Red94 round table: All-Star break season in-review

Welcome to another installment of our Red94 round table! This week we decided to take some time and reflect on the Rockets’ season so far. Since the All-Star break is the unofficial “halfway point” of the NBA season, we decided to not only reflect on what has transpired so far, but also look ahead to the remaining portion of the season for the Rockets. Without further ado, let’s get into the questions!

1) How would you grade the “first half” of the season for the Rockets?

Kevin Glass: I’ll give them a A-, while saying that I don’t consider their injury woes to be something that would have been foreseen or controllable. Chris Paul, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon – three of the Rockets’ top four players – missed 20, 11, and 9 games respectively. Given those injuries, 5th place in a competitive West is impressive, including wins over the best teams, and James Harden has absolutely carried this team to do so.

Derek Davidson: C, neither minus nor plus. Just a C. They are passing the class, are going to make the playoffs, and have a chance to raise their grade to something impressive by the end of the year. But . . . they probably won’t. I think Morey’s deadline moves belie an analysis of the Rockets’ real chances at contention this year, even with Harden’s supernova of a season. Real grades aren’t given out until the end of the year, but a sober estimate of numerous losses to lesser competition, shooting so poor that it can’t even be called streaky, and an aging second star all point to a first or second round exit this Spring.

Ross Michie-Derrick: At the beginning of the season the Houston Rockets set lofty goals. They wanted to replace Trevor Ariza and Luc M’bah a Moute on the cheap, get the first seed in the Western Conference, and compete with Golden State in the playoffs. With the deadline passed, the buyout market dry, and James Ennis disappointing a whole new set of fans in Philly, it doesn’t seem like any Trevor Arizas are out there to be had. The one-seed looks impossible as well, with the Rockets eight games back of Golden State with 25 remaining. All that’s left is goal number three, and it doesn’t look good there, either. It’s hard to give the Rockets a harsh grade given all the injuries they’ve suffered, but with stakes so high there’s no room for sympathy. D+

2) What has been the most surprising team/player/storyline so far this season?

Glass: James Harden has become Atlas, a titan holding the entire world on his back. Over the last few years, we’ve seen that Harden can be an entire offensive system unto himself, but this year he has taken it to absurd levels. He’s putting up over 36 points per game and doing so efficiently. He’s had the 30-point streak. He had the unassisted-scoring streak. He makes circus shots with regularity. He’s scored more than 50 points five times when no other player has more than one such game. Even for the reigning MVP, this onslaught has been surprising. It might have been borne by necessity due to the injuries, but it’s shocking nonetheless, and a joy to watch.

Davidson: Despite the on court outcomes being less than stellar, I have enjoyed watching Morey work this year. He is obviously under new marching orders, but he’s relentlessly pressure testing that CBA in his attempt to build a winning team under considerable constraints. He is always tinkering at the margins looking for an advantage. This year’s work with the two-way contracts and the upcoming pirouette on 10-day and buyout contracts is innovative (and hopefully effective?). He’s said consistently that the Rockets need their best team in April, not now. Still, the balance between making the playoffs with advantageous seeding, not overworking the stars, and integrating new talent is a precarious one.

Michie-Derrick: The Sacramento Kings are the best story in the NBA. And while potentially drought-breaking playoff runs and fun, high-speed basketball are great, the Kings’ chief accomplishment is redeeming my 2016 and 2017 draft boards by turning DeAaron Fox and Buddy Hield into productive and even prolific basketball players. Their success combined with their contemporaries’ (Simmons, Tatum, and Mitchell) relative struggles has allowed me to escape ridicule and condemnation after brutal rookie seasons from the pair had damaged my draft-day credibility.

3) Give us your prediction for how the rest of the season plays out for the Rockets

Glass: I’ll be Eeyore: this year’s iteration of this team never gets fully healthy. Chris Paul is kind-of-sort-of rounding into form, Eric Gordon is having a down year, and Clint Capela’s effectiveness post-injury just doesn’t see him at the level that the Rockets need him to be at. James Harden alone is enough for the 4th or 5th seed and a first-round win, but they fall to Golden State in the second round.

Davidson: The Rockets are hoping they get someone worthwhile on the buyout market and resolve the Danuel House situation. I imagine they’ll be getting it together by the end of the year, but this “we can flip the switch” culture just isn’t hungry enough for a team with such little room for error. I’m guessing a second round exit to the Warriors.

Michie-Derrick: The Rockets are not where they wanted to be at this point in the season, but there is still a route to the Western Conference Finals and a rematch with the Warriors. The key is catching the Thunder. If Houston can make up that four-game-spread and move into the third seed, they could potentially get a second-round match-up with the pre-whipped Denver Nuggets and avoid Oklahoma City entirely. It will not be easy, but I believe that with Capela, Paul, and Harden all on the floor, they can do it. With the way this season has gone, a dice-roll against the Warriors and a helping of underdog-angst is all you can ask for.

About the author: Eric has previously covered the Rockets for The Dream Shake and Hoops Habit, and is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The 94. Favorite Rockets include Patrick Beverley and Omer Asik!

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Rahat Huq
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You could make a case for anywhere from A to C. C for the atrocious defense and rebounding. A for actually being in position to win homecourt despite the injuries.

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