Metered Expectations or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Rockets

Dwight Howard and James Harden are both superstars. Superstar level talent is the most coveted asset in the NBA, and the Houston Rockets somehow went in for a second serving in two summers. After wildly exceeding expectations and making the playoffs last season, the Rockets now looks like a real playoff threat in a stacked Western Conference. The natural reaction to this news is celebration, excitement and speculation. As a wave of good feelings washes over Houston and Rockets fans around the world, it’s easy to surf that wave. The Lakers surfed the same wave last season, and it came crashing down on top of them. It’s worth climbing off the tower a little bit today to avoid backing away from the ledge next year.

It’s important to remember that there are loads of reasons to believe that the Rockets are on track to win 55+ games and cement home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Dwight Howard, when healthy, is a top ten player in the league at worst, and James Harden is already on his way to that tier. This Rockets team is young, flexible and well-run. There’s no reason that they can’t knock on the door of the Finals this year or any year. That being said, there are a million reasons why they might not make that huge jump everyone’s slating them for. In fact, it’s reasonable to think they might not even move up in the standings in their own division.

It would be easy to forget the lessons of last season due to the success of that same season. Going into that pre-season, Jeremy Lin was the biggest name on the roster and Ömer Aşık’s contract was under attack for being too pricey. The Houston Tank Job finally seemed to be around the corner, and a losing season was overwhelmingly predicted for the young, inexperienced Rockets. Even after the eleventh hour acquisition of James Harden, the Rockets were only supposed to win five or six more games, barely scraping a .500 record. Apart from general manager Daryl Morey and his front office, nobody expected the Rockets to make the playoffs and be, well… good.

After getting ready to just enjoy a fun, fast-paced ride and root for breakout games and skill from prospects, Rockets fans were treated to a meal they’d been ready to pass up. Competitive games and an exciting first round playoff series made anything look possible. For a couple days in May, unspoken hopes too dangerous to believe rushed to the surface. Could the Rockets possibly beat the Thunder? Could they be the first NBA team to come back from 0-3? The answer, of course, was no. But the tone had changed. Houston was about to stop being a team of the future and start being a team of today.

Now Morey’s gone and snagged the biggest fish in the pond, Dwight Howard, and expectations have ballooned to titanic proportions. With the painful nadir of a rebuild quietly skipped over, and a growing Houston team pairing up with a top talent, why wouldn’t they make the playoffs? The second round? The conference finals? The NBA finals, even? Heck, when do we start clearing a spot for the third Larry O’Brien trophy? Everything seems to be going Houston’s way the past year. Why not a little longer?

Health, chemistry and luck are why not. Even if you think the Rockets are the most talented team in the league (they’re not) or the most skilled (they’re not), they aren’t immune to the same factors which derail 29 teams every year. Luck and health worked to sideline Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City’s star point guard and a truly important player. There seemed to be no chance for the Thunder to miss the Finals before Westbrook’s Houston-related injury in the playoffs. A pair of knees colliding in next year’s playoffs could see James Harden sitting instead, and there’s no way to predict it or even safeguard against it.

The Los Angeles Lakers of last year are perhaps the most chilling cautionary tale of all. A team that by all rights should have competed for the top record in the league instead floundered and struggled, barely cementing a playoff spot at all. All three factors worked against them, with Kobe Bryant’s freak achilles tear at the end of the season as the penultimate blow. After losing dozens of player games to injury and struggling to find a system to accommodate four star players in Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard, the Lakers were dealt a final indignity when Howard fled to Houston, hoping to escape those problems. If that team in that city with those players couldn’t make it work, then nothing is certain.

