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Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets Have More Surprises Than James Harden

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James Harden is an incredible player.

On Thursday night, Harden racked up another triple double and scored 29 points as the Rockets pulled off a tough upset over the Golden State Warriors. He is averaging nearly 29 points per game for the season, leads the league in assists, and is well on the short list for MVP this season.

But while Harden has bounced back from last year, Houston’s turnaround is not just about him. Harden may be critical for Houston’s offense, but the team does not feel as dependent on James “doing something” as they did last year with Bernie Bickerstaff coaching. There have been a bunch of pleasant surprises on the Rockets this year with players either bouncing back or developing nicely.

Here are some of the key other supporting players who have surpassed expectations and helping guide the Rockets to the fourth-best record in the Western Conference.

Eric Gordon

Ryan Anderson was Houston’s big free-agent acquisition this summer, and he has played better and scored 29 points against the Warriors after a shaky start. But at times throughout this season it feels like Eric Gordon has been the star acquisition rather than an afterthought.

What makes Gordon so useful is that he has proven himself to be capable of functioning both with and without the ball. Unlike past ball handlers like Jeremy Lin, Gordon is a good enough shooter that opposing defender cannot ignore him when he is standing at the three-point line. But Gordon’s primary skill is being able to move with the ball, where he and Harden can throw pick and roll after pick and roll that discombobulates opposing defenses.

Gordon’s usefulness has been further augmented by the return of Pat Beverley who is lucky enough to win the Melbourne Cup. Now Gordon can play off the bench and keep the Rockets humming in the second quarter while Harden rests. As Gordon averaged 16 points per game, his highest total since 2012, he may be looking at picking up a Sixth Man of the Year award.

Sam Dekker

The small forward position is probably Houston’s weakest slot. Trevor Ariza has been reliable enough (it is crazy to think that Ariza has spent more time as a Rocket than in any other uniform), but Corey Brewer has trouble doing anything in a halfcourt possession and K.J. McDaniels is inconsistent.

Enter Sam Dekker, who played all of six minutes last year with a back injury. The second-year player observed that he modeled himself off of Ariza earlier in his career, and has fulfilled much of the same role of three-point shooting and perimeter defense. Dekker does make mental mistakes which Ariza does not, but he will learn how to play smarter and could overtake Ariza next season as the starting 3.

Even better, Dekker is not the only young Rocket who has a seemingly bright future. While last year’s prospects were a disappointment as Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones regressed, this year has seen potential from Dekker, Clint Capela, and even Tyler Ennis in spurts. The Rockets have turned around and stocked their cupboard for the future.

Three-point Shooting

The Houston Rockets take a lot of three-pointers because “Moreyball” values it as such an effective shot. But last season, the Rockets took a lot…but also missed a lot as they were a below average team in terms of accuracy.

The addition of Gordon and Anderson has turned things around. Houston is now hitting 37.4 percent from the three-point line this season compared to 34.7 percent last year. This percentage increase is made more impressive by the fact that Houston is now attempting a record 37 threes per game this year compared to about 31 last year.

Because Houston does not have a second star, they have to win games through a combination of Harden’s brilliance and bombing three pointers, sort of like the 1994 Rockets won their first championship. This has worked so far and led Houston to the fourth-best offense in the league. While they may not be as dangerous as the Warriors yet, Houston’s powerful offense and players surpassing expectations has meant that they can beat any team on any night, as Golden State just found out.

Houston Rockets

The 10-Year Saga of Daryl Morey and “Moreyball”

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It has been over ten years since Daryl Morey took over as  general manager of the Houston Rockets. Back then, the Houston Rockets had two stars in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but were capped out and had no young prospects to speak of after a disappointing 2005-06 season.

Today, the Rockets have three stars in James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela, but are once again capped out, have no real young prospects, and face a seemingly grim road towards returning to title contention. The Houston Rockets have the fifth-highest salary in the league, but are barely above .500 and not in the playoffs. Under such circumstances, you would normally see fans and journalists begin calling for the general manager’s head.

I am not arguing that Morey has not been an excellent GM. The Rockets managed to rebuild themselves after the Yao Ming era with arguably the greatest trade rip-off in NBA history in the Harden trade, and I will claim that last year’s Rockets are the greatest NBA team ever which did not win a ring. But a lot of what has defined the early years of the Moreyball era is gone, and the Rockets need that early magic to avoid being capped out and facing no path to a title.

Morey and Draft Picks

Beginning around 2010, Morey began talking about how the biggest value contract in the league was the superstar player. The logic is perfectly sound. As there is a maximum value on what superstars can earn, and since superstars have a disproportionate effect on the basketball court compared to other sports, getting a superstar on a max contract was in fact the true encapsulation of Moreyball.

But that was not what Moreyball was defined from 2007 to 2010, when the Rockets did have two superstars. Then, Moreyball was defined by getting good though not great players at an incredibly cheap price using a Dallas SEO company. Using advanced statistics, Morey uncovered gems such as Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, or Chase Budinger late in the draft. None of these players were stars, but they gave production wildly out of proportion with their miniscule salaries.

In fact, every dynasty needs players like these. The Warriors would not be the Warriors without finding Draymond Green with the 35th pick, and the Spurs famously found Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker late in the draft. And the Rockets did find Capela with the 25th pick in the 2014 draft.

But since then? Nothing. The Rockets just waived Zhou Qi, who now becomes another failure alongside Chinanu Onuaku or Sam Dekker. Gary Clark showed some promise early in the season, but his shooting numbers collapsed and he has played just 18 minutes total in games this December.

