Preseason. It's always time for optimism in sports. Most decent teams think that if things break right for them, this could be their year. Good teams expect to go far. As the saying goes, hope springs eternal.
Such is the case for the Houston Rockets. We are barely into the now shortened NBA preseason, yet there is considerable optimism in and around Toyota Center. That's what happens when you were literally a pulled Chris Paul hamstring away from the NBA Finals (and a likely title). But there are legitimate reasons to believe this will, yet again, be an elite NBA team.
Historically, the Rockets were one of the great offenses in NBA history last year and that is unlikely to change. The players they lost compared to who they have added would indicate they will be as good if not better on offense this season. For other teams in the NBA, that should be terrifying. They are also planning to go even further into the threes, free throws and layups philosophy that took them so far last year. Coach Mike D'Antoni, without even the slightest bit of sarcasm, said they would like to take 50 three-pointers per game. They certainly have the players to do it.
They also expect to be quicker in pace, pushing the ball even more than they did last season. Their increased depth and addition of guys who love to run should only add to that. They may not run everyone out of the building, but they will come damn close against a large majority of the league.
For all the hand wringing over the losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, it's pretty clear the Rockets added some significant talent to the roster in the offseason, first and foremost Carmelo Anthony. Judging by very early returns, he seems perfectly at home in a Rockets uni and completely comfortable in his role with the team. Then there is James Ennis, who is sort of hybrid of Ariza and former Rocket Corey Brewer. He has the length and speed of Brewer, but the defense of Ariza and a fairly decent outside shot.
Most nights when the Rockets step on the floor, they will have the advantage when it comes to talent. Their second unit has guys on it that would start for half the teams in the NBA and be good doing it. In this league, talent wins out most of the time and the Rockets are loaded with it.
With that additional talent comes depth. Just as the Astros had to leave some very good players off their playoff roster, the Rockets night-in-night-out rotation will find legitimate NBA talent receiving the "DNP - coach's decision" designation on their stat sheets. It's a good problem to have. When you imagine young talent like Marquese Chriss getting a chance to learn and grow without the pressure to perform (same for the currently injured Brandon Knight), which he most certainly had in Phoenix, it's easy to see that D'Antoni has more than his share of options off the bench.
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And that depth means that their second unit will very often decimate opponents. In fact, when other teams have to go to their benches is likely where the Rockets will do most of their best work this season.
Even with all the new faces, there is plenty of continuity with the core of the team to insure a seamless transition into the season. Most of these guys have played together in the offseason and many of them played in this system all last season. Better still is the fact that those guys are veterans. They understand not only their own roles, but how to shape the roles of new players, especially the youngsters. That much was evident at media day with multiple guys talking about everyone staying team focused.
And D'Antoni's systems of offense and defense should be second nature now to the most important guys on the roster in Paul and James Harden. With them in firm control of the reins, it should be full steam ahead with little need to slow down.