It’s therefore entirely possible that the NBA Finals light at the end of a mediocrity tunnel is only a mirage.  But looking toward the destination distracts from the scenery that’s rushing by, and that’s an equal concern. The wonder and excitement of seeing James Harden and his team exceed all limits was its own reward last season. Aşık’s quiet dominance and workmanlike demeanor were reasons to watch Rockets games. Chandler Parsons moved forward in a year everyone expected regression, culminating with an amazing explosion in the playoffs on a national stage. The Rockets didn’t get out of the first round, but it didn’t matter. They’d done so much, so fast, and it was so amazing. But anyone who just looked at the standings, just waited until April to catch games was missing out.

With so many questions that can’t be answered until the season begins, raised expectations are an invitation for disappointment. The Rockets spoiled Houston fans with an amazing, exciting season beyond anyone’s expectations. Morey then followed it up by snagging a free agent that would have been merely a pipe dream only months earlier. It’s tempting to claim greatness before it’s been earned. But the road to that greatness is just as fascinating and far easier to miss. the Rockets may not blast apart ceilings this year, but they’re sure to make moves and show abilities nobody expected. The only way to find out is to watch them for what they are, not cursing them for what they aren’t… yet. Getting swept up in the tide of good feelings is easy, but letting a team surprise you is sublime.

 

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Total comments: 44
  • thejohnnygold says 9 months ago

    My bad--that is Chauncey

  • Ostrow says 9 months ago

    The PnR didn't get a basket right away, but if Howard can get the ball in the position Griffin got it, it will be a basket. 2nd, I don't know if Asik is smarter than Jordan or not, but if he flashes to the middle of the paint between the free throw line and the charge circle, it is a dunk for someone. The position that Gasol helped in was not that great, Griffin is just off balance (and low for some treason) on the spin. You don't block Howard at the rim.

    Edit: I realize that it wasn't a PnR, but in the position that they ended w/ the ball getting doubled it was essentially the result of a PnR. I also think that was Chauncy, who isn't the threat w/ the ball he one was.

  • thejohnnygold says 9 months ago

    Good videos. Two things.

    One, it must be considered that CP3 was being guarded by Tony Allen (currently considered one of the best, if not the best, perimeter defender in the league) which means he isn't able to break down the defense nearly as well through dribble penetration. They had to resort to Crawford to try and generate the offense...and unless he is shooting the ball that is a bad thing. Your observation about Gasol is true, but it is one of many factors that ultimately doomed the Clips.

    Two, Dwight should have been whistled on that screen against Parker. :lol:

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Btw, that last clip with the Dwight PnR was a really smart play that works best with the hand-off guy being someone who can not only shoot but also put the ball on the floor--meaning Jones or DMo but not Asik. The reason why I say this is because there are two common ways to defend the high PnR:

    1. Blair can hedge, which would alter Jameer's course and ruin the timing of the PnR. The problem with Blair hedging in this scenario though is that Hedo can put the ball on the floor if the hedge is too early.
    2. Blair can pack the paint and make it harder for Dwight to roll. The problem with this though is Hedo can shoot.
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Griffin was hurt that series.

    I'm glad you brought that up because it's a common thought, but he was hurt before game 5 so there were 4 games where Blake was perfectly healthy, and as Zach Lowe pointed out in this very insightful write-up:

    This has essentially been a blowout since the Clips’ win in Game 1, and the Grizzlies have destroyed the Los Angeles starting lineup throughout this series. That group is minus-21 for the series and a disastrous minus-27 over the last four games, per NBA.com.

    In that article are some pretty neat clips that I couldn't find on my own, including this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JV8-Wb1OnQs

    Once again, Marc Gasol coming over and providing unwelcomed help because Blake's front court partner--DeAndre Jordan--doesn't space the floor.

    For contrast, here's a clip of and successful Dwight Howard pick and roll.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqTh-8_Yvt4

    In this scenario I believe Hedo Turkoglu is Dwight's front-court partner, and Hedo is being guarding by Dejuan Blair who is too far away to help Duncan.

  • Cooper says 9 months ago Griffin was hurt that series.
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Here's a clip of a Clippers PnR:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kn3LvJ2qh8k

    Fortunately it was successful this time, but see how Marc Gasol is leaving DeAndre to help? If you're the Clippers, you would prefer if Gasol wasn't there everytime.

