2017-18 Houston Rockets Season Preview

After a newsworthy summer, the Houston Rockets look to be one of the more interesting teams heading into the 2017-18 NBA season. With new acquisitions like Chris Paul, PJ Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Tarik Black, the Rockets made headlines all summer in their endless pursuit of their 3rd NBA title which would mean knocking off the dynastic Golden State Warriors.

With all this excitement we, the staff at Red Nation Hoops, thought we'd preview the season together. Normally, a conventional season preview consists of one person detailing all aspects of a particular roster as they try to project what the upcoming year is going to look like. We've done that before, but this year we thought we'd do it a little different.

We asked the staff 5 compelling questions about the team to see what they'd say. Hope you enjoy.

 

How many games does this team win and what seed in the West do you see them getting?

 

Salman Ali: 54 wins as a 3rd seed.

So there's no confusion, let me explain my reasoning. The Rockets absolutely upgraded their roster talent significantly, but I think this team is better suited for the playoffs than the regular season. There are a couple of reasons for this:

  1. The West got significantly better. The Rockets will lose more games simply because of this.

  2. It will take some time for the new parts (most notably Chris Paul) to get incorporated into the fold. Historically, it can take time to assimilate major talent (ex: first 10 games of 2010-11 Miami Heat).


Houston upped their playoff ceiling substantially, but I believe they win at mostly the same rate in the regular season. This team could totally win 60 games and blow this prediction out of the water. Such is life.

Jorge Flores: I believe the Rockets will win 60 games and finish with the second seed in the West. While 60 seems like a really high number, this Rockets team will have a ton of firepower and depth that should propel the Rockets to one of the highest records in the entire NBA.

Taylor Pate: The team will likely win around the same amount of games as last season (55). Although the overall talent on the team has increased tremendously, the West has improved so much that it's not going to be easy to win 60+ games. 55 wins will more than likely be the 2nd or 3rd seed.

Paul Michie-Derrick: 59 wins and the 2nd seed. Chris Paul and James Harden as a playmaking duo guarantees a great offense and, with the additions of PJ Tucker and Luc, they're set to be an elite defense.

Forrest Walker: This Rockets team should be really, really good. I’m picking them for 57 wins this year, despite the fact that I probably shouldn’t. This team has improved significantly over the summer, and they were a legitimate 55 win team last season. Sometimes it just boils down to that.

Joshua Lewis: With upgraded artillery courtesy of Daryl Morey, I see the Rockets going 58-24, good for the 2nd seed in the West. When James Harden was in full control last year, he vaulted the Rockets to a smooth 55-27 record. The addition of Chris Paul could only push the envelope harder. Efficiency, ball-movement, and defense are qualities that come with Paul, not to mention help from new wings PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. There will always be a top 10 NBA player on the floor, so the sky’s the limit.

Matthew Cardenas: I'm thinking somewhere between 55 and 60 wins - it all depends on the first few weeks of the season. If it takes time for the group to gel, I would go with 55 or 56. They will probably end up with the 3rd seed, but with Kawhi Leonard's quad still lingering, the potential for a 2-seed is on the table.

Kyle Chilek: 58 wins and the 2nd seed. I think the only thing keeping them from 60 wins is health and rest. I believe they'll try to keep Chris Paul's minutes down and when he has to miss a few games, it's still to be determined if Isaiah Taylor or Bobby Brown can be a competent 3rd point guard.

Trent Arnold: 61 wins, second seed in the West. This may be a little high given the Rockets have to integrate a lot of new talent, but this team is deep. They have a strong ten man rotation and they've added guys that can contribute on both ends. They also have the versatility to play offensive and defensive lineups, which is something they didn't have last season. They were deep last year and they added more depth, while also adding Chris Paul.

 

How do you see the Harden/Paul pairing working out?

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Salman Ali: I'll be honest. Initially, the fit seemed odd to me. When Marc Stein first reported the Rockets were interested in Chris Paul (along with a bunch of other star players), it didn't seem like a natural pairing. I saw redundancy issues and it was hard to ignore that James Harden had just completed his best season at the point guard position.

