Weekly Intellect: The Transformation Begins

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Despite the occasional stumble, the Rockets are starting to look the part of a really good team. This week had it's disappointments (Houston went 2-2), but there have common themes in every game since Houston was demolished against Dwight Howard and the Hawks. Namely resilience and flashes of utter dominance.

There have been stretches where the Rockets have looked like a top 5 team in the league, and even their struggles feel like a product of missing good shots as opposed to not being able to create. Even when they've missed shots, the Rockets have bounced back, whether it be within a game, after a bad run, or in the very next game after a tough loss. That's a sign of strong leadership and Harden appears to have blossomed into the leader everyone hoped he'd be.

The offense is great (as everyone knew it would be), but there's legitimate reason to believe that the league's 5th best offense will get even better as the season progresses. Continuity, while often overstated, is a real thing that can plague teams early in the season. The Rockets have many new pieces and young players and the team has not yet learned how to play together. Once everyone gets a feel for each other and get their roles completely defined, it's entirely possible that the Rockets become the second best offense in the league (behind the Golden State Warriors).

While the offense has been what everyone expected, the defense has been a very pleasant surprise. After a shaky start, the Rockets have had a top 9 defense in their last 6 games. While learning a new system under new assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, Houston looks to have ironed out their early-season mistakes and are playing extremely hard - something that wasn't prevalent with last year's Rockets.

While not exactly oozing with defensive potential, the often mocked squad has made their mark on that end by working extremely hard, communicating, fighting over screens, and crashing the defensive glass. Much to people's surprise, James Harden and Eric Gordon have been two of the team's better defenders thus far. Watch how hard Harden works to fight over screens, how well Gordon helps, and how they turn great defense into offense.

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The team has been focused.

After being the league's worst defensive rebounding team last year with Dwight Howard, giving extra possessions to the opposition was a glaring concern heading into the season. They've shut those concerns down quickly, with James Harden being one of the big reasons, grabbing the most rebounds per game on a team with the 11th best DREB% in the league. Harden was criticized heavily for his effort on the boards last year, and this year, he's given it his all.

In the offseason, Daryl Morey made it clear as day that if the Rockets were going to be good, Clint Capela would have to make a leap as a player. It appears that the 22 year old center is starting to do just that, and then some. Clint Capela is averaging 15.8 points, 12.9 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per 36 minutes.

Capela and Harden have maintained their pick and roll chemistry that excited so many people last season and have been dominant when playing together. When they're on the floor together, the team has a net rating of +16.8 with over 211 total minutes logged.

They've the two best players on the team so far, leading the team in individual net rating. With improved strength and touch, Capela has become a well above average center. Watch him roll to the basket, come down with the ball, muscle his way into position, and finish with his off hand:

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After not starting the season because of knee surgery, Patrick Beverley made his season debut Thursday. The Rockets' second longest tenured player flashed brilliance at the end of last year, and he didn't miss a beat in his debut. He displayed his much improved secondary playmaking in the game against Portland Thursday night - something that will really help the Rockets both when Harden is on the floor and on the bench. The Rockets haven't had anyone other Harden that can get into the teeth of a defense and make something happen with their passing, and that has become one of Beverley's best skills.

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On top of his good offense, he played incredible defense - looking like he did in 2014 when he flustered so many opposing point guards.

The Rockets have exceeded many people's expectations thus far. Both their resilience and flashes of dominance have impressed greatly. If the improvement continues, the Rockets just might be in for a 50 win season - and the franchise's first regular season MVP since Hakeem Olajuwon.

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