The Houston Rockets are one of the teams I would consider to be a possible sleeper choice in the conference. I don’t think most people are looking at them as a favorite to come out of the West, despite finding their way to the 2-seed and having a frontrunner MVP candidate.
There are things that I like about the Houston Rockets. I think they’re a good basketball team. I generally understand the Moreyball system of emphasizing three-pointers and paint shots, and I like it because it makes this team conscious to be an offensive threat. The Rockets finished the season as the sixth-best scoring team in the league at just under 104 points per game. They shoot over 30 three-pointers per game and average 11 makes, but this group isn’t even laced with scoring or shooting threats.
That’s what I can appreciate about this Rockets team, they find ways to score in bunches without a bunch of scorers. Sure an extreme bulk of their offensive production comes from or as a result of James Harden, but much more than the way they were built last season, this group has a scrappy tone about them. With Harden as quarterback doing the initiating, creating, bullying, and cooking, other guys just do their part, and I think they have an interestingly competitive core.
Jason Terry is a shot maker. Trevor Ariza’s experience on this playoff stage is expected to continue to show it’s value. Corey Brewer, Josh Smith, and Terrence Jones are collectively crucial. All three guys have to continue their input of high effort plays on the glass, in transition, and also hitting some occasional shots, all of which can help Houston remain versatile. This team is made up of forwards with length, speed, and their own playmaking abilities. Their make-up can be one of the Rockets’ key advantages defensively as well.
But my concern about this team is the same as last season. I still need to see where consistent relief will come from for James Harden. The Rockets still don’t have that reliable off guard to play pressure release for Harden when he sees multi-coverage. Teams are going to keep forcing Harden’s teammates to make shots and make plays. Their confidence and ability to do so will probably determine their ceiling.
On the bright side for Houston, they were 17-6 in games decided by five points or less this season. It’s really too bad that they’re without Patrick Beverly and Donatas Montiejunas because it hurts their depth, but the Rockets won 50+ games with the third-highest DNP in the league this season, which refers to my stance on this team.
Even if you don’t think it’s pretty, organized, conventional, or appealing, the Rockets are finding ways to win games, and that quality alone is invaluable. They have one of the best players in the league and show much more of a grit than I saw last season. In the wild Western Conference with such potential for a sleeper to emerge, don’t let the Houston Rockets slip past you.