However, the more I thought about it, the more I bought into the pairing. A lot of smart arguments were made about Harden and Paul's catch-and-shoot ability and Chris Paul is the antithesis of a 'Mike D'Antoni point guard'. What ultimately gives me reassurance that this will work is that the two stars sought this out themselves. The hardest part of making a pairing like this work is getting the buy-in, and that buy-in seems to be there at the start. I foresee some bumps (and frustrating losses) along the way, but I think the two will get it together by the All Star break.

Jorge Flores: I think this is a pairing that will ultimately be very deadly. Things could be really rocky at first, but let’s not forget that Paul WANTS to play with the Beard, that they played together with Team USA, and that the two have been playing pickup ball and holding mini-camps all offseason. All of that work will pay dividends – sooner rather than later.

Taylor Pate: I see Harden and Paul playing very well together. What we’ve seen from Harden is that he takes an offseason as an opportunity to address his flaws. The Beard has been atop the turnover board for two years now, and game six was…well, game six. Harden will give the reigns to Chris Paul. The Point God will temper all of James Harden’s biggest flaws, and this was all by design. The big test will be when things get tough. Harden has shown a tendency to fall back into his bad ways when the going gets tough. Chris Paul should be here to steer the ship straight during rough seas.

Paul Michie-Derrick: The pairing should work great. Both are great spot up shooters and all time high IQ players. If it doesn't work, it will be because of egos.

Forrest Walker: We’ll know more about this in a few weeks (once the season gets going), but the big two of Harden and Paul looks like it will shred opposing teams. They seem to have the will to make this work, and we know they have the talent. If they can set aside their egos, there’s no reason they can’t be the most unstoppable backcourt in the league, and that includes the current champs.

Joshua Lewis: The CP3-Beard marriage will be a beautiful sight to see. Not only are they completely unselfish with the ball, but they know how and when to take over a game with their scoring abilities. It’s an absolute luxury to have two top 5 guards on the same team, and it will prove to be perfect with a multitude of wide-open catch-and-shoot opportunities and brilliant lobs and back-door passes to Clint Capela and the wings. And when one floor general is having an off game, you got another one waiting to take over.

Matthew Cardenas: I think it is going to be a great duo. Harden finally has another playmaking point guard who can score on his own. This will bring out the best in Harden. He won't have to carry as much of a load. We'll see him play more off-ball as well, which he has experience in from his days in OKC. I won't be surprised to see Paul running the floor more with Harden getting catch-and-shoot opportunities or cuts. They seem to want to play together, which will make the fit easier.

Kyle Chilek: I think they'll it'll work out well because, most importantly, they want it to. Harden and Paul weren't thrown together by an opportunistic trade or signing, they made this pairing happen. They are also both capable of playing well off the ball as shooters, and as a cutter in Harden's case. From the way they have both answered questions during training camp, it appears that Harden is ready to make the sacrifice and play off the ball when the two share the floor.

Trent Arnold: I'm one of the bigger believers in the Harden/Paul pairing. Both guys have high IQ's and the skills to work on and off ball. D'Antoni committing to staggering their minutes also means it's very unlikely to fail. Each guy will get 15+ minutes a game of ball dominance at the PG and all they have to do is sacrifice and work off of each other in the other 15 minutes. Both of those guys attacking close outs as a secondary creator will be one of the toughest things to stop in the league this season.


What is the absolute ceiling for this team? And how can the Rockets reach that ceiling?

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Salman Ali: The ceiling for this team is 60+ wins and a competitive series against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. To get there, the Rockets need to come out of the gates clicking (which is totally plausible) and maintain a Top 10 defense throughout the season. This is going to be a difficult jump for the Rockets as they were 18th last year, but the new additions (Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Tarik Black) along with a career year from Clint Capela makes it possible.

Jorge Flores: The absolute ceiling for this team is an NBA Championship. Now, LET ME BE CLEAR, I do not think the Houston Rockets will be hoisting up the Larry O’Brien trophy come June 2018, but I don’t think it can be totally ruled out. You never know what could happen in a long NBA season. Injuries happen. Players regress. Chemistry takes a nosedive. An infinite number of variables are at play, and the Rockets are talented enough to take advantage of any opportunity they face.

