As you know, I tracked the Rockets’ rankings in various areas throughout the season last year. I started doing this two years before, but then got lazy and didn’t finish. I realized that this doesn’t have as much value as I’d like but it at least shows us the development of various trends as the season progressed. Most notably, the Rockets were terrible on the boards all season, and started out terribly offensively with Melo on the lineup, but quickly reverted to their usual elite selves after he was purged.
This was where the real value was and I’ll probably track trends more closely next season against injuries and lineup changes. Since I’ve been doing this, over three seasons, the most fascinating observations I’ve made were the lack of much drop-off when Montrezl Harrell replaced an injured Clint Capela in the lineup, the complete and total transformation in the team when Pat Beverley returned from injury and replaced the woeful Tyler Ennis, and last season’s pre-contract dispute stint of Danuel House Jr. In fact, the Rockets were crushing teams without Chris Paul and Eric Gordon, before Capela went down. That bodes well for the Russell Westbrook trade.
The biggest areas where I expect to see improvement next season are on the boards and in pace. I can’t see Houston finishing 29th in DREB% after adding the best rebounding guard in the league and I can’t see them finishing 27th in pace with Westbrook’s propensity to go coast to coast.
But look at those post All-Star break offensive, defensive, and net ratings. That’s a really high bar to match. As I had been arguing, it’s really easy to forget, following the disappointment of another flameout vs. the Warriors that the Rockets were like really, really good last year.
When many of you complained about the lack of fireworks this summer, prior to the Paul/Westbrook trade, I argued that the biggest advantage would be continuity. The Rockets weren’t going to be screwing around trying to implement the likes of Carmelo Anthony and Michael Carter-Williams this year and could hit the ground running with their same rotation in tact. They were screwing around with the 17th ranked offense as late as five weeks into the season last year!
Now while I don’t think its going to be as bad as last year, I do think there will be a short adjustment period as Westbrook and Harden attempt to figure each other out again after a decade apart. Its not going to be as smooth as it would have been initially had the Rockets just run it back with Paul. At the same time, the productivity loss from superstars acclimating to one another is nowhere near what is lost from trying to work Carter-Williams into one’s rotation.