Talk about a letdown. After months of anticipation, Houston was dismantled from the opening tip by a Pelicans team that was bigger, and just looked faster. The Rockets almost seemed to have no defensive system in place at times, and were obliterated by the Pelicans’ big man trio of Davis, Mirotic, and Randle.
It almost felt as if James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela didn’t play, and the box score sort of reflects that. There of course will be overreaction to this one. (What would sports be without overreaction?) But Houston struggled last year as well with this matchup. They’ll get a chance to redeem themselves on Saturday.
I was faced with the not completely insignificant dilemma earlier of publishing my annual preview after having watched the preseason. I had to wait. I mean, it almost seemed as though a Jimmy Butler trade was possibly imminent, right? Once I realized that I had done this last year too, I was good to go. So here we are. The opener is Wednesday evening.
The big takeaway from the preseason is that Houston appears to be much deeper than previously depicted by critics. With the emergence of Michael Carter-Williams as a viable option off the bench, in combination with a strong showing from James Ennis, its entirely possible (and probably even likely) that the Rockets don’t miss a beat from the off-season departures of swing forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Somehow though, as has typically been the case, Houston’s imminent demise has been forecasted on most other pages on the internet.
The defining development of last season’s campaign, which catapulted Houston from a dangerous 55-win team to one of the top units of the last decade, was the improvement from 18th in defensive rating a season before all the way up to seventh in 2018. Much of that can be attributed to the defensive rebounding percentage improvement from 21st in 2017 up to fourth last season. Clint Capela got tougher and more P.J. Tucker and less Ryan Anderson was a very good thing. The offense, of course, remained fantastic, dipping slightly from 114.1 to 114.0, but actually ranking first overall due to a dip from Golden State.
Pace also significantly slowed to a crawl, which really only came to anyone’s attention once the Conference Finals rolled around and it became evident that few in the national media had actually watched the Rockets play basketball. The row over playing style of a 65-win team was rather humorous.
In this week’s episode, we touched a little bit upon the Rockets’ expected lineup in 2019. As I noted, as always seems to be the case, the Rockets appear to be much deeper than critics have described, particularly due to the discovered usefulness of Michael Carter-Williams. We have not even seen Brandon Knight yet, the player I figured would be the first man off the bench.
When the games actually count again, I still think we’ll see Eric Gordon in the opening lineup next to James Harden and Chris Paul. Tucker and Capela will round out the starting five.
It’s at that point where I’m not sure what happens because you still have James Ennis, Knight, Carter-Williams, and Carmelo Anthony, for a nine man rotation and not enough minutes to go around. One of the former three is going to get the short end of the stick.
I think Anthony’s best shot at minutes is if he can hold his own defensively as a backup ‘5’ in smallball units. They tried that with Ryan Anderson and Melo is a much better Ryan Anderson at this point.