Taylor Pate: The ceiling for this team is a championship. The Rockets can achieve that if the pairing between Harden and Paul works out to its potential, and if the defensive players the Rockets added are able to match up with the Warriors.

Paul Michie-Derrick: A team that wins 60+ games and takes a couple games from the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals.

Forrest Walker: The utter best this team can do is to win about 60 wins and the championship. This sounds outlandish, but there’s only one team they shouldn’t be able to beat. The chances that the Warriors miss the conference finals or the Rockets actually win that series are low, but they have as good a slim chance as anyone out there.

Joshua Lewis: The absolute ceiling for this team is giving the Warriors a 6-7 game series in the Western Conference Finals, while being considered the second best team in the league. The chemistry development for the team has been in the works since the summer started, and it’s only a matter of time before this team gets a chance to wreak havoc on the entire league. With high octane offense orchestrated by CP3 and James Harden, there is no way that anyone will be able to stop their music in motion. No team will be able to match the depth and versatility of the team’s personnel, with several guys including PJ Tucker, Eric Gordon, and Luc Mbah a Moute coming off the bench to incite some “dawg” into the Rockets game plan. There will always be open shots to make with the spread offense that’s set up, and each man has the character to make the physical sacrifices defensively to help this team win.

Matthew Cardenas: The ceiling for this team is the Conference Finals. If the Warriors were not this dominant, there is a chance the Rockets could get to the Finals. They can reach this ceiling through the new acquisitions, and I'm looking more at P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute. We know Chris Paul is going to be just fine. Mbah a Moute and Tucker are going to be key to the Rockets having one of the best defenses in the league. They are going to get a lot of open looks from the perimeter as well. They will need to knock down those shots consistently.

Kyle Chilek: The ceiling would be somewhere around 63 wins and pushing Golden State to 6 games in the conference finals. The way they reach that is by having Harden and CP3 mesh as well as possible, establishing a defensive identity with their new pieces, and getting enough shooting out of Tucker to not be a liability on offense.

Trent Arnold: The team's upside is high, but just a tier below the Warriors. If everything goes well they can be the second best team in the league, or at least on par with the Cavaliers. To do so, they need development from Clint Capela on both ends and some defensive commitment from James Harden. If Paul and Harden gel perfectly, with very little redundancy, then the team can elevate even higher. It all comes down to whether or not they can be strong on both ends of the ball. They're almost guaranteed to be a top 5 offense, but the additions Mbah a Moute, Tucker, and Paul help on defense as well. However, to really cement themselves into the top ten, Capela's rim protection needs to improve, and so does Harden's defensive intensity as his offensive load becomes less burdened.

What is the floor? And what goes wrong for the Rockets to reach that point?

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Salman Ali: I have a hard time believing the Rockets don't win at least 45 games and make it to the playoffs just based on talent alone. Chris Paul and James Harden are enough to guarantee that. The Rockets would probably have had to have serious chemistry problems, injury troubles, or defensive issues to get to that point. All of these are totally on the table.

I think people are overlooking that this is kind of an aging roster. Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute, and Nene Hilario are all 31 or older. Also, Ryan Anderson, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and Nene Hilario have injury histories a mile long which is significant enough to give you some pause as to whether or not this team will be healthy all year.

Jorge Flores: I think this team’s floor is a low seed in the Playoffs (7th or 8th). The reason for this kind of position would be chemistry issues with Paul and Harden, but I don’t believe that could totally destroy the this team. Another reason would be the always lingering injury bug, but I believe the Rockets are deep enough to mitigate that a bit.

Taylor Pate: The floor is likely 48 games and losing home court advantage in the playoffs. This happens if Harden and Paul can’t get along or if one of them is injured.

Paul Michie-Derrick: Their floor is team in the 50-win range with good offense and solid defense.

Forrest Walker: If everything falls apart, the Rockets win 45 games and get pummeled by the Warriors in the first round. This would take a scenario where all the players hate each other and the whole enterprise is in flames, much like two years ago. That’s how much talent they have.

