Kia Season Preview 2016-17
2016-17 Season Preview: Houston Rockets
The Dwight Howard era ended with far more of a whimper than a bang. His three seasons in Houston produced just one trip past the first round of the playoffs and eventually a 41-41 meltdown that made them the NBA’s most disappointing team last season. Now the Rockets hit the reset button with a new coach and new faces lining up behind James Harden.
Just as happened in Orlando and L.A., Dwight Howard slinked out of Houston taking no responsibility for what went wrong … Mike D’Antoni gets the coaching reins with a mandate to juice up the offense and at least make the Rockets fun to watch … It goes back to being the James Harden show with the ball in his hands and everybody else playing off him … Ex-New Orleans Pelicans Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon signed as free agents to bury those open shots off the space that Harden creates … Young center Clint Capela is the man in the middle, but will be backed up by veteran Nene … Defensive guru Jeff Bzdelik arrives from Memphis and has been tasked with teaching what is supposed to go on at the other end of the floor.
The first task is to get everybody back on the same page after a lost season of dysfunction and disappointment that resulted from a slow-growing rift between Howard and Harden. This is now strictly Harden’s team once again and the spirit in training camp was back.
Everybody knows that Harden is an unstoppable offensive force and that the opportunities D’Antoni will create for him could make his numbers skyrocket. But the Rockets have to give at least cursory attention to defense and try to stop the other guys at least occasionally.
It goes without saying that you’ve got to keep key players healthy and in the lineup. But Gordon hasn’t played more than 62 games since his rookie year and Anderson has missed no fewer than 16 games in all but one of his eight NBA seasons.
MAN ON THE SPOT
After three seasons of chafing under the uncomfortable partnership with Howard, Harden signed a contract extension and says he’s ready, willing and able to re-take ownership in locker room and on the court and lift the Rockets back to the level of Western Conference contenders. It’s all on him.
Patrick Beverley | 9.9 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.4 apg
The feisty pit bull loves to sink his teeth on defense for a team that needs it.
James Harden | 29 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 7.5 apg
Says he’s NBA’s best player and there are nights when it’s hard to argue.
Clint Capela | 7.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 0.6 apg
Young, aggressive, still raw defender will get minutes and chance to prove himself.
Trevor Ariza| 12.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.3 apg
Veteran wingman not quite stopper of old and shooting fell off badly last season.
Ryan Anderson | 17 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.1 apg
Perfect fit can bury the 3-pointer, but couldn’t guard a locked door.
Eric Gordon | 15.2 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 2.7 apg
Sweet shooter can fill it up if healthy. But that’s always been a big if.
Corey Brewer | 7.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.3 apg
Long, lean wing man can do little bit of everything and good locker room presence.
Nene | 9.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.7 apg
34-year-old big man still has spark and nose for the ball.
THE BOTTOM LINE
A year after the Rockets claimed they were championship contenders and flopped badly, now they’re hoping to contend for home court in the first round of the playoffs. More realistic goal is just making playoffs and that will take uncharacteristic defense from a Mike D’Antoni team.
Fran Blinebury has covered the NBA since 1977. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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