Thursday, October 22, 2015

2015-16 Season Preview: Houston Rockets

HOUSTON ROCKETS
[] 56-26
[] Offensive Rating: 107.9 (12th)
[] Defensive Rating: 104.3 (8th)
[] Net Rating: +3.6 (7th)
[] Eliminated in the Western Conf. Finals
[] Coach: Kevin McHale

The Rockets turned an MVP-caliber season from James Harden into a trip to the Western Conference Finals in 2015.  Harden elevated his game at both ends of the floor and the Rockets got enough from the supporting cast to survive a combined 67 missed games from starting PG Patrick Beverley and C Dwight Howard.  Beverley won't be the starter this year though, as the Rockets grabbed Ty Lawson from the Nuggets in the offseason.  When he's focused, Lawson is one of the better PGs in the league and provides an upgrade on Beverley, and allows Beverley to thrive in a reserve role that better suits his strengths.  Hopefully, for on and off court reasons, Lawson's time spent working with John Lucas this summer helps him deal with his alcohol issues.  While they added Lawson in a trade, they didn't give up any major rotation pieces.  The large majority of the Rockets' rotation, minus Josh Smith is back this year, and so is the threat they pose to the other elite teams in the Western Conference.


Projected Starting Five


PG: Ty Lawson - 5'11, 195 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
75
15.2
18.5
20.6%
52.6%
34.1%
.221
73.0%
.392
43.0%
14.6%

Lawson should bring a new element to the Rockets' offense if his head is on right and he's focused.  He'll be able to take some of hte playmaking duties off of Harden's hands, although it's almost certain that he's going to see his Assist Rate drop in the move to Houston.  If he can give the Rockets some efficient outside shooting and keep his turnovers down, this move works for Houston.

SG: James Harden - 6'5, 220 - 7th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
81
27.4
26.7
31.3%
60.5%
37.5%
.378
86.8%
.561
34.6%
14.9%

Last year's runner-up in MVP voting earned every bit of respect he got last year.  Despite having the sixth-highest Usage Rate in the NBA, Harden managed the league's ninth-highest True Shooting Percentage.  The only other players in the league to appear in the top 20 on both of those lists were Klay Thompson and Steph Curry.  That Harden did it with a fairly minimal amount of help tells you most of what you need to know about his offensive game.  He also posted an Assist Rate that most teams would be okay with from their PG, and managed to keep his turnovers reasonable.  Oh, and he rebounded the ball pretty well, posting seven double digit rebounding games, four of which resulted in triple doubles.  It would be hard for Harden to be this good again, and with assumed health from Dwight Howard and the addition of Lawson, he shouldn't have to be.

SF: Trevor Ariza - 6'8, 200 - 12th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
82
12.8
12.7
16.5%
53.9%
35.0%
.610
85.3%
.157
11.1%
12.7%

Ariza is the kind of two-way role player the Rockets need on the floor.  He had a bit of a down year shooting the ball, but he still gave the Rockets efficient offense and a release valve that keeps defenses honest.  Expect more of the same this year.

PF: Donatas Motiejunas - 7'0, 230 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
71
12.0
14.4
19.1%
55.3%
36.8%
.190
60.2%
.237
11.4%
10.8%

It was unfortunate that the Rockets lost Motiejunas for the playoffs, because he was a valuable piece of their offense last year.  His ability to stretch the floor from the frontcourt helps space the floor, and he does enough of the other stuff to earn and keep the starting PF role.  He's not a great rebounder, but that's alright.  Terrence Jones is the other option here, but I think Motiejunas holds the starting role.

C: Dwight Howard - 6'11, 260 - 12th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
41
15.8
19.2
23.3%
59.6%
52.8%
.641
19.5%
10.0%
28.9%
1.6


Howard missed half of the season with a knee injury, a discouraging note after two mostly healthy seasons in 2012-13 and 2013-14.  The good news is, he should be ready to go for the regular season this year, after he sits out the season opener for a flagrant foul committed in the 2015 playoffs.  With little depth at the C position, the Rockets need him to be his same old self this year.