    The Clippers lost in the 1st round with Blake Griffin averaging 13.2 ppg

  • RollingWave says 9 months ago

    The Clippers issue remains that neither Jordan nor Griffin can reliably defend the paint, and they don't even. have anyone after those guys.

    It's hard to win with a center who's essentially a slightly wealthier man's version of Greg Smith (but making 10 million dollars and starting every game..) did you know that the Clippers were 6 points worse defensively when Jordan was on the floor last year? and you wonder why VDN didn't play him in the 4th quarter. yeah, VDN wasn't a good coach, but DeAndre Jordan really forces his hand.

    It's hard to win without a good center, unless you have Lebron or Jordan, and either those guys had more serviceable center than DeAndre

  • miketheodio says 9 months ago

    Except with the Clippers signing JJ Reddick and Jared Dudley this summer, all of a sudden they have all the floor spacing necessary to make that CP3/Blake PnR hum. Byron Mullens will help spread the court when he's in the rotation. And don't forget, the Clippers still have the instant offense guy coming off the bench that has a very nice 3-point stroke in Jamal Crawford.

    The Clippers are going to be a very dangerous team this upcoming season and with one of the best coaches in the league to boot, Doc Rivers.

    this was my reaction. they made it pretty far into the second round with a weak front court and del negro.

    now they have doc and dependable shooters. granted the front court is still weak, they didn't have strong shooters on their team last year.

  • rocketrick says 9 months ago

    some of you guys have low expectations. when I said WCF.............considering the talent available on this roster that's reasonable to me. all teams have weaknesses........it's the teams whoare best able to hid those short comings and play totheir strengths that excel. we aren't perfect at every position nor do we need to be. however we are capable of matching any other teams lineup with achallenging lineup of our own. few teams have this capability. that's why we are so dangerous to other teams. we can go big, small, quick, fast, defensive oroffensive lineups. in addition to that we have excellent depth at every position which should make our bench one of the tops in the league. I disagree it's always necessary to lose a couple of times before winning it all. each team is different. winning is more closely related to how fast chemistry is built. because of how our team is built I expect chemistry will grow rapidly. the players we have talentscompliment each other well. so I think it's reasonable to expect them to do well.

    Well stated, RBF! Overall, it is hard to find things to counter with. Certainly health and matchups will play a key role in determining just how deep the Rockets make it in the playoffs. It would be hugely beneficial to have a high seed. If the Rockets struggle at times this season, I believe RBF is correct in assessing that the Rockets may have enough in their cupboard and enough flexibility to overcome more than the usual. It will take some time to get that chemistry level up to the nth level. If the Rockets can get something out of their PF position this season, that would be huge. However, they can overcome even that shortcoming should that persist with the players now on the roster. For one, Parsons can occasionally slide over to the 4, allowing the Rockets to put 3 additional 3-point shooters in the game along with D12.
  • rocketrick says 9 months ago

    Clippers aren't worth worrying about unless they trade DeAndre Jordan for a defensive center who can shoot.... Garnett? Oh wait, not gonna happen. That Cp3/Blake PnR can get shut down by elite defensive teams because of the lack of floor spacing, and I think the Grizzlies proved that.

    Except with the Clippers signing JJ Reddick and Jared Dudley this summer, all of a sudden they have all the floor spacing necessary to make that CP3/Blake PnR hum. Byron Mullens will help spread the court when he's in the rotation. And don't forget, the Clippers still have the instant offense guy coming off the bench that has a very nice 3-point stroke in Jamal Crawford.

    The Clippers are going to be a very dangerous team this upcoming season and with one of the best coaches in the league to boot, Doc Rivers.
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Clippers aren't worth worrying about unless they trade DeAndre Jordan for a defensive center who can shoot.... Garnett? Oh wait, not gonna happen. That Cp3/Blake PnR can get shut down by elite defensive teams because of the lack of floor spacing, and I think the Grizzlies proved that.

