I had started writing this like a month ago and then decided I didn’t feel like finishing it and haven’t written anything since. But Kevin Pelton’s latest projections at ESPN.com, which have the Rockets finishing first in the West next season, reminded me that I had wanted to finish this particular post.
The reader raises an interesting point which I plan to address. But first, the matter of season predictions where we’ve, in recent weeks, seen betting and statistical models almost across the board hold the Rockets in very high regard while conventional wisdom has sort of treated them as an afterthought in the euphoria over the imminent relevance of both L.A. teams. Its interesting to me because Houston finishing first in the West should not really be a hot take. I personally have serious questions and concerns over what they can accomplish in the postseason but I’m expecting a pretty dominant regular season output. Really, the main barrier to 2017-2018’s glorious ceiling is the ridiculous parity out West. But the Rockets have depth, the return of their core components (with just Paul swapped out for Westbrook, of course), and most importantly, the expected health and availability of both superstars. None of the other contenders in the West can say the same.
Its a weird place to be in considering last season’s biggest question mark for the Rockets centered upon the health and availability of Paul with most previews including some prescription of load management or similar precaution for the aging superstar. Conversely, Houston can now cite to durability as a strength, at least in comparison to the West’s other top contenders. Paul George is expected to miss the first few weeks of the year, Kawhi Leonard will probably continue on some form of load management, Anthony Davis has only appeared in more than 75 games twice in his career, and Lebron James is a 35 year old whose midseason injury torpedoed the Lakers’ chances last season. Meanwhile, Westbrook has only missed 14 games in the last four seasons, while Harden has only missed 16 in the last five. Indeed, durability and availability should be an expected strength for the Rockets, particularly considering that both stars are accustomed to carrying insane workloads.
The reader’s initial question though is an interesting one. For Harden, I’d guess build has much to do with it. But I’ve read other notes, I think regarding Westbrook, which suggests certain landing mechanics have contributed to the good fortunes. Perhaps one of you can shed more insight.