The Houston Rockets
are like..........Daryl Morey's personality.
The Houston Rockets are a very good basketball team, and they got better after the trade deadline with some very good low key moves. On paper, they probably have the most complete roster in the league with depth to almost rival San Antonio and Golden State. And that is where the problem lies, NBA Championships are not won on paper. Analytics can help you build a complete basketball team but it will not help you with chemistry or those murky intangibles that separate contending teams from NBA Champions or Finalists.
On paper and assuming Dwight Howard returns from injury, the Rockets are a ridiculous team. They have everything a modern Championship basketball team is supposed to have. They have a rim protecting center. They have a damn near defensive stopper on the wing and a defensive nuisance at point guard that will literally take out opposing point guards. James Harden is the best offensive basketball player in the world this year, and can create shots for himself and others. They can fill their supposedly weak power forward spot with some semblance of Joey Dorsey, Josh Smith, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas. Dorsey and Smith brings toughness and craziness. Jones brings all around skills and Montiejunas is a decent if predictable player. On the bench, they have two ancient but steady veterans who won't lose you games in Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni. The latter is the perfect caretaker backup who will play defense. They have two wildcards in K.J. McDaniels and Corey Brewer who can supply defense and athleticism, and with Brewer, sometimes 20 points scoring games. It seems like they should match up well with anybody. They are more athletic than the Spurs, deeper than the Clippers and Blazers, better offensively than the Grizzlies and OKC, have younger and better basketball players than the Mavericks and can outgun the Warriors. The Rockets should win the Western Conference. But nobody is picking them to win and neither am I.
There is something missing with this team. They have the personality like their GM, Daryl Morey, which is a personality of a guy who rocks solid color t-shirts with a jacket at press conferences. The Rockets lack charisma. They lack that intangible sense of destiny or deep chemistry that all Championship teams (especially the non-dominant ones like the 2003-2004 Pistons and the 2010-2011 Mavericks) have. The Rockets are an analytics masterpiece lacking in soul. It is something that cannot be measured. PER will not define it, neither will advance statistics. An innovative system will not compensate for it either.
The Rockets do not lack toughness. Patrick Beverly is tough. Joey Dorsey is tough. Non Contract Year Trevor Ariza is still tough even if he can't shoot (Shooting is an inexact science, but does Ariza plan this stuff out? CYA is a 41 percent shooter, but NCYA is usually around 30 to 33 percent.) Josh Smith doesn't take any b.s. from dudes with dreadlocks. They have an identity as a three point loving, analytics driven team with just enough great defensive players to make up for the awful ones. They do not lack heart. It is difficult for me to say that a team full of professional athletes, collectively, lack heart. They do not lack effort. Most teams want to win, especially when they get to the playoffs. However, watching last season's playoffs series against the Blazers, it just seemed like the Blazers wanted it more. Sure, it took a few once in a career performances by LaMarcus Aldridge and a series winning three by Damian Lillard to push the Blazers over the top, but most championship teams can withstand a few ridiculous performances by opposing stars. The Rockets failed to show up in the first two games. Harden appeared out of it in the first two games and he shot horribly (even though, he had a few good scoring games) throughout the series.
James Harden is an incredible talent, but I always question whether he will be there when the chips are down and whether he can carry his team to a series victory even when he or his team are playing horribly. He may prove me wrong, but his style is like a person you would not want to have a friendship or a relationship with. When everything is going well, he is all smiles, hand gestures, and looking up at the sky positive, but when the shit hits the fan, he is no where to be found or is sulking or hiding from the situation. If there is a player in the NBA who personifies analytics, it is James Harden. Unfortunately, his team also has the personality of their analytics loving GM. Analytics and offensive efficiency will help you pile on regular season wins but it takes something more intangible and a lot deeper to make the NBA Finals or win the Championship.
Rockets Watchability Essay
The Rockets are fun, but they are fun in a predictable way. From action movies to fried food to strip clubs, if you engage in too much of a "fun" thing or event, the fun evaporates into "just okay," or "cool." The Rockets put points on the board. They shoot threes excessively (they even allow Josh Smith and NCYA to shoot them), which means they will blow out opponents when they are making them, and get blown out (or soundly defeated) when they are clanking them. The Clippers' 110 to 95 win back on February 11th was a good example of the latter. Either way, if you like points and scoring, the Rocket are your team. However, their style is as redundant as watching James Harden shoot 14 free throws a game if you watch them regularly. The Rockets also have just the right amount of crazy with Patrick Beverley and Joey Dorsey on the roster. The Rockets are a good watch and a good entertainment value, even if they are comparable to brainless mind numbing entertainment.
Paul Tee's Prognosis
Just like six other teams in the Western Conference, the Rockets could make the NBA Finals or they could lose in the first round of the Playoffs. Both of these results would not surprise me. Dwight Howard is no longer the dominant 2009 Orlando Magic version of Dwight Howard, and the team is probably one star (not superstar, just star) short of being a true NBA Championship contender. Now, they are just another great team in the West that could sneak into the Finals, but with the Conference Finals as a more realistic ceiling. The Rockets have a lot of legitimately good NBA players, but I am sure Daryl Morey will spend the next year trying his damnest to find a star or two very near-star players to complement Harden and Howard. The Rockets, along with a few other Western Conference team, have a window of three to four years to win the Championship before Dwight Howard truly falls off a cliff and become a less cool Ben Wallace. One has to believe that in the next four years as James Harden hits his prime, the Rockets will make an NBA Finals appearance. However, as stated above, there is something missing with this team. It is up to Daryl Morey to figure out what that is and complete the roster behind Harden and Howard for a true Championship caliber team. Even with an analytics genius, the last step to an NBA title is a lot more difficult than collecting assets and cashing them in, but eventually the originators of pace and space and excessive three point shooting have to get the title right? Maybe, but originators and innovators often fall short of the ultimate glory.