Bench


PG: Patrick Beverley - 6'1, 185 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
56
10.1
11.3
16.1%
50.9%
35.6%
.607
75.0%
.113
17.2%
12.9%

The Rockets may not have appeared to miss Beverley last season, but that's only because Harden helped mask his absence.  It makes more sense for the Rockets to have Lawson because he's better equipped to take away some of Harden's playmaking duties, but Beverley is still going to be an important piece.  They need his solid defense and reliable outside shooting off the bench.  The Lawson acquisition isn't important because Lawson is a huge upgrade over Beverley as a starter, it's important because Beverley's a huge upgrade on Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni.

G: Jason Terry - 6'3, 175 - 17th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
77
7.0
11.4
14.3%
57.9%
39.0%
.724
81.3%
.108
13.8%
13.7%

Terry is aging, but still useful.  He scored the ball efficiently last season, thanks to a good 3P% with a high frequency of attempts.  He'll share the backup SG duties with Marcus Thornton.

SF: Corey Brewer - 6'9, 195 - 9th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
80
11.5
13.9
21.6%
50.7%
26.8%
.292
74.3%
.281
13.8%
12.7%

Brewer split last season between Minnesota and Houston.  His time with the Rockets was much more fruitful, as he was better in just about every statistical category.  Brewer's defense on the wing is important, as his ability to score in the open court.  He should hold a defined role off the Rockets' bench.

SF: Sam Dekker - 6'9, 210 - Rookie
GP
PPG
APG
BPG
FG%
3P%
FT%
40
13.9
1.2
0.5
52.5%
33.1%
70.8%

The 18th pick in the 2015 draft will have to hold off KJ McDaniels for the reserve wing minutes that don't go to Brewer.  He could also see some time as a small-ball PF if he forces Kevin McHale to find minutes for him.

SF: KJ McDaniels - 6'6, 225 - 2nd NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
AST%
TOV%
43
4.2
7.8
14.2%
44.4%
29.2%
.538
72.2%
.091
15.8%
21.2%

McDaniels (and his mom) will be fighting for minutes in a crowded wing picture.  His defensive promise was evident in his rookie year.  So was the fact that he's extremely raw offensively.  *Hangs "PASS THE BALL TO MY SON" banner*

PF: Terrence Jones - 6'9, 250 - 4th NBA season
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
3P%
3PAr
FT%
FTr
TRB%
AST%
33
11.7
18.3
18.4%
56.7%
35.1%
.124
60.6%
.314
13.7%
6.9%

A leg injury cut out large chunks of a promising third season for Terrence Jones.  He showed consistency from beyond the arc for the first time in his career, and got to the free throw line at a more frequent pace.  He'll challenge Donatas Motiejunas for the majority of the PF minutes throughout the year.

F/C: Clint Capela - 6'10, 240 - 2nd NBA season (2014-15 playoff stats)
GP
PPG
PER
USG%
TS%
FT%
FTr
TRB%
ORB%
DRB%
BLK/36
17
3.4
21.8
15.4%
65.1%
51.7%
.935
17.2%
10.8%
23.4%
2.6

Capela actually played more NBA minutes/games in the playoffs than he did in the regular season in 2014-15.  That experience should serve him well as the only viable backup to Dwight Howard on the roster.  The Rockets grabbed Arsalan Kazemi off of waivers, and he'll provide the depth behind Capela.

Outlook

The Rockets improved their depth through the Ty Lawson acquisition and simply by getting a few guys back at full health who had been banged up in 2014-15.  I fully expect James Harden to be in the same realm as he was last year, and that alone should be enough to make the Rockets contenders in the Western Conference.  Add in a better health outlook for guys like Howard, Beverley and Jones, and it's not hard to see Houston on the same level as just about any team in the league.  However, by the nature of the Western Conference being what it is, a brutal slugfest, I see the Rockets losing a couple of wins.  I've got Houston coming away with 54 wins by the time the regular season wraps up.


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