We’re only about a quarter way into the Houston Rockets season, but we’ve seen enough to know that this team is much like the team we thought they would be.
Of course any assessment of the 2019-20 Rockets means putting a grade on the addition of Russell Westbrook.
We’ll get to that later, but right now, let’s look at the bottom line:
The Rockets are 15-7. Last year at this time, they were around .500 (11-11), so lay a check mark by that one. They are standing at fifth in the Western Conference, lower than they finished last spring, but everyone agreed that the West would be tougher than it was last year.
Strange thing is, the Dallas Mavericks have kinda come from nowhere to complicate things. On the other hand, the Portland Trail Blazers have been a bit of a flop, so that evens things out.
James Harden, for all of the criticism he’s taken, has pretty much done
what he does – score. He’s averaging 38.5 points a game and doling out 7.4 assists. He also snatches a couple of steals a game.
This season, the criticism surrounds Harden getting fouled too much. Why not? The league’s top scorer has had to deal with jabs on his defense and his step-back jumper. Somewhere along the line, the critics will have to acknowledge that the guy is just that good.
Down to Westbrook
Now, the Westbrook thing. The man the Rockets acquired to enhance the team as a backcourt presence to replace Chris Paul, has in fact done his job.
He’s averaging around 21 points, which is much more scoring input than Paul ever had. His 4.5 turnovers a game are lower than he’s had in most years, and his 8 rebounds a game is one of the reasons the Rockets rank fourth in the NBA in that category.
Westbrook’s style of play contributes to a faster Rockets pace this year. And he gets along fine with Harden, which is no surprise, since the two go way back.
A Final Piece?
Would it be too much to ask for a final piece to this puzzle?
With guard Eric Gordon out for another five weeks and guard Gerald Green a no-show since the start of the year and not expected back, help for the backcourt has been shy. Guys like Ben McLemore and Austin Rivers have filled in to take up slack fairly well.
Clint Capela has done his part at the center position, averaging a double double.
But the chances of having a “big three” seem slim, unless the Rockets trade for someone like Andre Iguodala, a trade that has been in the rumor mill for months.
The Rockets seem in a good shape for now. They have a nice setup in the coming weeks, with eight sub-.500 teams on their schedule through December.
They do have rival San Antonio in town on Dec. 16 in a game worth a ticket purchase. And they open a four-game road trip on Dec. 19 at the Clippers, and that offers a few hurdles.
There’s no reason to think this team will let up, so they should be in good position to attack the second half of the season in good form.