  • rockets best fan says 9 months ago

    I don't like the Clippers and Grizzlies lack of floor spacing, I don't see either of those teams beating us. The only teams I see as a threat in the West are the Thunder, Spurs, and Warriors.

    no doubt the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers and Warriors will betuff, but I think we will be better than any. the only one that even concerns me is the Clippers.

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    I don't like the Clippers and Grizzlies lack of floor spacing, I don't see either of those teams beating us. The only teams I see as a threat in the West are the Thunder, Spurs, and Warriors.

  • ale11 says 9 months ago

    There is a fine line between what's considered as a goal and what could be seen as "mission accomplished". I mean....WCF is the goal for next season, but I wouldn't be upset if we lose in the second round. What could be a failure is a first round exit, because that's what we accomplished this season and adding Howard to the roster makes up for whatever lack of chemistry our team could experiment, as long as we don't make substantial substractions to this current roster from here to February.

    Suming up, second round seems like a fair target as long as we fall down gracefully to a team that truly deserved to beat us. Anything less than that would be a failure to me (as long as we don't get killed by injuries).

  • rockets best fan says 9 months ago

    some of you guys have low expectations. when I said WCF.............considering the talent available on this roster that's reasonable to me. all teams have weaknesses........it's the teams whoare best able to hid those short comings and play totheir strengths that excel. we aren't perfect at every position nor do we need to be. however we are capable of matching any other teams lineup with achallenging lineup of our own. few teams have this capability. that's why we are so dangerous to other teams. we can go big, small, quick, fast, defensive oroffensive lineups. in addition to that we have excellent depth at every position which should make our bench one of the tops in the league. I disagree it's always necessary to lose a couple of times before winning it all. each team is different. winning is more closely related to how fast chemistry is built. because of how our team is built I expect chemistry will grow rapidly. the players we have talentscompliment each other well. so I think it's reasonable to expect them to do well.

  • Stephen says 9 months ago

    Hopefully we're not Slim Pickens riding the bomb down :)

    I agree it's going to be a wonderful ride this year,with all kinds of little dramas off to the side to distract.
    And the roster now is likely not what the team will field at the start of the season and that will not be the same after the Feb Trade Deadline.

  • thenit says 9 months ago The team has the potential to be a first round exit to winning it all depending on our health and improvements internally to other teams injuries. Matchup will also play a role. The minimum is to make the playoffs and see some growth. It all depends on how our exit looks like
  • feelingsupersonic says 9 months ago I agree that the Western Conference Finals are the goal but that is going depend on health and matchups as well. I wouldn't be disappointed with a second round exit if the team played well but was in a bad matchup.
  • feelingsupersonic says 9 months ago

    Sorry, feelingsupersonice, to have taken you words out of context.


    No problem, sorry I was not clearer. In actuality vonsteve since Motiejunas and Jones have been drafted thre has been ongoing conversation about their games and who they play like. Maybe some forum members describe the player as the ceiling and the style but I meant style. We are pretty hardcore fans here so we all get wrapped up and overvalue our Rockets sometimes so nothing wrong with critiquing that. I hope you enjoy the forum vonsteve.
  • Cooper says 9 months ago Wcf should be a goal but not THE goal that sets your season as good or bad. I think a top 4seed and win a series would be THE goal.
  • vonsteve says 9 months ago

    Sorry, feelingsupersonice, to have taken you words out of context.

  • feelingsupersonic says 9 months ago Welcome to Red94.

    Maybe I didn't make it clear. I do not believe Terence Jones is becoming Grant, I was merely comparing their styles of play for conversation sake. There is a difference.
  • vonsteve says 9 months ago

    Man, I'm excited about the team's future too, but some of these comments are optimistic to the extreme. Parsons will be a Lamar Odom in his prime? T. Jones is Horace Grant? Western Conference Finals at the very least? Come on, now. WCF would be an amazing accomplishment, not our bare level expectation.

