Record: 65-17, 1st in Southwest, 1st in Conference, lost 4-3 to Golden State Warriors in Western Conference Finals
Additions: Carmelo Anthony, Michael Carter-Williams, Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight, James Ennis, Vince Edwards, Gary Clark, Isaiah Hartenstein, Bruno Caboclo
Departures: Ryan Anderson, Joe Johnson, Luc Mbah a Moute, Trevor Ariza, Tarik Black, De’Anthony Melton, RJ Hunter, Markel Brown
After winning a franchise record 65 games, James Harden leading the league in scoring en route to the NBA MVP award, and stretching the eventual NBA champion Golden State Warriors to their limit, the Rockets are right back where they started.
It’s within reason that without the hamstring injury to Chris Paul, the Rockets may have beat the Warriors. Unsatisfied with how the team was constructed, GM Daryl Morey went out and traded wing Ryan Anderson to Phoenix for Brandon Knight and Marquese Chriss. Then, Morey went out and got Carmelo Anthony upon his release form OKC.
That’s where the plot thickens. What exactly is Carmelo going to give the Rockets that will push them over the top? Carmelo is taking the spot of Ryan Anderson in their lineup and should probably put up similar numbers. Anthony was on the court for about 6 minutes more per game, and put up twice as many shots on average. Additionally, Anthony had a much higher usage rate. That’s where Melo’s advantage ends. If Melo wants to help the Rockets get back to their heights of last season, he’ll need to take on a lessor role and improve his shooting percentages to be more effective in the Rockets’ high pace offense. Getting the ball to flow through Anthony and not stop at #7 will be key.
There isn’t too much more for James Harden to do to improve on last year short of winning a championship. As stated above, Harden brought home SOME hardware, just not the one the Rockets wanted. Eric Gordon had arguably his best season as a pro last season, or at least his best since 2012. Chris Paul comes back as well after signing a massive contract extension this offseason. From there is where the backcourt is a little less certain. Knight and Carter-Williams came aboard via trade but if I was a Rockets fan, I’d be less than impressed with the backup guards right now. We’ll get more into a possible solution to that problem in a moment.
Clint Capela signed a contract extension to come back and lead the Rockets frontcourt alongside Anthony, Gerald Green, Nene Hilario, and P.J. Tucker. Capela had his best season in 2017-2018 and was rewarded handsomely for it. Averaging a double-double and shooting a crazy 66% from the floor, Capela made the most of the 28 mpg he was on the court. Marquese Chriss came over in the Ryan Anderson trade with Phoenix and will be a good second unit option behind Capela. Chriss is due to be a RFA this summer and will look to close out his rookie contract with a bang. Former Grizz James Ennis rounds out the relatively deep Houston frontcourt.
The one thing I mentioned earlier is the piece that could throw a wrench into all of this. Last week, in the midst of the Jimmy Butler saga, the Rockets came up as a potential landing spot. The Rockets would need to move someone like Capela to make the deal happen, and there’s no way they’d want to do that for a potential rental. It’s also possible that Houston was used to further discussions between Minnesota and Miami as reported here by Ethan Skolnick. If Butler does in some way end up in Houston, that could change a lot of things in the West, moreso in the playoffs than the regular season.
It’s not outlandish to suggest the Rockets could win as many or even more games than last season. Houston did very well in the offseason, even without the addition of Carmelo Anthony. All of this is on paper of course, and the true test will come at the start of the regular season. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni will have his work cut out for him to try to maximize what he has in a team that could and should be best in the West again this season. This will be tricky and could lead to a few less wins as the team sorts out exactly what they have.
Prediction: 58-24, 1st in Southwest, 2nd in Western Conference