Weekly Intellect: Rockets Ignite a Spark

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A nightmare beginning to the season led to last year's self combustion.The palpable friction and lack of chemistry between star players James Harden and Dwight Howard lit a fuse from with within and it spread like a wildfire with no one put it out. This created the apocalyptic, infernal underworld known as Houston's 2015-1016 season, a place where hope, fun, and optimism went to die. When the season was over, the Rockets were left in ashes.

Dwight Howard departed in the offseason, the Rockets hired offensive guru Mike D'Antoni, and signed sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. After signing them, the Rockets went on to restructure Harden's contract, keeping him in Houston for 3 more seasons. They even made Harden the full-time point guard in training camp. There were a lot of jokes made about the defense, but the plan was clear: Put all the faith in James Harden, put shooting around him, run teams out the gym on offense, and hope he learned from last season's mistakes. The 2016-2017 season is a week in, and it looks like the Rockets have risen from the ashes of their predecessor, alive once again.

Important things we've learned

For the first time since being a Rocket, James Harden has shooting around him combined with a coach that trusts him enough to be the full time point guard, and he has terrorized defenses in ways people haven't seen. Harden's offensive wizardry has long been par for the course, but it seems that he was prevented from fully spreading his wings. He now has the creative freedom to explore any avenue he wishes with the ball,  and  In 5 games at point guard, Harden is averaging 31.8 points, 12.4 assists, 6.8 rebounds, shooting 60% on his 2 pointers, and 39.1% from 3. This new spacey and pick and roll heavy style suits his game perfectly. His offensive rating of 124 is stellar.  Watch him bend the defense at his will here:


Harden anticipates help defense as well as any player in the league. An offense with great space makes you pay for playing help defense, so naturally, Harden is excelling.  Here, he knows what coming before it happens, and whips one of the prettiest cross court passes you'll ever see:


On top of all this great offense from Harden, he's playing good defense. He passes the eye test and the number test. With Harden on the floor, the Rockets have a defensive rating of 109. With him off the floor? 116.4.

Eric Gordon appears to be a natural fit in this offense, especially with Harden. Contrary to popular belief, Gordon gets after it on defense and the offense hums like you wouldn't believe with both players on the floor. He looks to have found a home. Not only can he shoot, but he's been an excellent slasher as well. He's a legitimately good secondary creator, something the Rockets have been missing since acquiring Harden.

Look at how crafty he is changing his pace and then making the right pass when Melo makes a mistake:


Ryan Anderson's been a blessing for Harden. Anderson's shooting creates an obscene number of free runs to the rim for everyone on pick and pops. The sharpshooter has really struggled on 2s, his defense is bad, and his passing his poor, but his elite shooting and range create so many problems for the opposition. On this play, James Harden gets to the paint untagged, untouched, because Melo is so concerned with Anderson getting open:


The Rockets also have quality role players with youth.

KJ McDaniels has been a monster on the boards and as a cutter. He's by far the best rebounding wing. He's worked his but off to help grab defensive rebounds on a team that mostly lacks rebounders. Sam Dekker has proved to be a player who moves the ball well, is athletic, and gives great effort on defense. Even Montrezl Harrell has proved to be a solid positional defender.

Nene and Capela have proved to be a great tandem at center. They fill each other's weaknesses very well. Nene does not defend well, but is a great passer, roll man and finisher, and is the only player on the team with a higher offensive rating than James Harden. Capela, on the other hand, is a very good rebounder, can protect the rim, and gives the Rockets much-needed athleticism.

The Rockets are currently 4th in the league in offensive rating, and there's good reason to believe it will be in the top 2 or 3 when it's all said and done. The combination of athleticism and shooting is going to give teams headaches on defense all year.

The Rockets' defensive effort is actually pretty good (Although, the numbers don't reflect it yet). Their biggest weakness is the rebounding. This will be a theme all year, but the Rockets must continue to work hard on that end, because they cannot afford to let teams shoot well against them with they're rebounding as poorly as this.

The are many reasons to be optimistic - the team chemistry being the biggest of them all. The team seems to genuinely get along, which is a great thing to see after last year's disaster. Time will tell, but based on what we've seen, the Rockets seem to have become respectable and fun to watch, a welcomed sight.


  1. Danny Taylor-HomfeldNovember 3, 2016 at 3:06 PM

    Well, this definitely needs an editors glance over before going to press next time, but I'm excited to see these summaries. Good first draft!

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