  • NorEastern says 9 months ago

    Hmmm. I would think that the Rockets without Harden or Howard would still win 50 games and make it possibly to the second round. And given the Rockets history of drafting not quite tall and strong enough power forwards I have a much lower expectation of Jones. I have him pegged at getting rotation minutes on a top 4 WC team.

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Watching him during summer league, I think he went 2-6 from behind the arc but he was a very confident 2-6 for whatever that's worth. And by confident I mean he would catch and shoot 3's without hesitation with a quick and smooth looking release. He also had a few moments where he timely passed on the 3 and drove to the basket catching defenses off-guard.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 9 months ago

    When I first spotted Jones on Ford's top 100 on ESPN his freshman year at UK, he was projected as a big SF good ball-handling skills, even for a wing. I was hoping he would declare for the draft, and that the Rox would take him the year they picked Marcus Morris, but we had to wait a year, during which he developed into more of a 4 playing between Kidd-Gilchrist and The Brow at UK. If he can be consistent with his shot, then he could leapfrog some other stretch-fours like Ryan Anderson because of his defense and driving ability.
    I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Jones' whole career hinges on his ability to hit threes this season. Without it, the rest of his unique skill set is hard to find a fit for.

    I know. But he only needs to be able to hit the corner 3. So 2 spots on the court. I know it's not easy to learn to shoot from 3, but it's easier if there's only 2 spots to focus on. You can concentrate your efforts there rather than shooting everywhere during practice like Ray Allen.

  • Jeby says 9 months ago

    I do see the reason for comparison, but Grant didn't look to drive as much as Jones does even though Grant was capable of it, and Jones is a much better 3pt shooter by default. Simply put, Grant was more of a skilled PF-C while Jones is more of a skilled PF-SF.

    When I first spotted Jones on Ford's top 100 on ESPN his freshman year at UK, he was projected as a big SF good ball-handling skills, even for a wing. I was hoping he would declare for the draft, and that the Rox would take him the year they picked Marcus Morris, but we had to wait a year, during which he developed into more of a 4 playing between Kidd-Gilchrist and The Brow at UK. If he can be consistent with his shot, then he could leapfrog some other stretch-fours like Ryan Anderson because of his defense and driving ability.
    I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Jones' whole career hinges on his ability to hit threes this season. Without it, the rest of his unique skill set is hard to find a fit for.
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Am I crazy, I still think Jones is an updated version of Horace Grant.

    I do see the reason for comparison, but Grant didn't look to drive as much as Jones does even though Grant was capable of it, and Jones is a much better 3pt shooter by default. Simply put, Grant was more of a skilled PF-C while Jones is more of a skilled PF-SF.

  • feelingsupersonic says 9 months ago Am I crazy, I still think Jones is an updated version of Horace Grant.
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    If you're saying that's his ceiling, I wouldn't disagree, but he's 2-3 full years away from that at least IMO

    I agree. When I said "I think he can become our Lamar Odom" I was indeed insinuating he's not there yet.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 9 months ago If you're saying that's his ceiling, I wouldn't disagree, but he's 2-3 full years away from that at least IMO
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Whoa. Lamar Odom at his prime was really good. He had guard skills in a 7 foot body. That's some pretty big praise.

    Odom is 6'10". Jones is 6'9.5"

    I agree with your sentiment that Odom had better guard skills, but Jones does have some guard skills too to make the comparison justifiable. I've thought about it, and I can't think of a better comparison despite the minor differences.

  • Steven says 9 months ago He is stealing it from me. ;) I've been saying that since they drafted him. That is who my comp of T-Jones has always been, Lamar Odom the Laker/Pre-Kardashian years. A 15 and 8 guy as your third/fourth option. I'd like to see him get some run as a three (in spots) so the lineup can be Howard, D-Mo, Jones, Parsons, Harden.
  • timetodienow1234567 says 9 months ago

    Whoa. Lamar Odom at his prime was really good. He had guard skills in a 7 foot body. That's some pretty big praise.

