The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.
Last Season: 55-27, lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the second round of the playoffs.
I know what you did last summer: Re-signed James Harden to a mega contract. Drafted Isaiah Hartenstein and Dillon Brooks in the 2017 NBA Draft. Sent roughly a thousand players to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Chris Paul. Added P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute.
THREE QUESTIONS THE ROCKETS MUST ANSWER:
1) Who is going to play the point guard spot? On paper the answer here is obvious: it’s Chris Paul. However, the big issue with the pairing of Paul with Harden is that Harden had an MVP caliber year last season while playing at the point guard position in Mike D’Antoni offense. There is a natural pairing between D’Antoni and Harden, and the Rockets had the second most efficient offense in the NBA with that combination.
Paul, meanwhile, is not necessarily a high tempo point guard and does not have a lot of experience playing in the off ball position. That really begs the question about whether or not the Rockets will be using the talent they have in the best positions for them.
Of course, you add talent when you can get talent, and Paul is an upgrade in terms of the roster they had last season. It’s also not as though Harden wasn’t already one of the best 2-guards in the NBA before last year’s big switch, so take potential issues with a grain of salt.
There is no doubt that the Rockets will be an excellent offensive squad this year, but it still remains to be seen whether they will completely blow teams out of the water as they did last season. They have a lot of 3-point shooters returning to this roster including Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, and Eric Gordon. Harden and Paul should make quick work of disturbing the ball to those players, so perhaps this question won’t be as pertinent 45 days into the season.
2) Do they still have a move to make? The Rockets really thought they were going to get Carmelo Anthony, and Anthony thought he was headed to Texas. Houston wasn’t able to make that move, likely because they were unable to unload Ryan Anderson onto a willing party.
Houston has high expectations for the season — many players said as much during their media day interviews — but whether they can really compete with the elite in the Western Conference remains to be seen. As noted above, I think that their offense will actually be quite good when compared to the rest of the West. Where they really need help is on defense, and it remains to be seen whether the players they added this offseason can help patch them up.
If the Rockets can’t find their way into a top 10 defensive rating, GM Darryl Morey might have more work to do.
3) Will the new players make this a better defensive team? Every NBA team talks about improving their defense during NBA media day. Not as many teams had the roster moves to make that change, but the Rockets were busy this summer.
Houston’s offseason moves included a former defensive player of the year candidate in Paul, P.J. Tucker, and Luke Mbah a Moute. All three of them are rated as good individual and team defenders, and certainly will act as an upgrade over what Houston brought to the floor last season.
That could be the real key to this Houston run. Their offense is already good enough, and even with the change of Harden going back to playing the 2 guard, the defense will be the thing that keeps them from moving to the next level. Houston was 18th in defense of efficiency last season, and if they want to get into the Western Conference Finals they will need to be much better on that end of the floor.