NBA

2019-20 Season Preview: Houston Rockets

By NBA.com Global on Oct 20, 2019 11:52 AM

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 16: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Houston Rockets walks onto the court prior to a preseason game against the San Antonio Spurs on October 16, 2019 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)

By Michael C. Wright, NBA.com

Houston’s constant chase of championships caught a second wind in the offseason. GM Daryl Morey loaded up even more firepower to an already elite offensive squad by adding Russell Westbrook to play alongside James Harden. The Rockets also brought back virtually the entire core for another go at what’s been the mission all along: capturing an NBA title. This time, Houston won’t just focus on unseating the Golden State Warriors as it had in recent years. Nope. This past summer of extreme player movement opened up the entire field significantly. Houston figures to play prominently.

ICYMI

Morey and governor Tilman Fertitta showed their desire for a title has only intensified by pulling off a blockbuster trade in July, sending off future Hall of Famer Chris Paul and first-round picks in 2024 and 2026 in addition to pick swaps in 2021 and 2025 to acquire Westbrook. The deal marked the second blockbuster trade between Morey and Oklahoma City GM Sam Presti, and reunited Westbrook with Harden almost seven years after the Thunder originally sent Harden to Houston via trade … Largely spectators during the Draft due to having no picks, Houston did manage to bring back key role players in Danuel House, Austin Rivers and Gerald Green, in addition to signing veterans Tyson Chandler, Ryan Anderson and Thabo Sefolosha, while locking in veteran Eric Gordon with a 3-year extension worth $54 million … In his constant effort to evolve offensively, Harden is working on a one-legged step-back 3-pointer to add to his standard step-back jumper

THREE POINTS

1. Combustibility a concern. Harden and Westbrook want to play together, and the childhood friends are tight off the court. But naturally questions arise about how the former Thunder teammates will co-exist now that the former Kia MVPs have both become such ball-dominant superstars. They’re in their primes, too. They insist they’ll find a way.

2. Depth issues worth monitoring. The top seven players on the roster match up favorably against the majority of the NBA’s top seven. But with high-usage players like Harden and Westbrook, it would be difficult to rest them for long stretches if they’re not confident in the depth. Houston ranked last in bench minutes (27.2) and scoring (27.0) last season.

3. Houston’s biggest flaw? That’s rebounding, specifically defensive rebounding, according to coach Mike D’Antoni. He mentioned this area of weakness on multiple occasions last season, and in September pointed it out as the team’s top priority. Houston tied for 29th last season in defensive rebounding (31.9). The addition of Westbrook might help here.

MAN ON THE SPOT

Coach Mike D’Antoni enters the final year of his contract, after extension talks disintegrated over the summer. He has higher expectations to deliver a title, considering the team’s championship window is slowly closing. He’s also tasked with working to ensure the team’s two superstars -- now both perennial MVP candidates -- re-ignite their on-court chemistry as soon as possible.

STARTING FIVE

Russell Westbrook | 22.9 ppg, 11.1 rpg, 10.7 apg
High-volume 3-point shooting and Westbrook don’t get along.

James Harden | 36.1 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 7.5 apg
Eyeing career mortality, he could benefit from -- gasp -- load management.

Eric Gordon  | 16.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 1.9 apg
Kia Sixth Man of the Year in 2016-17 takes on more responsibility as starter and spot-up shooter.

P.J. Tucker | 7.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.2 apg
Perfect 3-and-D complement to the backcourt, Tucker hit 45.6% from deep last season in the playoffs.

Clint Capela | 16.6 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 1.5 bpg
Needs to rebound from struggles last postseason against Warriors’ small lineups.

KEY RESERVES

Gerald Green | 9.2 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 0.5 apg
Since first signing with the Rockets, no reserve has made as many 3-pointers (255). Currently injured and could miss the entire season.

Austin Rivers | 8.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 2.2 apg
Played a career high in minutes (27.8) with that number expected to increase.

Tyson Chandler | 3.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 0.7 apg
Former Kia Defensive Player of the Year should aid in Capela’s growth.

THE BOTTOM LINE

Once again among the favorites to win it all, Houston will use the regular season (and win at least 50 games along the way) to find the most impactful way to mesh its former MVPs, while tinkering with the supporting cast to build a formidable postseason monster. A deep playoff run won’t be enough organizationally if they’re not hugging the Larry O’Brien Trophy at the end.

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