The Houston Rockets take on a dramatically different look after trading longtime franchise centerpiece James Harden last January in coach Stephen Silas’ first season at the helm. Even though the Rockets are clearly in rebuilding mode, the process could move at a faster pace than expected, considering the club’s collection of young talent. Houston also found a way to collect key assets when moving Harden, Robert Covington, and P.J. Tucker. The Rockets selected a potential young star in No. 2 pick Jalen Green and acquired the 16th pick from Oklahoma City to grab Turkish big Alperen Sengun. Both performed impressively at Summer League. Houston also added forward Usman Garuba and guard Josh Christopher. The Rockets nabbed all four players within the first 24 picks of the 2021 Draft to a collection of talent already featuring youngsters such as Kevin Porter Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate, as well as 2020 free-agent acquisition Christian Wood.
With so much young talent on the roster, you wonder how Silas will deploy it all this season in the midst of a rebuild. Most importantly, there’s the question of the direction the Rockets are headed for the future with so many young players looking to carve out roles. Veteran point guard John Wall is reportedly working with the team on a trade, and he isn’t expected to play at all for the Rockets this season. Veteran guard Eric Gordon has also expressed openness to a trade. The current roster features eight players over the age of 25, and it appears that maybe half of them (D.J. Augustin, Danuel House Jr., David Nwaba and Daniel Theis) will have defined roles for the upcoming season. But what about the roles of Houston’s eight players ages 21 or younger? The Rockets aren’t expected to contend this season, but they’ll be looking to identify the core pieces that will eventually lift them back into perennial contention.
General manager Rafael Stone inherited a difficult situation in 2020 when he took over for Daryl Morey, but so far has navigated it well in speeding up Houston’s unanticipated rebuild; drafting Kenyon Martin Jr. and bringing aboard Jae’Sean Tate and Kevin Porter Jr., along with four first-round picks this year’s Draft. Expect a bit more in 2021-22 than last season’s 17-win campaign, but you can also probably bet on Houston heading back to the lottery. The Rockets should be fun to watch this season, but they’ll also struggle. Predicted finish: 22-60.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Kevin Porter Jr.: Defense is a major issue, but Wall’s pending departure accelerates his ascension.
Jalen Green.: Potential star in the making impressed in three Summer League games, averaging 20.3 points on 51.4% from the floor.
Danuel House Jr.: Solid defender and 3-point shooter is set to enter a contract season.
Jae’Sean Tate: Coming off an NBA All-Rookie First Team campaign, Tate is a culture-building piece.
Christian Wood: Strong scorer at all three levels, Wood needs to take the next step defensively.
Kenyon Martin Jr.: Another All-Rookie First Teamer last season, Martin needs to capitalize on the momentum built at the end of 2020-21.
Eric Gordon: Despite Gordon’s openness to a trade, the Rockets could benefit from his experience, versatility on defense, and scoring ability.
Alperen Sengun: Outside of top pick Green, Sengun might be the only 2021 pick capable of contributing as a rookie.
LAST 5 SEASONS
How the Rockets have fared stats-wise over the last 5 seasons …
OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions
STAT TO KNOW
+7.1%, +32 — The Rockets saw the league’s biggest jump in assist percentage (AST/FGM) from 2019-20 (53.0%, 29th) to last season (60.1%, 16th). They also saw the biggest jump in total ball movement, from 296 passes per 24 minutes of possession (29th) to 328 (20th).
— John Schuhmann
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