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TDS Tuesday: Season Opener with Modern Family’s Rico Rodriguez

Modern Family’s Rico Rodriguez joins Jeremy, Kelly, Xiane, and Max in the first roundtable of the season.

Rico Rodriguez

Happy season opener day, Dream Shake!

We are bringing back our TDS Tuesday 5-on-5 for the new season and we are shaking things up a little bit this year with more guest panelists throughout the season.

For our first roundtable of the season, we have a very special panelist this week, Modern Family’s Rico Rodriguez!

Rico, Manny Delgado on Modern Family, is an avid reader of TDS and is a massive fan of the Rockets. We could not think of a better guest to have for our first roundtable to kick off the season. Thank you for participating in the discussion, Rico.

This week’s panelists include Jeremy Brener (JB), Kelly Iko (KI), Xian E (XE), Max Croes (MC), and Rico Rodriguez (RR).

Continue the debate in the comments below.

1. Who is this year's most important player aside from James Harden?

Jeremy Brener (@Jeremy_Brener): I’m going to go against the grain and say Clint Capela. The dude is growing and he’s going to be huge for this team. If the team can establish the pick-and-roll early and often, it makes the 3-point attack even more dangerous. It’s like if the Texans can establish the run with Lamar Miller, D’Onta Foreman, and Deshaun Watson, the passing game becomes that more effective with DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller. Same thing goes here. If Houston can establish the P&R, the threes will rain constantly.

Kelly Iko (@KellyIkoNBA): Clint Capela. This is his year by all means. The Rockets decided to pass on the extension deadline (as they’ve always done with their rookies), so by next summer, he’ll enter restricted free agency. During media day, he told me about his workouts, and mentioned the word “stronger” like 6 times, so I would like to think that’s the case. Chris Paul said he wants him to become more vocal on the defensive end, and to be a leader of sorts. More minutes will give him that platform. Every year has seen some improvement from him — we’ve already seen better free throw form. Keep tabs on the Swiss Roll.

Xian E (@xiane1): 1A - Chris Paul. If Paul buys in, and there’s every reason to think he will, given his behavior so far, then the Rockets offense has a chance to be special. As in, one for the ages. I’ve never seen an offense this vicious and ruthless. If he provides the right style of leadership, he shores up one of the Rockets glaring deficiencies, which is not finishing opponents off. Paul is much more likely to retain focus and keep the pressure on other teams, which should lead to more rest for the starters.

1B - Clint Capela. He needs to approach All-Star level. I think he can, I think he will.

Max Croes (@croesfire): The expectations for Chris Paul are too high for it to be anyone but him. Will his leadership take the Rockets defense to new heights while Paul also integrates to an offensive pace he's rarely sustained for a season? Also, does he get to pick James Harden's State Farm twin name? I bet he picks Jacob Harden.

Rico Rodriguez (@StarringRico): Obviously it's CP3. During the preseason he showed just how valuable he can be with us. Harden will be able to play off the ball more, and the second unit will be deadly because you'll have two future hall of fame players at all times running the show. Exciting times my friends!

2. Who will be the player that surprises us the most this season?

JB: Five words: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. This guy was a steal in free agency. Signing him for the minimum was a blessing, and this team is better with him on it. He’ll play some three and four in the second unit, but he’s possibly our best defender outside of Chris Paul. Mbah a Moute will prove to be the steal of the offseason and will quickly become a fan favorite as he shifts the team’s mindset from three to D.

KI: Luc Mbah a Moute. The journeyman defender brings his length and savvy to Houston, and from the looks of this preseason he should get a ton more looks from three than his time in Los Angeles. He shot 39 percent last season, and him working with Ariza and P.J. is going to make for some tantalizing battles guarding wing players this season. Coach D’Antoni alluded to his hidden playmaking talents, so hey, maybe we don’t even need another guard.

XE: 1A. Eric Gordon. He looks about 15-20 pounds lighter. He has an opportunity to more or less score at will; he’s the biggest beneficiary of the Harden/Paul 48 minutes plan (HP48). He needs to keep the driving game in his offense, though, and not just shoot.

1B. Zhou Qi - being 7-foot-2 and athletic with the shot blocking gene has a way of getting you on the court.

MC: Ryan Anderson is positioned to surprise Rockets fans not because of a brain-defying increase in production, but because nearly every fan wanted him gone this offseason. With Chris Paul and James Harden there's going to be more open threes than ever before, and dreams of Carmelo Anthony could quickly fade among a blur of three pointers and scorched nets.

RR: I'm going with Clint Capela. Last year we saw him grow right in front of our eyes. This year, he looks stronger and more confident. You can tell he wants to better his game. I can't wait to see what he does!

