Steve Francis '02-03
21.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 1.7 steals, 43 percent shooting; 20.6 PER, 11.1 win shares, 5.8 value over replacement (VORP) and 4.0 overall plus minus. Plus an appearance in the All-Star game. But a whole lot of iso dribbling, a lack of individual accolades, a mediocre 43 - 39 record and trip to the lottery keeps Stevie Franchise's best year from cracking the Top 10.
10. Charles Barkley '96-97
Here's one that may initially shock, but make no mistake, Barkley's first season as a Rocket is criminally underrated, and despite being limited by injuries, is easily one of the best Rockets performances of the last 30 years.
In addition to regular season averages of 19.2 points, 13.5 rebounds and 4.7 assists while shooting 48 percent from the field, Barkley's advance metrics were what really set him above the rest of Houston's big three. His PER of 23.0, his win shares of 9.4, his VORP of 4.6 and overall plus-minus of 8.3 were all better than anything either Hakeem Olajuwon or Clyde Drexler put up that season.
The Rockets made it as far as the Western Conference Finals, the Round Mound of Rebound was one of the key cogs, and the only reason he isn't higher on this list is that he did miss 24 games due to injury.
Barkley also appeared in his 11th consecutive, and final, NBA All-Star game.
9. Yao Ming '06-07
The '06 -07 season was one of immense promise, with Yao looking to finally come into his own alongside stablemate Tracy McGrady, and the Rockets as a whole were recognized as legitimate contenders.
Unfortunately for Houston, in a refrain we know all too well, the Rockets' stars just couldn't stay healthy. First it was McGrady going down, missing time early in the season due to chronic back issues.
T-Mac's injury put the weight of the team on Yao's immense shoulders, and he didn't disappoint. Playing the game with clinical finesse and sublime power, this was Yao at his (brief) physical peak. Yao was so good, he was widely regarded as the lead MVP candidate before succumbing to injury himself later in the year.
He finished the season averaging 25.0 points, 9.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks. His percentages were undoubtedly elite, as he shot 52 percent from the field and 86 percent from the line (big men, please take note). And his advanced metrics were just as good: A gleaming career-best 26.5 PER, 7.4 win shares, a VORP of 1.8 and an overall plus minus of 2.9.
The Rockets finished 52-30, including a shiny 32-16 in the 48 contests Yao played, but did lose in the first round of the playoffs in seven games to Utah, although Yao averaged 25 and 10 in the series.
In spite of the injury and lack of playoff success, Yao was still the Second Team All NBA center and, of course, an All-Star, in the ultimate season of "what might have been." And that's good enough for a top ten season, despite it's brevity.
There's only one thing left to say about Yao's performance in '06 - 07, and no one said it better than Yao himself:
8. Tracy McGrady '06-07
Which brings us to the other half of the '06 - 07 roller coaster.
After struggling with his own injuries early in the season, McGrady began to hit his stride just as Yao Ming began faltering, and dragged a team with no other legitimate offensive options through the second half of the season on nothing but sheer talent and willpower.
Despite the aforementioned playoff loss to the Jazz, T-Mac had his finest statistical season as a Rocket, averaging 24.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 1.3 steals on 43 percent shooting. His advanced metrics were stellar: a PER of 23.2, 8.6 win shares, 5.2 VORP and a 6.2 overall plus minus.
McGrady was voted an All-Star and Second Team All-NBA and even finished sixth in MVP voting despite missing 11 games.
7. James Harden '13-14
Harden's second season in a Rockets uniform was his coming of age, showing year one in Houston was no anomaly, as he proved himself the perfect fit for GM Daryl Morey's drive and kick offensive philosophy.
Harden was virtually unstoppable, as he fully blossomed into a premiere scorer and team leader. He averaged 25.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, 6.1 assists and 1.6 steals on 45 percent shooting and led the Rockets to a 54-28 record and the fourth seed in the west.
Despite real questions about his defense, Harden's advance metrics were off the charts: 23.5 PER, 12.8 win shares, 5.4 VORP and 5.8 overall plus minus.
A heartbreaking loss in the first round to Portland keeps the true Bearding Out Party season in the back half of our list, but a trip to the All-Star game and a First Team All-NBA nod more than made up for it.
Harden also finished fifth in MVP voting.
6. Yao Ming '08-09
While not Yao's finest season in terms of pure per-game averages, it was certainly his most effective season analytically, and the crowing achievement of his on-court career.
This season's injury teeter-totter landed on McGrady, as knee surgery ended T-mac's campaign after only 35 games. Yao, however, played in 77 games, his most since 2005, and made the most of them.
He averaged 19.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.9 blocks on 54 percent shooting from the field and a smooth 87 percent from the line. His metrics ranked even higher: 22.7 PER, 10.6 win shares, 3.3 VORP, and a 3.0 overall plus minus.
But Yao saved his best moments for the postseason, leading the Rockets to their first playoff series victory since 1997 with a win over Portland. Yao shot a perfect 9 for 9 in the opening game to set the tone for the series.
He even led Houston to beat the Lakers in the first game of the second round in his very own Willis Reed moment, hobbling back to the court after a knee injury to score 8 decisive points in the final four minutes.
Sadly, Yao would go down for good with a foot injury two games later, and we'd never see the Great Wall in top form ever again.
Yao also picked up another All-Star game, a Second-Team All NBA nod and even got a few MVP votes, but it's the breaking of the 12-year playoff funk that will always top this season and highlight his legacy.