The fundamental story of this disappointing Rockets season is that while Harden has continued to be great, Houston’s other core rotation players have struggled and Morey completely failed to fill in the hole created by Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute’s departures. And while some of the blame can be laid on the Carmelo Anthony mess, the Rockets lack depth because Morey has failed to draft the young, decent late round prospects which once defined Moreyball.

Chasing the Big Name

And we cannot pretend that Morey holds no responsibility for the Carmelo Anthony mess. It is possible that Morey felt he had to sign Carmelo to make Harden and Paul happy, but we have no way of knowing if that is true. And the Carmelo Anthony saga is just another example of Morey trying to bring in the next star only for that go nowhere – remember Ty Lawson, guys?

Moreyball and Morey’s emphasis on advanced statistics was once supposed to be a revolutionary strategy which would help him recruit underrated gems. But as other teams have also jumped on the advanced stats revolution, the Rockets have failed to stay ahead and we have seen a greater reliance on this team getting conventional names like Lawson or Anthony. Both times, these players were supposed to find a new home in Houston and revitalize the team. Instead, both times they played key factors in creating disappointing seasons.

The last ten years under Morey have been filled with both great and frustrating moments for Rockets, from the thrill of chasing the Warriors last year to the struggles to get a star between Yao and Harden. But as the Rockets look at a disappointing, expensive season under a new owner, fans should realize that this is exactly the sort of environment which cause said new owners to decide on radical changes under new management.

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The Houston Rocket’s Biggest Goats This Season

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The 2018-19 season has started miserably for the Houston Rockets. Any hopes that this team was turning things around have been hit hard by Thursday’s defeat against an Oklahoma City team without Russell Westbrook. And while it is hard to believe that Houston will finish in the lottery, it seems all but certain that Houston will not push Golden State to the limit like they did last year.

Everyone on the Rockets bears some responsibility for this mess, from the highest star to the lowest benchwarmer to the front office. But certain problems and players in particular are holding this team back and could prevent any hopes of a sudden turnaround.

Carmelo Anthony

Melo to some degree has been unfairly targeted as the single scapegoat for all of Houston’s troubles, but he has hardly proven those who were skeptical of his signing wrong. On offense, he is averaging 13.4 points on 12.1 shots, only slightly more efficient than his time in Oklahoma City despite his reduced role. While he has been taking far fewer long mid-range jumper and more 3-pointers like he promised to do at the beginning of the season, shooting 32.8% from long range will not cut it.

And that does not even begin to touch on Carmelo, or the Rockets as a whole on defense. Houston’s switching defense requires cerebral players who know where they are supposed to go at all times, and the Rockets have watched players blow past Melo time and again.

Bench Depth

If Carmelo was the only Rockets struggling off the bench, perhaps the Rockets could live with it. But Carmelo’s struggles become so much more apparent precisely because the Rockets bench as a whole has been disastrous.

Maybe Eric Gordon’s struggles can be excused due to injuries. But Gerald Green has failed to step up, shooting 36% from the field and 26% from 3. Michael Carter-Williams has been such a disaster after a promising preseason that he has been pulled out of the rotation altogether. The Rockets were supposed to compensate for Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute’s departure by adding other players, but those players have not delivered.

The other concerns about Houston’s bench depth is the total lack of a back up center to Clint Capela. This complete lack of insurance should be worrying. Isaiah Hartenstein has performed better than Rockets fans could have hoped, but the Rockets need Nene to come back from whatever is ailing him. Capela has always struggled with bulkier centers in the post like Marc Gasol or Brook Lopez, and Houston has been mauled badly on the boards in each one of their losses.

Chris Paul

This is the big one. The Rockets can bench or even waive Carmelo. They can revitalize the bench by getting players off the scrap heap or getting healthy. But if Chris Paul plays like this, there is nothing Morey or anyone else with the Rockets can do to make a comeback.

Paul has never been a true volume scorer, but so far this season he is shooting less than 40% from the field and 27% from long range. His turnovers are higher than they have ever been, and he just appears slow and off in all of his games. Houston’s offense and inability to score has been the biggest cause for their malaise, and that exists because Paul has been unable to be the offensive monster he normally is.

Tim McMahon with ESPN reports that Paul has a right elbow injury, and Rockets fans can hope that Paul will improve. But we also knew that Paul would have injury concerns throughout the years. Paul’s decline is also much scarier than Melo’s or Gordon’s struggles given the massive 4-year contract Houston gave him this summer. Everyone knew that the latter years of said contract, where Paul will be making $44 million at the age of 36, will likely be painful. But if it becomes a bad contract starting now, Houston could be in serious trouble for the next several seasons.

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Rockets Land Jersey Sponsor Deal with ROKiT Phones

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Befitting of their names, regardless of how they are spelled, the Houston Rockets have reached a jersey sponsor deal with RoKit Phones, according to a team announcement.

“We were patient in deciding on our inaugural jersey partner and are thrilled to select ROKiT, a company which shares our commitment to excellence both on and off the court,” Rockets Chief Executive Officer Tad Brown said.

“We have high expectations heading into this season and look forward to introducing our fans to the quality products and high level of service that ROKiT offers.”

The team added the following:

“The partnership also includes select ROK Drinks brands, with three lounges at the team’s Toyota Center arena to be rebranded as Bogart’s Lounge, ABK Beer Garden and Bandero Tequila Terrace.”

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