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Although it's more important at the 5 than it is at the 4, I prefer big men who are good defenders. It's very rare to have a 4 who is a very good defender and shoots 3's, which is part of the reason I like Terrence Jones. I think he can become our Lamar Odom with better shot blocking ability.

  • timetodienow1234567 says 9 months ago

    True, but I guess I just think he needs to learn the PF spot so we can go small ball. Unless you guys are right and Jones is good enough to be a starter this year.

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    I think there are a few reasons why Parsons isn't playing PF.

    • Lack of strength
    • Poor rebounding fundamentals and instincts
    • He's one of our best transition scorers, the 3 spot gives him a head start
    • He's our best perimeter defender, and his ability to guard some SG's helps us hide our worst perimeter defender--James Harden
  • timetodienow1234567 says 9 months ago

    I think that having Garcia starting at the SF and moving Parsons to PF would be best for this team in the long run if Jones and DMo don't excel at the start of the season and LA and Love aren't available. Having Parsons being guarded by slower PFs would be good, and we need somebody there for when teams like SAS(with Kawhi), MIA(with James), NYK(with Melo), OKC(with Durant), etc.... go small ball. We did Delfino last year and he got abused. I always wondered why Parsons wasn't at that spot given his height. He'd need to add strength, but having 4 3 point shooters surrounding Dwight would be best for him and having 3 3 point shooters for Harden to pass out to would cut down on his turnovers significantly.

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Our PF's are too inexperienced for us to win it all, but if they improve fast we have a legit shot. Parsons also has to step up and become our perimeter stopper.

  • Steven says 9 months ago Rockets win the title in 6. That's after going 4 4 4 in the Western Conference
  • CC. says 9 months ago

    At least WCF? Guys it's great we're optimistic but I expect at least that we reach second round and hopefully prevail. If this were the East Conference, sure we'd have great odds at the ECF, but I'm actually putting our ceiling at the WCF. Spurs,Clippers,Memphis,OKC all have at least two years of consecutive playoffs experience, some even more, not to mention the Warriors are on the rise too. And reaching the finals in 2014....uhh I can't see it. I'll hope for it though :)

  • Rockets fan newton says 9 months ago

    true the rockets may not be the most skilled or the most talented, but (IMO) they are the best combination of the two. I expect western conference finals at least. true there will be growing pains, but the rockets are smart. no one can guard against injury, but we are young with players who don't have terrible injury histories. the sky is the limit......sure I will enjoy the journey, but make no mistake I expect it to end in the winners circle :rolleyes:

    I agree I expect atleast WCF..we are also the deepest team..our third string line up if we get camby is
    Brooks Williams Casspi smith Camby
    That beats most team sec string..we lose Howard we have Asik..we lose harden them Lin takes over ball duties which I know most wouldn't like but I promise we would still compete with most if not any team with Lin Garcia Parsons Tjones and Howard starting line up..Clippers lose Paul or Blake they are done..Golden state loses Curry they are done..we saw what happens to OKC if hey lose Westbrook or Durant..other then OKC we have been the healthiest team so far in the West so there is no reason to assume we would have problems God willing..and like I said even if we do we have plenty role players that can step up..if Tjones and Lin play a lil consistent we are the best all around team in the Nba..bold I know..with the heat winning 2 In a row and a bunch of unproven players..no fan talking..I will be surprised if we are not in the finals this year..no matter what happens during the year
  • rockets best fan says 9 months ago

    true the rockets may not be the most skilled or the most talented, but (IMO) they are the best combination of the two. I expect western conference finals at least. true there will be growing pains, but the rockets are smart. no one can guard against injury, but we are young with players who don't have terrible injury histories. the sky is the limit......sure I will enjoy the journey, but make no mistake I expectit to end in the winners circle :rolleyes: