Big changes happened in Houston over free agency, and D’Antoni and the Rockets are prepped once again to make a finals run.
Just as it looked like the Rockets had reached the limit of their playing style during their meeting with Golden State in the Western Conference semi-finals, the surprising addition of Westbrook has breathed new life into their championship hopes, especially since it meant doing away with the ageing Chris Paul.
Retaining centre Clint Capela and up-and-comer Danuel House Jr is also a huge positive for the next season.
However, one of the uncertainties that people are commonly voicing about the new look Rockets is whether Russell Westbrook can fit in with their style of play. Sure, it’s good to be with your friend but Westbrook’s terrible shooting has dug him in to more holes than he’s been saved from.
On the other hand, it is very easy to predict what kind of role Russell Westbrook will play within the 2019/20 Rockets. He’s a fast and unpredictable slasher who can detect the defence collapsing and react accordingly. Oklahoma didn’t have consistent enough shooters to pull off a high volume of threes, but the Rockets do.
Also, with it not being Westbrook’s “team” any more, I can imagine him being asked to inhabit a smaller role alongside James Harden.
Here is a predictive look at the Houston Rocket’s 2019/20 NBA season.
Predicted wins: 57 – 25
The NBA schedule was released in August and there are some changes from last year that are likely to influence the Rocket’s season.
Although the NBA has promised less back-to-back games this season, the Rockets still ended up with 11 of them, 9 before the All Star break. However, the NBA has ensured that no team plays more than 4 games in a 5 day stretch.
As well as this, there are four difficult stretches on the road throughout the season that the Rockets will face, all of which feature strong teams.
During their streak in early November they’ll meet with a revitalised post-Wade Heat featuring Jimmy Butler and rookie Tyler Herro. They kick off another four game tour at LA against the Clippers on December 19, then face Minnesota, Denver, Utah and Portland on the road in late January. Finally, they round off their season playing Milwaukee, Detroit and Dallas twice during a 6 – 2 stretch of away games. Did I mention that all these road trips feature back-to-backs?
Apart from these stretches that may cause fatigue, the Rockets are primed for post-season success in 2020, including a trip to the finals.
Houston have not one but two MVPs in their starting line-up. Not only are James Harden and Russell Westbrook both exceptional players by themselves (both of their MVP seasons heavily featured a “do it all yourself” narrative), but they’re a bonafide dynamic duo.
The last time they played in the same colours on an NBA floor was on June 21st in 2012, in the finals against LeBron James’ Heat. They’ve both grown as players, physically and mentally, and I can’t wait to see how much has changed.
Although it has been a while since they both played on the same team, Westbrook and Harden are good friends and are often seen playing together, especially in off-season pickup games like this one against Demar Derozen and Travis Scott.
I’m positive both Oklahoma and Houston fans are clamouring to watch an alley-oop jam by Westbrook off a Harden assist again.
Golden Nugget Player
Danuel House Jr has done exceptionally well for himself over the last year. Undrafted in 2016, House has spent his time bouncing between playing a few seconds here and there on NBA teams before being busted down to their G-League affiliates.
He eventually ended up playing games with Houston (more often their G-League team, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers) in 2019, which led to his two way contract being turned into a real NBA contract on March 13 and when Chris Paul was out for injury, he found himself starting 13 games at the end of the season.
House had some big games in March, which is hard to do on a team with James Harden. He scored 15 points a few days after his signing, then went off again for 19 including 6 threes a few days later.
It will be interesting to see how often House will end up in D’Antoni’s starting line-up at the start of the season, and how often he will be in the line-up after the halfway point.