Joshua Lewis: The floor for this team is getting the 5th or 6th seed and exiting the playoffs in the first round. This team would make the playoffs with a middle seed based on depth and talent alone. However this would be a severe disappointment, as this would be another regression, reminiscent of the 2015-2016 clunker. Achieving just a 5th or 6th seed would mean that the Chris Paul/James Harden pairing did not work out, and the team is not meshing in the way that they should. Individual player talents would not be used to their full potential. Clint Capela would have shown no improvement, Ariza would have looked old, and Ryan Anderson would have been a defensive liability with absurdly streaky shooting. Eric Gordon and Nene Hilario would also probably have to deal with injury issues. Mbah a Moute and Tucker would have to prove to be offensive liabilities who also look old.

Matthew Cardenas: The floor is a first round exit. That will likely only happen if Chris Paul and James Harden do not gel as well as we expect. They have not played a real game together yet, so we do not know what to expect.


Kyle Chilek: The floor, assuming decent health, would be around 50 wins. The team has too much talent to fall below that. For that to happen, lineups with both Harden and Paul would have to be disappointing and Clint Capela would have to stagnate at the level he was last season.

Trent Arnold: The floor for the Rockets is probably 53 wins. Things may not go as well as last year, health wise and chemistry wise, but the depth and talent make it hard to see this team falling far below last year's tally.

 

What about this team are you most interested in seeing this year? (Could be under the radar or obvious)

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Salman Ali: I'm interested on seeing if the Rockets can actually attain a Top 5-10 defense this year. It's been all they've talked about in training camp and their additions reflect a serious interest in improving on that end of the floor. They also have the potential to throw out some really switchy lineups to counter the Warriors death lineup with all the wings they have (Ex: Chris Paul, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Luc Mbah a Moute, and PJ Tucker). D'Antoni will likely toy with these lineups all season.

Jorge Flores: Defense. Daryl Morey added some insane defensive depth this offseason. He replaced All-Defense first teamer Patrick Beverley with CHRIS FREAKING PAUL. As much as CP3 is an offensive mastermind, he laid a blueprint for Pat Bev to become the defensive pest he is. In addition to incumbent long-armed swingman Trevor Ariza, Morey brought over Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (teammate of Paul with the Clippers) and PJ Tucker to guard the opposing team's best players at various positions.

Taylor Pate: I’m most interested to see the versatile lineups that can be played. There are potentially elite defensive lineups to be had, and at the other end of the spectrum, unstoppable offensive lineups. There are situational combinations for nearly every scenario.

Paul Michie-Derrick: Will Clint Capela blossom into an All-Star level player?

Forrest Walker: I’m ready to watch the defense. Nationally, not many people are talking about the defensive improvements the team has made, but I’m over the moon about them. Their roster is long and versatile on defense, and I think they have every chance to be a top ten defense if they can gel relatively quickly.

Joshua Lewis: I’m interested to see D’Antoni’s crunch time lineups. We know Harden and Paul are going to be out there, but who else? There are so many combinations to choose from, and surely a lot of them will prove to be effective.

Here’s some off the top of my head:

Paul-Harden-Ariza-Ryno-Capela

Paul-Gordon-Harden-Tucker-Nene

Paul-Harden-Tucker-Ariza-Capela


Matthew Cardenas: I am excited to see Clint Capela’s continued growth. He is going to have a lot of lobs on the pick and roll from either Paul or Harden. I think it is possible he is in the running for Most Improved Player. His conditioning will need to improve, though. Right now, he can only play about 25 minutes a night. It would be nice to see that go up to 29 or 30.


Kyle Chilek: The thing I'm most excited for is the team being able to have an elite ball handler running the offense for all 48 minutes. I can't wait to see how Paul, or Harden, tear apart 2nd units.

Trent Arnold: I'm most interested to see a couple of things; how does Capela develop and can Harden continue his MVP form? Capela has said he's worked on his conditioning and hopes to play 28+ minutes a game. So if his per minute stats stack up, he should put up great numbers. If he improves on top of that, he could again be thrown around in MIP conversations. As far as Harden's MVP case is concerned, I don't think Chris Paul will take as many votes away as people say. If they win 60+ games and Harden drops 27/7/7 again, will CPs 18/9/4 steal votes? I don't think so.

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