3. What's the biggest strength and weakness for the team?

JB: The biggest strength is its versatility. The team can shoot threes, play the pick-and-roll, go fast with Harden, go slow with Paul, have Eric Gordon create and can match up well defensively with most teams. Very few guys on this team cannot play multiple positions, and in this NBA, that’s a huge plus.

You have to look at a microscope to find this team’s weaknesses. The biggest weakness might be the team’s age. Other than Clint Capela at 23, no player in the rotation is younger than 28. That could be concerning down the stretch when the team needs fresh legs. The team has gained a lot of mileage in their careers, but the depth should hopefully allow that to subside.

KI: The biggest strength for this team has to be its defensive potential/switching ability. In today’s league, you need to have a lot of high IQ players on the other side of the ball, and the more 3-and-D wings you have, the better. Houston finished middle of the pack in defense last year, there’s no reason why they can’t improve on that and be in the top 10 this year. It’s all about effort — and the Rockets now have three of the biggest hustlers in the game.

Their biggest weakness has to be rim protection. In the Spurs series, Danny Green and Dejounte Murray were having their way at the rim, having no regard for Clint Capela. This is why its so critical that he take that next step. He can be as good if not better than DeAndre Jordan if he harnesses his tools. And I know you asked for one, but I need to say this: The Rockets shoot a ton of threes, and its great to watch. But old habits die hard, and in the playoffs things slow down. Teams take away your strengths, so we’ll need CP3 to showcase his middy skills, and for D’Antoni to not be too stubborn.

XE: Strength - Offense. Weakness - Rebounding

MC: Strength is its stars, James Harden and Chris Paul. Enough said. Weakness is an ability to get beat in a seven-game series. The Rockets are an unstoppable blur if you play them on a Tuesday but can be countered if you see them every night in a seven game series. Gregg Popovich exposed Houston in the playoffs by taking away the fouls James Harden thrives on and limiting open three-pointers. It was a concerning omen for the future.

RR: Can't really think of a weakness. We addressed defense in the offseason with LMAM, PJ Tucker and CP3. As for our strength all I can say is, lobs, threes, lobs, and oh, did I mention threes?

4. What is your prediction for the team this season?

JB: 57 wins will get them the third seed. They will see the Spurs in the playoffs once again, but with a deeper roster, find a way to get past the Spurs in 6 and lose to the Warriors in 6. This would be a successful season in my eyes.

KI: Realistically, the Rockets win 56-58 games, which should be good for the season. Houston has a top-4 offense and top-12 defense; adding CP3 should see our pace drop from No. 2 overall. We reach the Conference Finals and lose in 6 games, which would be a success from any standpoint. Capela stays in Houston after signing an offer sheet elsewhere, Morey electing to match, and HOU pursues a third star in the summer. Bron? Bron.

XE: Cold-Eyed Season Prediction : 60 wins, 2nd place in the WC, lose to GS in the WCF in six. The pairing of Paul and Harden produces the second-greatest offense of all time, good for best in the NBA. Rockets are 11th in team defense.

In My Heart - Rockets win 64 games, get second in the WC. Historically great offense - No. 1 all time, No. 6 defense, few injuries of note. GS finally has some real luck with injuries, personalities, and the Rockets win in seven in the WCF, go on to defeat the Cavs in six in the Finals. Harden is MVP.

MC: I predict 58 wins. The Rockets are a team built to succeed in the regular season by hitting teams off guard with their barrage of threes. They should go over the Vegas line of 55.5, barring a serious injury to James Harden.

RR: You don't make the offseason moves like we did if you don't expect big things to happen. I think we're going to win 60 or more games, and finish 2nd in the West with a date with the Warriors in the WCF. From there you never know what could happen in a seven-game series. Also, in between all of that maybe Harden winning MVP?

5. Will the Rockets go into Oracle and get a win against the Warriors tonight?

JB: No, and that’s OK. Last year, this team could not beat the Lakers on opening night, but they still had a pretty good season. If Houston falls to 0-1 tonight, it won’t be because they are a bad team. They’ll need time to adjust and iron out the kinks, but this team should get it together. There is too much talent on this team for it to go south this year. Last year’s Golden State home opener loser won the championship last year, so maybe that tradition continues this year?

KI: It’s not the craziest thing in the world for the Rockets to get a win tonight. After all, the Warriors will be getting their rings, it will be an emotional night for the team and the fans. Usually the other team is focused and zeroed in, and Houston actually won here last season in an overtime thriller. Chris Paul hates the Warriors, and he’ll want to get off to a good start, considering he didn’t get a lot of preseason time in. Damn it, I said it. 109-100 Rockets.

XE: We won’t win tonight. And it doesn’t particularly worry me.

MC: I'm going to assume that even Daryl Morey's deepest darkest analytic secrets still say Golden State is a better team and nearly unbeatable at home.

RR: Of course! What a better time to make a statement to the league by going and beating the defending champs in Oracle!