The win against Boston was the first ‘good win’ the Rockets have had in quite a while. They kept the ball moving (most assists the team has registered since Christmas Day against the Spurs) and were able to generate the shots they wanted (Dwight Howard’s shot chart was a thing of beauty). The key now is sustaining that momentum and finishing off the road trip strongly against a depleted but nevertheless dangerous Pelicans team. And if they could somehow manage to do that and rest the starters for their first game back home that would be great, since they are going to be up against the Thunder tomorrow night.
Half Way There – Ultimate Rockets broke down the good and the bad of the Rockets now and moving forward as the Rockets approach the midpoint of the season. First, some of the good.
3. Big ‘Three’: The Rockets might not have a Big Three that has marked many recent champions, but forward Chandler Parsons, playing the “three,” has emerged in his third season as the ideal third man in, ranking third among the Rockets in scoring, rebounding and assists, while bringing the ball movement and cutting to complement Howard and James Harden. [read more…]
Basketball is the only sport where you can pretty reliably predict which teams will be playing in the Finals just by looking at where the best few players are located. History has shown that unless a team has at least one of the all-time greats playing in his prime, they are extremely unlikely to win a championship or even make the Finals. (Evidence here if you need it.) The implications for the Rockets are clear: To be legitimate contenders, they need James Harden or Dwight Howard to play like not just an all-star, not just like a future hall of famer, but more like one of the three or four best players in the league and one of the twenty-five best players of the past half century.
Dwight Howard hasn’t played close to that level since his back surgery 635 days ago (for evidence, see here, here, or here), so I would be willing to bet that the Rockets will never win a championship if Dwight Howard is their best player. (That’s not to say he won’t be extremely valuable and important to the cause, just that he probably won’t be the primary contributor to a Rockets’ championship.)
James Harden is a different story. He’s clearly not top-3 level yet, but the data I looked at last week gave me optimism that he could get there before long, so this week I am taking it a step further and directly comparing Harden’s young career to the all-time greats.