5. Hakeem Olajuwon '89-90
Not only was the '89-90 season The Dream's best overall defensive season in a career littered with elite seasons, it was one of the greatest defensive seasons of all time. So much so, that his 24.3 points per game on 50 percent shooting is only an afterthought.
Olajuwon led the league with 14.0 total rebounds per game, he led the league with 4.6 blocks per game, he led the league with 8.7 defensive win shares, he led the league with a 5.8 defensive plus minus, and he led the league with a 93 defensive rating and also averaged 2.6 steals (while playing all 82 games). Oh, and just to illustrate that it wasn't all about sheer volume, he also led the league in defensive rebound percentage and block percentage.
This was also the year of Olajuwon's quadruple double, as he put up an 18 point, 16 rebound, 10 assist and 11 block line against Milwaukee, joining an elite company of three other players to ever achieve this (Nate Thurmond, Alvin Robertson and David Robinson are the others).
Inexplicably, he finished second to Dennis Rodman for Defensive Player of the Year in a season that was not even one of the Worm's finest, and also inexplicably fell to Second Team All-NBA behind Patrick Ewing.
Despite a PER of 24.1, 11.2 total win shares, a VORP of 6.3, and an overall plus minus of 5.9, Olajuwon's Rockets squeaked into the postseason with a .500 record and lost to the Lakers in the opening round, squandering one of the greatest single season defensive performances in history.
4. Hakeem Olajuwon '92-93
After a rough several-season stretch that saw the Rockets almost trade away their legendary franchise center, Hakeem and the organization made nice just in time for the prized player to raise his game even further under new head coach Rudy Tomjanovich.
A replenished coaching staff with a rejuvenated roster along with Hakeem's own personal growth helped foster what was Olajuwon's most overall dominant season from a pure statistical standpoint.
Hakeem averaged 26.1 points, 13.0 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 4.2 blocks on 53 percent shooting. His also finished with a whopping career-best 27.3 PER , a career-best 15.8 win shares, career-best 8.5 VORP and a career-best 8.4 overall plus minus.
He finished a close second to Charles Barkley in the MVP voting, won Defensive Player of the Year and was also First Team All-NBA and an All Star.
He led the Rockets to a resurgence and a 55-27 record. Unfortunately, they were downed in 7 games plus OT by their arch-heel the Seattle Supersonics in the second round of the playoffs, keeping Olajuwon's '92-93 season grounded just outside of our top three.
3. Hakeem Olajuwon '94-95
Fresh off of a title run, Hakeem was still at the top of his game, but was unable to raise his teammates' level of play as in years past. It wasn't until after trading for Clyde Drexler that the team really came together to go on an unexpected title run out of the sixth seed after securing just a 47-35 record.
Olajuwon's numbers were still fantastic: 27.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.8 steals and 3.5 blocks on 51 percent shooting. He racked up a 26.0 PER, 10.7 win shares, a 5.3 VORP and a 5.3 overall plus minus.
But despite another All Star appearance, his finished just fifth in the MVP vote, third in Defensive Player of the Year and was also Third Team All-NBA.
But any questions as to who was still really the best player in the league were famously answered in the Western Conference Finals in what is perhaps the most epic evisceration of one legendary star player to another in all of sports.
Then, after thoroughly outplaying Shaquille O'Neal in a Finals sweep and garnering his second consecutive championship trophy and Finals MVP, The Dream cemented his legacy not just as a Rocket, but as an all-time great.
2. James Harden '14 - 15
Yes, The Beard's season was that good.
27.4 points (career high), 5.7 rebounds, 7.0 assists (career high) 1.9 steals on 44 percent from the field, 38 percent from deep and 87 percent from the line (on 10 attempts per game no less) are the averages.
26.7 PER, an outrageous and league-leading 16.4 win shares, a 7.8 VORP and 8.4 overall plus minus are the advanced metrics.
He led the Rockets to a 56-26 record, a Southwest division title, the second seed in the Western Conference and ultimately the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1997.
He was an All-Star, First Team All-NBA and finished second in the MVP voting, combining to stack Harden's season up against just about any other one in memory.
We should all appreciate what we're seeing now from James, recognize the rarity of someone with his ability, and realize that he's only 25 (soon to be 26) and the top of this list could easily not be far behind.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon '93 - 94
Was there ever any doubt?
The '93-94 season was the culmination of a decade of development and growth in the pros, the pinnacle of realizing what it means to be a leader, and carrying your teammates to the promised land.
Olajuwon was dominant in the box score: 27.3 points, 11.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 3.7 blocks.
He was elite in the advanced metrics: 25.3 PER, 14.3 wins shares, a 7.5 VORP with a 7.0 overall plus minus.
He steered the Rockets to a still franchise best 58-24 record, the Midwest Division title and the second seed in the West.
He led his team to out-talent a playoff veteran Portland squad in round one, to out run and gun a high-flying Suns team in round two, to outwork the heralded Utah Jazz in the West Finals and to out muscle the vaunted New York Knicks defense in the NBA Finals on his way to securing the franchise's first title. It was a true tour de force of next level play, leadership and versatility.
In addition, he garnered every major award and accolade possible, including an All-Star appearance, First Team All-NBA and is still to this day the only NBA player ever to win regular season MVP, Finals MVP and Defensive Player of the year in the same year. It was a true season for the ages.
Enough from me, debate below. This is the fun stuff!!