Since we last convened for our weekly discussion, the Rockets have been doing some pretty gnarly stuff. James Harden has made 48 consecutive free throws, and the Rockets scored 90 points in a half against the Suns. It’s the Suns, but it still counts. Also, Chris Paul is back. Things are exciting in Clutch City!
Things are also exciting in Dream Shake Land as we welcome one of Houston’s best in sport radio and host of KBME, SportsTalk 790’s “The Bottom Line,” Adam Clanton. He joins us as our guest panelist this week. Thank you for participating, Adam.
Joining Clanton this week is Jeremy Brener (JB), Adam Sweeney (AS), Xian E (XE), and Colin Ainsworth (CA).
Contribute and continue the conversation by voicing off in the comments below.
1. Which player benefits most from having CP3 on the floor?
Jeremy Brener (@Jeremy_Brener): After the first few games of the CP3-Harden era, I would have to say Ryan Anderson. He spaces the floor so well for CP3 and it allows Anderson to get even more open on the perimeter. I like Anderson’s chances to improve as the season rolls on with Paul in the fold.
Adam Sweeney (@ATXPoprocks): James Harden will be relieved to have some of the weight taken off his shoulders. The Beard is 2nd overall in the NBA in minutes per game at the point guard spot, which is not a stat he wants to lead the Association in. We saw Harden get gassed versus the Spurs in the Playoffs last year and he desperately needs to reduce his minutes. CP3 is the man for the job and an increase in minutes works two-fold for the Rockets, allowing him to gain more of a hold on the team while also giving Harden the much needed rest he has earned.
Xian E (@xiane1): Every player. Seriously. We’re talking about The Point God here - but if I had to pick one, it’s Capela, with Anderson a very close second. Paul has a better sense of when and where to get Anderson the ball it appears. Capela will just do more damage. Speaking of Capela - the Rockets need to have a game where Harden and Paul’s goal is to get Clint 40 pts. They can do it.
Colin Ainsworth (@Drainsworth): I’m going purely on the eye test here, but I say Ryan Anderson. Every game I watch I think about how it looks like he has the easiest job in the NBA. All he has to do is shoot the ball when he touches it. Of course, Ryno hasn’t done that and has somehow genuinely upped his defense. Still not sure how that happened. Eye test can’t catch everything.
Adam Clanton (@adamclanton): This one seems obvious, and in many ways it’s gotta be James Harden—right? But I’m going to go with Clint Capela. The guy has made “the jump” virtually every season he’s been in the league…and he only figures to get even better with two Hall of Fame-caliber point guards throwing him lobs.
2. Should the Rockets’ offensive explosion against the Suns (30th in defense) affect how they should be perceived?
JB: The Rockets are unlike any other offense the league has seen before. The NBA knew this coming into Thursday’s game, and they leave with that idea being enforced. Nothing changed after Thursday’s game, but it was a reminder of how dangerous this team really is.
AS: No, beating up on a team that plays defense like they're at the NBA All-Star Game doesn't do much for me, but it has already affected how the media perceives the Rockets' offense. I've read three articles this past week about how the Rockets are the new offensive juggernaut in the NBA, but it doesn't matter. Once the Playoffs start every team tightens up, and you're not putting up 90 in a half against the Spurs and Warriors of the world. Houston's defensive output versus the Memphis Grizzlies Sunday was far more impressive.
XE: Not especially, except…90pts in a half is really quite a lot. It is a crazy number. There is now a benchmark for “What happens if you don’t play defense against Houston? How much damage can they do?” Now we know - a 50pt quarter is in play.
CA: Hot take: nothing about that Suns game should really be taken into consideration, save for Harden’s continued improved shooting this year. That game felt like a scrimmage, and yeah, of course the Rockets can win a scrimmage against the Suns. When there’s no defense on either end, Houston probably wins, but that happens maybe a handful of nights every season, and none of those nights are in April.
AC: The Rockets are who they are—only better. What I mean by that is that they already established their identity offensively last season. In other words, we know they can blow the doors off of just about anybody in the gym. But now that they appear to be at least committed on the other end of the floor (MY GOODNESS, RYAN ANDERSON!), if they keep that up the sky’s the limit for what this year’s squad can achieve.
3. Which player has been underwhelming after the first month of the season?
JB: I hate to say it, but it’s hard to not come up with an answer that is not Trevor Ariza. Maybe he’s still recovering from his early season injury and is not 100 percent, but Ariza is not as consistent as he has been in years past and that is concerning. Ariza is still a major piece to this puzzle and will need to play well if the team wants to win the title this year.
