Every NBA title contender must have a blueprint for success. The Houston Rockets have shocked the NBA this year with how well they have performed. Houston currently has the best record in the league and is well on its way to the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. Winners of 22 of their last 24 games, the Rockets seem poised for a trip to the NBA Finals, a feat the team hasn’t accomplished since the 1994-95 season, when the Rockets were led by Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon. This time around, the Rockets are led by two future Hall of Famers in Chris Paul and James Harden. Together, these two lead one of the most complete rosters in the league. They’re both set on one mission: to win an NBA championship. Here’s how the Houston Rockets’ NBA title hopes can become reality.
The Houston Rockets’ NBA Title Blueprint
Paul and Harden have quickly turned into one of, if not the best backcourt in the NBA. The Rockets’ general manager, Daryl Morey, made it clear this off–season that he was going to get help for Harden, who flamed out in the Western Conference semifinals last season. Morey described the NBA as a “weapons race” that you are either in or out of, and for Morey, Paul was his weapon of choice. Many questioned whether the combination of Harden and Paul would mesh on the court together.
Through off-season workouts and games in the Drew League, Paul and Harden proved the doubters wrong early on. Now, for 48 minutes, the Rockets have Hall of Fame point guard play to help carry them along. Harden now has the ideal partner to take some pressure off him, and there is no drop-off in decision making. Paul now has a scoring two-guard more dynamic than any we have seen alongside him in his career. Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has done a superb job managing their minutes so that one of them is always on the court. Seeing Paul wheel and deal against backups has almost been unfair in most games. This move seems to have revitalized Paul’s passion and energy for the game.
Let’s dive a little deeper into the Rockets’ statistical success so far this year. Led by D’Antoni, an offensive savant, Houston has the all-time best offensive rating of any team. One of the teams below them, in terms of offensive rating, was the 2016-17 Golden State Warriors, led by Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Others behind this Houston team offensively include the 1986-87 Los Angeles Lakers, who were led by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, led by Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen. Need I say more?
Houston leads the league in three-pointers made at 15.4 per game and free throws made at 20.3 nightly. This is an interesting combination, because normally, the more threes a team shoots, the less they would get to the free throw line. This shows how the Rockets can win games in multiple ways. They put together different win streaks in which they have been the fastest and slowest paced team in the league. The Rockets also have four players in the top-20 for three-pointers made per game, which is more players than any other team. In the modern NBA, Houston is the leader for analytics-driven basketball.
The biggest blemish on Harden’s and D’Antoni’s careers so far is defense. Neither has been known to play or, in D’Antoni case, coach defense to a respectable degree. This year, things are different; the Rockets are the eighth-best defensive team in the league. Most Improved Player candidate Clint Capela mans the middle, averaging 11.0 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. The addition of Paul, who has always been a terrific defender at point guard, solidifies them on the perimeter next to Harden, whose defense has greatly improved this season. Trevor Ariza has always been a good defender and the underrated signings of Luc Mbah a Moute and P.J. Tucker have greatly helped defend the wing positions. These two players have also added grit and toughness to the Rockets, which we hadn’t seen in years past besides Patrick Beverley.
In the grueling 82-game season, the best teams have to have a bench that can provide quality minutes. Led by reigning 6th Man of the Year Eric Gordon, the Rockets have bolstered that bench of theirs with solid ‘3-and-D’ players. Swingmen Mbah a Moute and Tucker are both shooting 35 percent and above from three-point range. They also have other savvy veterans in Nene Hilario and Joe Johnson, who could prove very important in the playoffs. That’s without mentioning the mid-season signing of Gerald Green, who was shooting hoops in his driveway at home before the Rockets gave him a call. Green is averaging 11 points and shooting 37 percent from three-point land. The Rockets are as deep as any team in the league.
Houston is primed for a deep playoff run, and possibly an NBA title run, with these blueprints. They have all the variables that make an NBA team great. Star power, defense, and depth have proven to be the staple of any title contending team. We shall see if Houston can meet the challenge.
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