trevor Ariza’s 3-and-D responsibilities. Since Gordon is starting, who is the Rockets’ new sixth man?
That would be Carmelo Anthony who was signed by Houston in August after being waived by the Atlanta Hawks who received him in a trade with Oklahoma City for Dennis Schroder. The former perennial All Star is now 34 and coming off the worst season of his career with the Thunder. He averaged a career worst 16.2 points with career lows in field goal percentage (40.4%, next worse was 42.6% in his rookie season) and free throw percentage (76.7, next worse was 77.7, also in his rookie season). He also refused to come off the bench with OKC, starting in all 78 games he played in. Maybe he has realized that he is no longer the superstar that he was with the Nuggets and Knicks. Maybe he has finally put his pride aside for the good of the team. Melo now has the opportunity to be the star of the Rockets’ bench unit that was a key to their success last season. Alongside Brandon Knight, James Ennis, Gerald Green, and either Nene or Marquesse Chriss, Anthony can bring scoring to a second unit that desperately needs it after Gordon’s promotion.
The Rockets are in good shape to secure a top two seed in the West next season. They should be able to manage a path to a rematch with the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. When that happens, who knows? Maybe the Rockets get revenge after losing their 3-2 series lead from last year. I’m not counting on it, but if there was one team in the NBA who could take down the Warriors on their pursuit of a three-peat, my money is on Harden, CP3, and the Rockets.
Picture Courtesy of Clutch Points
*For yesterday’s article on the Golden State Warriors, click here.
Up next tomorrow: Indiana Pacers
University of South Carolina ’21