The Houston Rockets pulled it off.
After months and months of talking about pursuing center Dwight Howard when he reached free agency, Howard held his meetings, and felt like Houston offered him the best chance to win. For the first time since Yao Ming, the Rockets had one of the top centers in basketball. Howard, when healthy, is one of the top five players in the league and the best big man in basketball. His move from Los Angeles to Houston places the Lakers in an area of confusion and rebuilding, while the Rockets are prepared for takeoff- looking for a championship contender built around Dwight Howard and James Harden.
The combination of Howard and Harden are dominant for many reasons. First, both are excellent offensive players. Excluding his first year as the main option in Houston, Harden has recorded many efficient seasons scoring the basketball. Howard has also offered both Orlando and Los Angeles solid scoring numbers on efficient numbers. Along with Howard’s offensive ability, he doubles as one of the best defensive talents in the league. Constant success in Orlando seemed to be hampered by an up and down season in Los Angeles. Moving to Houston, and at perfect health, Howard could return to his monstrous defensive self, and that could spell trouble when you pair him Omer Asik, who isn’t a defensive slouch.
Surrounding Harden and Howard are a bevy of talent that allows the Rockets to play many different styles. Chandler Parsons offers the Rockets an elite three-and-D talent, with the ability to handle the ball and create his own shot. Jeremy Lin struggled at points in his first season with Houston, but slowly adjusted, and gets a new pick-and-roll partner to work with. If the Rockets need grit, they have Greg Smith, Patrick Beverley, and Omer Asik. If they need shooting, Houston holds a long list of shooters, such as Reggie Williams, Francisco Garcia, Parsons, Lin, and Harden. The Rockets are loaded with talent to surround their duo, and the different styles they can play allows Houston to be a matchup nightmare for any team they face.
The two positions that are in question are the point guard and power forward position. Jeremy Lin is walking into the season as the starter, but if he does struggle, Patrick Beverley looks to be in prime position to take over the starting role. Beverley isn’t as efficient as Lin, nor is he a better distributor and caretaker for the offense. Still, Beverley is a better defender, and showed he can hit the three at a decent rate. If Lin and Beverley both falter to run the offense, perhaps head coach Kevin McHale will look to rookie Isaiah Cannan. Selected in the second round in this year’s draft, Cannan has a ton of offensive tools, and Morey likes his ability to run the offense and create for himself. While Cannan is most likely destined for the NBADL, he’ll be closer to the NBA than many people think if the point guard position becomes a problem.
The power forward position is a tricky one. Omer Asik played center last season, but with Howard coming in, he could be pushed to power forward. Neither have offensive ability outside of eight feet, and that duo can clog the lane on the offensive side of the ball. After Asik, the Rockets have plenty of interesting options. Greg Smith could offer similar things to Omer Asik, but Donata Motiejunas and Terrance Jones are the intriguing options. Motiejunas is a seven-foot big man who can play opposite Dwight with the idea that he can stretch the floor. The only problem? We have yet to see him actually stretch the floor, shooting under 30% from three in his rookie season. As for Jones, he’s a phenomenal talent. Much like Motiejunas, Jones didn’t show much ability to stretch the floor, but Jones’ overall skill set shows that something is there. There’s a Lamar Odom like quality to Jones’ game, and could be an interesting fit opposite of Howard and Parsons in the frontcourt.
This melting pot of a roster should form into a constant watch this season. As Houston went through the motions last season, the front office and coaching staff were known to try different things with different lineups. This year, I expect much of the same thing, with the hope to find a consistent starting lineup, as well as other lineups that work in different situations. The Rockets don’t have many weaknesses in the roster, and thanks to the tandem of Howard and Harden, will be in the discussion for the NBA Finals. What will make them actual contenders, however, is how the supporting characters do, and which ones rise to the top. Outside of Parsons, I’m curious to see how the rest of the Rockets roster do, who takes a step up, and who ultimately ends up on the bench.