AS: This feels like a trick question. The Rockets are atop the Western Conference standings so it's difficult to point the finger at any one. But for what it's worth, it's been a tad disappointing that we have missed Chris Paul and a chance to move forward more as he adapts to a new scheme. It seems unrealistic to think the team's splash versus Phoenix is indicative of what to expect for the rest of the season, and it's critical to get through any growing pains the team may have as CP3 finds his place in the rotation.
XE: Nobody, really. Rockets 3rd String PG? Joe Chee? Bobby Brown? This is truly small potatoes. But the 3rd string PG needs to be fixed. Find us another Pat Beverley, Morey! Now!
CA: Give the team credit because this question is hard to answer. I think by default I say Ariza or LMAM? Neither answer really seems fair. Luc has been battling injuries, and Ariza’s role gets diminished when 1) Harden is playing like this and 2) CP3 returns. It’s not his fault he hasn’t set the world on fire; he doesn’t have to.
AC: Can I substitute an “incomplete” for underwhelming? I know you’re expecting me to say some bench player, etc. but this has to go for Chris Paul—and only because so much was expected for the team once they added CP3. Injuries happen and it appears as though the Rockets handled the ill-timed shelving of Paul about as well as they could…but it’s tough to tell the fans that they’ve essentially got to wait another month before they get to see their new, shiny toy.
4. What do you make of a potential Rockets-Grizzlies playoff matchup?
JB: I would hate it. I think the Rockets would win but the Grizzlies are a slower team, which tends to work in the playoffs. The games in the playoffs are driven on defense, which points the advantage arrow in Memphis’s direction. The game slows down and Memphis gave San Antonio hell in the form of six games last year even though they had a banged up squad. We are going to have to face a dangerous team no matter what in the postseason, but I’d rather have it be a team other than Memphis.
AS: Memphis always puts up a fight in the Playoffs against their opponent but they also always wilt eventually. The biggest surprise in the first weeks of the regular season was Memphis' two wins against a hot Houston team but since then the Rockets have corrected course, figured out the M.O. of Memphis, and dropped them twice. It would be stunning if the series went to seven games. Houston has all the depth, talent, and ability to match any amount of "grit and grind" the Grizzlies can bring to the court.
XE: It would make me enter some sort of rehab before it was over? It would remove a considerable amount of joy I find in basketball? It would definitely produce an angry press conference.
CA: I will be surprised if the Grizzlies make the playoffs? They definitely gave the Rockets trouble in the early season, but I would bank on the Thunder and Pelicans figuring out the kinks and rounding out the last two spots with some significant room. If they did meet in the first round, I’d take the Rockets every time. Might drop a game or two, but it is very hard to beat a team you’re worse than in 7 games, and the Grizzlies are simply not as good.
AC: Are the point guards both playing at the same time? I don’t know. I hate the scheduling quirk where the teams are finished playing each other before Thanksgiving. The season is so long and teams grow and change and gel. There’s no way either of these squads will look (or play) the same in late April as they do in November. So not to duck your question, but it’s really hard to tell. Defensively, they can be pesky…but at the end of the day, Houston’s roster is just far better—both in talent and chemistry. The Grizzlies might be able to make the Rockets sweat for a game or maybe two, but that’s a 5-6 game series win for Houston.
JB: The Nuggets game is a trap game. They’ll take New York and Brooklyn at home. Denver is the only team of the three that can keep up with the high volume of the Rockets scoring. I also worry with how the team will handle Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap. 2-1 ain’t bad though.
AS: 2-1. The Nuggets are the only team that makes me pause among that group. It feels like the Rockets slip up every so often but this is a special team. The Nuggets will put up points but they have no defense to speak of but they do possess depth. It will be a fun game to watch, for sure. The Knicks have some buzz behind them but I don't see them causing trouble, and the Nets ... are the Nets.
XE: 3-0. The Nuggets are good, but so far, not that good. The Knicks are fun, the Nets try hard but are beat up. Three wins I think.
CA: They should go 3-0, but they’re going to lose to the Knicks because David Stern fixed the draft (is that right? Did I do that right?)
AC: Their record should be 3-0, especially when you consider they’re at home for all three and they’ll have finally had some real, true practice time with CP3 in the mix. I’m intrigued by the changes the Nuggets made, and Paul Milsap has always been a problem for Houston…so maybe a hiccup on Wednesday? But I doubt it.