One game away from the NBA Finals.
It was a season of ‘what could have been’ for the Houston Rockets. Houston’s year was headlined by success, and the surprising snatching of the number one seed, but ended in disappointment at the hands of the Golden State Warriors in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals, as an injured Chris Paul was forced to watch from the bench, leaving league MVP James Harden to fend for himself in a winner-take-all game for a shot at the NBA Finals.
The Rockets moved into the offseason looking to make significant upgrades to their roster. They did just that by adding longtime NBA star Carmelo Anthony to be the third scoring threat (outside of Harden and Paul) that the team needed.
Most recently, the Rockets completed a trade that sent Ryan Anderson to the Suns for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss. These moves, along with others, like adding guard Michael Carter-Williams, on paper have seemed to improve an already peaking Houston Rockets squad.
This is a very different Rockets team, but are they better than last season?
Houston had a big shakeup to their roster this offseason headlined by many new names, but to say they’ve improved could be a stretch.
The supporting cast around Harden and Paul, a duo that was one game away from beating the Warriors and going to the NBA Finals, is significantly different from last season.
Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, and Luc Mbah a Moute have been replaced by James Ennis, Anthony, Knight, and Chriss. The word improvement wouldn’t fit with that exchange of players, but to say this is going to be a different style of Rockets basketball would be the best way to put it.
The overall core of the Rockets hasn’t been altered. Four out of the five starters are still on the team, and not to diminish Trevor Ariza’s role, but if the Rockets had to lose one of their starters from last season, no doubt Ariza would be the most ideal.
The key change with Ariza will be the defensive ability of Carmelo Anthony. Ariza didn’t stop Kevin Durant in the Conference Finals, but he certainly did not hinder the Rockets from being able to switch everything on defense and did a respectable job of making Durant work for everything.
The key will be who is going to be helping out Carmelo on the defensive end.
Look for Clint Capela and PJ Tucker to be those who aid Anthony, especially when they face such a fast-paced, switch-happy team like the Warriors.
With Anthony’s status as a minus defender, he won’t have the responsibility of guarding a team’s best player. It will just be interesting to see how they will use him in late game situations, knowing that he could be a liability on the defensive end.
The most underrated addition may prove to be Knight.
Knight provides a big spark off the bench at the guard position if he can regain form after missing all of last season with an ACL injury, and Chriss will be a younger and more reliable backup than Nene, who is no longer a player who can be called on every night.
Yes, Chriss showed some aloofness and immaturity in Phoenix, but he should be compelled to straighten up his act with the Rockets playing higher-stakes basketball.
Overall, the Rockets improved significantly on the offensive end but could look to take a slight dip on the defensive end. The addition of Anthony will help provide a size advantage on the offensive end that could create matchup problems against a lot of teams, and it will be fun to see what Chris Paul can do with another added offensive weapon like Anthony.
Last year, Paul brought the best out of players who could stretch the floor like Tucker, and with the addition of Anthony, it will take even more pressure off Paul to score.
When in Oklahoma City, Anthony had the lowest field goal percentage of his career at 40%. Some will attribute that to age, but it was really because of the two players surrounding him in Paul George and Russell Westbrook.
Both ball dominant players. Anthony will be able to thrive with Paul and Harden because of the better scoring opportunities that will be created. With the fast-paced offense that head coach Mike D’Antoni runs, this will be the best opportunity and the best team overall he’s played on.
Yes, the Rockets were looking to improve, but it’s pretty tough to make a leap from a 67-win season. The additions to the bench of Knight and Chriss will be key to what the Rockets want to do with their second unit. They are looking to win in a different way this upcoming season, and now we wait to see if the players they’ve brought in this summer are ready to contribute to that cause.