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NBA Preview: Houston Rockets


Record:  52-30, 3rd in Southwest Division, 4th in Western Conference

Statistical Comparisons:


3rd in opponent scoring (92.1 ppg)
5th  in ppg differential (+4.9 ppg)
27th in field goal %  
1st in opponent field goal %
5th in three-point %  


17th in the league in scoring (97.0 ppg)
16th in assists
17th (tie) in steals
23rd in blocks
6th in turnovers
22nd (tie) in opponent turnovers
Poor offensive rebounding team
Excellent (!!!) defensive rebounding team

Significant Additions:  
Steve Francis, Mike James, Aaron Brooks (R)

Significant Subtractions:
Juwon Howard

Rick Adelman

Key Players

PG:  Steve Francis, Mike James, Rafer Alston
SG:   Tracy McGrady, Bonzi Wells, Luther Head
SF:  Shane Battier
PF:  Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes
C:  Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutumbo

Comments:   The Rockets posted an impressive season last year.  They were at the top of the league in two vital categories:  opponent field goal percentage and defensive rebounding.  Combine those two and you have to say the Rockets are on the short list for the best defense in the league.  They have two unique talents in Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady.  Yao is not necessarily more talented than other top-flight stars but there's literally nobody to compare him to in terms of size and impact.  He makes Shaq look like a power forward and has as much offensive diversity as Tim Duncan.  He'll block shots and rebound too.  He's come into his own as a star player and #1 overall pick.  Tracy McGrady needs no introduction.  He is one nasty, nasty man and the paragon for scorers in this league.  To put it in perspective from the summer:  he's everything Kevin Durant eventually wants to be.  The two talents weren't exactly made for each other in terms of cohesive style, but there's more than enough shots for both and you're unlikely to stop the combination on any given night.

The Rockets needed a couple upgrades over the summer.  First they needed a bit more scoring.  Second they needed either an upgrade or options at point guard.  Third they needed some insurance in case McGrady's injury problems continued.  (Yao is irreplaceable but McGrady's scoring can be compensated for in the short term.)  Basically they resolved all these issues by going out and getting every score-first point guard available on the market.  Rafer Alston, who was decent last year but not much more, is now technically the third point guard on their roster after Steve Francis and Mike James.  However it's pretty much guaranteed that some of these scoring points are going to switch over to off-guard for large slices of games.  The end result will be Houston will be a threat to score every second of the contest.  Normally you'd worry about turnovers and continuity but with this team you don't worry about that so much.  The plan is to throttle the opposition on defense, get the ball, look for Yao first, and if that doesn't work wherever you score is good.  Shane Battier, Luis Scola, and their forwards aren't going to be hogging shots so Houston should be a happy home for backcourt gunners all year long.  

Rick Adelman should be the perfect coach for this style of team.  He's a veteran's type of guy who likes to open the offense and play to his strengths.  You might anticipate a little bit of a defensive slip but the improved offense should make up for it.

The big question is whether these moves can help Houston crack the holy trinity of the Western Conference:  Dallas, San Antonio, and Phoenix.  Playing in the toughest division in the league isn't going to help them.  The huge elephant in the closet is the health of the two superstars.  McGrady only missed 11 games last season after missing 35 the year before.  The Rockets can probably absorb that many again.  Yao missed 34 games last year and 25 the year before.  If he does either again the Rockets are in trouble.  Without him the look of the roster changes and you start talking about an empty-looking frontcourt and a bunch of shot-jackers in the backcourt trying to win against a lot of great teams.  If Houston is going to emerge the margin is going to be pretty thin.  Yao's condition is by far the biggest factor in determining whether they meet that margin or fall short of it.

--Dave (