Site Manager’s Note - Welcome to the inaugural Grizzly Bear Blues NBA Preview Over/Under Challenge! Think you are smarter than twelve of our staff members? Take the challenge by posting your over/unders in the comments section every day with the corresponding teams. We will keep track over the course of the season, and the commenter(s) who beats our overall over/under projections at the end of the season will win a Fan Essentials box!
The GBB Staff taking part in this challenge are
Joe Mullinax - Site Manager
Matt Hrdlicka - Senior Features Writer
Kevin Yeung - Senior Features Writer
Chase Lucas - Features Writer
Mac Trammel - Features Writer
Brandon Conner - Features Writer
Jonathan Concool - Game Coverage Writer
Colin Huguley - Game Coverage Writer
Austin Reynolds - Game Coverage Writer
Corban Ford - Game Coverage Writer
Jonah Jordan - GBB Boots on the Ground Editor
Adam Rubrum - GBB Boots on the Ground Editor
Today we’ll be talking about the Houston Rockets and the Chicago Bulls.
HOUSTON ROCKETS: Vegas Projection - 41.5 Wins
GBB Overall Staff Predictions-
- Seven take the over (Lucas, Ford, Concool, Conner, Jordan, Rubrum, Yeung), five take the under (Mullinax, Hrdlicka, Reynolds, Trammel, Huguley)
- Average projected record: 42-40
Brandon’s Players to Watch and Prediction: Houston is a place where expectations are a death sentence. In 2013, the Texans were expected to be Super Bowl contenders; they went 2-14, including a 14-game losing streak. This year, the Astros were a sexy pick to make the World Series; they stumbled out of the gate and missed the playoffs.
A year ago, the Rockets were coming off an appearance in the Western Conference Finals. They were expected to battle with Golden State and San Antonio for the West’s top seeds. They were one of the few teams expected to have any sort of shot at knocking off the Warriors.
That’s not quite what happened. Instead, the Rockets started the year off as a dumpster fire and wound up firing their head coach not even a quarter of the way into the season. The team’s biggest offseason acquisition, Ty Lawson, was an abject disaster. Things got so bad that the team willingly brought back Josh Smith to stabilize the locker room. And somehow Corey Brewer played a ton of minutes. In spite of all this, the Rockets still managed to win 41 games, earn the eight seed, and managed to take one game off the Warriors in the first round, but based on expectations, the season was seen as a complete failure.
Those failings led to wholesale changes in Houston. JB Bickerstaff was replaced with Mike D’Antoni, and the team threw big money contracts to Ryan Anderson (4 years, $80 million) and Eric Gordon (4 years, $52 million). To supplement those big signings, they signed Nene for an exception and traded Michael Beasley to Milwaukee for point guard Tyler Ennis.
As for departures, the Rockets most notable was Dwight Howard, the big man who headed home to Atlanta during the offseason after appearing on every major media outlet and going Mrs. O'Leary's cow on every bridge connecting him to Houston. With Dwight gone, the Rockets will have to hope Clint Capela is up to filling a lot of the void at center, especially since Motiejunas is still sitting in the unemployment line. Josh Smith is gone, too, as is Terrence Jones, who had to settle for a minimum deal in New Orleans after a disastrous season.
In short, this Houston team is a far cry from what they trotted out last season.
The hiring of D’Antoni is a move that figures to build on Houston’s strengths. Rather than try to fix their defense, which ranked 22nd last season by defensive rating, the Rockets will likely try to make their already good offense even better. Harden has already started running the point, and so far, that plan appears to be working: In both of their first two preseason games, the Rockets have scored at least 130 points. (Author's note: Yes, I know it's preseason.)
Like most NBA teams with superstar players (excluding the Warriors), the Rockets’ fortunes will ebb and flow with the performance of their leader. As James Harden goes, so too will the Rockets. But that doesn't mean he should do the work alone. Last season, Harden isolations accounted for 566 of the Rockets’ possessions. By comparison, the next closest player was Carmelo Anthony with 393. Harden needs more options, and that's what the addition of Gordon and Anderson gives him.
Taking pressure off of Harden on one side of the ball should come with the added benefit of making him more effective on the other side, as well. Most fans are familiar with vines and YouTube videos of James' lack of defensive effort, but two years ago when the Rockets were the two seed and took the Warriors to six games, Harden posted a defensive rating of 103 and played competent defense. Anderson and Gordon's addtions could come with the added benefit of easing some of Harden's offensive burden, saving him wear and tear over the course of the season and at least allowing him to save energy that he can deploy on the defensive end.
I fully expect Houston to have a top five offense this season, which means the biggest determinant of their success will be their defense. Harden has a reputation as a bad defender, but Gordon and Anderson aren't great on the defensive end either. Their ceiling is probably league average, which might still be too much to ask. If they can get there, though, and everything goes right, it's reasonable to think that the Rockets can win over 50 games this season.
Even without that, though, this offense looks intimidating, and it'll be hard for teams to match Houston's scoring. Barring a major injury to James Harden, who's been remarkably healthy the past few seasons in spite of playing massive minutes, the Rockets should make the over. I project them to hit the over at 46-36, good enough for fifth in the West.
CHICAGO BULLS: Vegas Projection - 38.5 Wins
GBB Overall Staff Projections-
- Three take the over (Hrdlicka, Reynolds, Ford), nine take the under (Mullinax, Lucas, Concool, Conner, Jordan, Trammel, Huguley, Rubrum, Yeung)
- Average projected record: 36-46
Brandon’s Players to Watch and Prediction: Chicago kicked off its offseason makeover by shipping off a point guard and Justin Holiday for Jose Calderon, Jerian Grant, and Robin Lopez. But even that blockbuster of a move pales in comparison to what they did in free agency. Rajon Rondo joined the Bulls fresh off his one year exile to Sacramento, and, after a contract standoff in Miami, Dwyane Wade returned to his hometown on a two-year deal with a second year player option.
It's a bit of a mixed bag of results. The Bulls let Pau Gasol (Spurs) and Joakim Noah (Knicks) leave, probably a smart decision considering the money the two pulled down in free agency. Ditching the point guard's contract was a positive, and Lopez, while not without his shortcomings, is at least on a decent contract.
Unfortunately, it's the big moves that are the most concerning. Putting Rondo and Wade around Butler is a recipe for disaster on the offensive end. Nikola Mirotic will easily be the starter that's best at shooting from deep, and Nikola Mirotic is a power forward. The spacing on this team is going to make a sardine tin look roomy. (Note: This was the best joke I could come up with; please laugh.)
Chicago added Denzel Valentine in the first round of the draft, second year player Bobby Portis should be improved, and Doug McDermott will be entering his third season. But even projecting improvement from those young players doesn't figure to be enough to make up for Chicago's issues on either side of the floor. Maybe Hoiberg has figured some things out going into his second year as an NBA coach, but that seems just as unlikely.
The Bulls line is set at 38.5, and I've got them going a few games under at 35. I just don't see how the triumvirate of Rondo, Butler, and Wade manage to function efficiently. So the Bulls go under and, for the second straight year, miss the playoffs in the East. But on the bright side, they've got Wade and Rondo on short-term contracts, so at least they haven't hampered their future for too long.