Two weeks ago I started writing a column that would attempt to answer how Rockets fans should feel watching their team this season. Was it okay to root for development among the rookies but overall failure for the roster?
Should tempered expectations be acceptable on the tried and true philosophies that preach patience and eventual lottery picks? Would Jeremy Lin be enjoyable, or would the half-court offense look like molasses dripping off a table? What style of offense would they deploy with so few certified play makers?
Should everyone strap blinders on, trudge through the regular season, then sit back, crack a beer, and attend a viewing party for the NBA Lottery? After all, why should fans invest any emotions in a roster full of pieces that in all likelihood wouldn’t be in town next year?
Now, after watching Opening Night of both the 2012-13 season and James Harden era go down with a relevant bang, that article doesn’t need to be written. The Rockets aren’t the best team in basketball, and they aren’t the worst team in basketball. What they are, however, is a ridiculous good time.
Granted it was one game—in The Palace, at that—but the Rockets played a style that went beyond entertaining on Wednesday night. Now that expectations are no longer set in stone, the fan base can officially exhale with their expectations and just enjoy what could end up being the NBA’s most delightful ride. From what I saw on opening night, here’s the style they plan on rolling out this season: run, run, jack a three-pointer, run, jack a three-pointer, run, pick-and-roll, dunk, run, run.
Led by Harden and Lin, the Rockets spent the first half racing up and down the court in a controlled chaos. Quick pick-and-roll action initiated by Harden in a spaced out court opened up fantastic opportunities for Omer Asik rolling to the basket, and created open three-point attempts and driving lanes for Lin, Carlos Delfino, and Chandler Parsons (whose athleticism is PERFECT within an up-tempo offense). Even Marcus Morris, who shouldn’t be in the starting lineup over Terrence Jones (think of this as something to look forward to), was able to beat his man up the court on several occasions. He should’ve finished the first quarter with at least 10 points.
The Rockets finished the game with a 96.78 pace, which would’ve made them the second fastest team in the league if extrapolated throughout an entire season. Of their 79 attempted shots, 67 came either behind the three-point line or in the restricted area. Once again, I know this is one game, but that’s a winning formula for a basketball team that showed they were capable of at least knowing what they want to do.
With Harden onboard, this becomes one of the most watchable teams in basketball; the reason a basketball lover like myself, living in Los Angeles, would purchase NBA League Pass.
This isn’t at all taking into account their defense, which hopefully will improve once Asik gets comfortable. Or their ability to make the playoffs and finish above .500. This is strictly my analysis of how this team moved the ball, attacked the rim, created open shots for one another, and made the game of basketball a pleasurable experience for everyone who saw them play.
Right now the Rockets might have reached a peak with cultivating an atmosphere of excitement around their team building process. They’ve acquired a foundational piece (Harden), locked down two above average role players who fill significant holes, and have cap space to make things even better sooner than later.
The present should be cherished because of how much room there is to grow. What I mean by that: the Thunder are miles and miles ahead of Houston today in terms of competing for a championship, but it isn’t crazy to feel more envy towards the Rockets fan base.
Despite the Thunder holding onto two of the game’s 12 best players as they enter their prime (along with a possible defensive game changer), the Rockets have MUCH more flexibility (money to spend, a gully of cap space this summer and next, tradable contracts, in-house improvement, literally the perfect center for today’s game, and a universally effective point guard) moving forward when it comes to fostering a championship contending basketball team.
Sam Presti said at the James Harden press conference that in today’s NBA it’s much more difficult to sustain success than it is to achieve it. Climbing up the side of a mountain isn’t easy, but sitting at the top—shivering in below freezing temperatures with rationed food and water—is an eyelash from impossible. Very few organizations are able to adapt with resiliency.
This is not to say the Thunder won’t draft solid players with the haul they received for Harden, or that Perry Jones III will flame out sooner than later, but Oklahoma City’s movement going forward might be the most demanding in all of the NBA. Their fans just saw a key piece traded yet expectations remain the same, if not higher than they were last year. Season ticket holders still want to win, and they want to win now. From that viewpoint, Presti’s job is significantly more difficult today than it was on October 26th, thus the logic goes that making that deal wasn’t his call to make.
The Rockets? They’re cruising. Nobody’s going to be mad if they miss the playoffs this season because fans are so relieved to see the starting point on tracks to a championship being laid down before their eyes. The smart ones should really like what they see. Twitter: @ShakyAnkles