Sports

Rockets Season Recap (4 Winners, 4 Losers)

Will either of these guys (Christian Wood, left, John Wall, right) be a part of the Rockets next year?
Will either of these guys (Christian Wood, left, John Wall, right) be a part of the Rockets next year? Screenshot
We are deep into the first round of the playoffs with a week behind us from the end to the Rockets season. Before we get too far down the draft rabbit hole (more on that in the coming weeks), it seems like a good time to take stock of what was for the 2021-22 season. While the Rockets finished with the worst record in the NBA for the second straight season, there were plenty of high points. But, a bad season is a bad season.

As a result, there were winners and losers. Let's take a look.

WINNERS

Trusting the process.

Coach Stephen Silas and GM Rafael Stone have asked fans to trust the process and, so far, it has been worth it. They brought young guys along slowly and that development has paid early dividends. They tried experiments that worked and others that failed, but they got out of the bad decisions and doubled down on the good. On the whole, they have been smart in how they have shelled out playing time and even smarter on contract decisions. The process seems to be working even if we are very early into it.

2021 Draft

The Rockets had never taken three first round draft picks in the same year. Honestly, the last time they had more than one pick in the first round and saw any kind of reason for long term success in the first year was probably 1983 when they selected Ralph Sampson and Rodney McCray. All four of their picks this year saw time on the floor, three of them significant time including Josh Christopher who forced his way into the rotation halfway through the year.

Only Usman Garuba, a defensive presence who is a work in progress offensively and struggled with an injury, was limited. For the first half of the season, it looked like Alperen Sengun was the steal of the draft (he may yet be) and in the second half, Jalen Green ascended to his rightful spot among the best of last year's picks. It was a big and quality haul for the Rockets.

Working hard but losing anyway.

Yes, the team shut down Christian Wood, Eric Gordon and others in the last few games of the season, but they also played hard for the entire year without giving up on games they could have. As important as having the best chance to get one of the top picks in the lottery is, this is a team that valued winning as well. Silas believes that winning is an important part of developing players so they can learn what that is like and how to deliver in tough situations. As tempting as tanking might have been, that wasn't on the Rockets agenda...and they still ended up at the top of the draft pecking order anyway.

Jalen Green

If you tweeted out early in the season that Green was clearly a bust, save those tweets for future reference on why you should not be an NBA general manager. Green struggled with consistency and minor injuries early on, but burst out in the last two months of the year including a stretch of 30-plus-point games that set rookie records. There is plenty of room for growth for the young wing player, but the leaps he took in just one season should thrill fans and give the team a young superstar to build around for the next decade.

LOSERS

Brooklyn

Man, what a nutty year for the Nets. After getting James Harden from the Rockets last year, they traded him away this season for Ben Simmons, who has yet to play for them. They saw injuries to key players and, most importantly, a ban on anti-vaxxer guard Kyrie Irving while New York because of their vaccine mandates. From the Rockets standpoint, it was all good because they own the Nets pick, which turned out to be much higher than expected. So, let's call it a win-lose.

Getting rid of big contracts.

As much as they tried, the Rockets could not convince another team to take John Wall off their hands. They stuck to their guns, not playing the veteran point guard in favor of younger players and Wall, to his credit, didn't complain. But he still has a year and $47M on the books. It appears the writing is on the wall (pun intended) and moving on from their point guard in-absentia will require a buyout.

Tanking on purpose.

While the Rockets did value winning, other teams certainly did not. The Oklahoma City Thunder, in particular, seemed to fill their roster with players you might be able to find on a local rec league team over the last month of the season. GM Sam Presti is clearly a savvy general manager who has amassed a trove of picks over the next five or six years and he wanted this year's choice to be as high as possible. But, the NBA is going to have to look at the way certain teams including the Thunder did business in the run up to the playoffs because it was pretty ugly.

Christian Wood

The Rockets center had a very solid year overall and was an important part of the team's lineup, but you just never felt like he was the right fit. He doesn't play well with Sengun on the floor and clearly wants to be a center despite the fact that he is a poor defensive player and only an average rebounder. The Rockets' biggest struggles defensively came in the paint and it is reasonable to assume a big man might be the selection for the team in the draft. That might leave Wood as the odd man out this offseason.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke