For this week’s TDS Tuesday 5-on-5, the panelists are playing a game of Higher or Lower. A number is posed based on a prediction of a category, and the panelist must decide whether the number provided will be higher or lower than what the Rockets produce this upcoming season. It’s a fun way to crank out predictions and we want to see what your predictions are too! Comment below and continue the debates.
This week’s panelists are ak2themax (AK), Jeremy Brener (JB), Colin Ainsworth (CA), Max Croes (MC), and Ethan Rothstein (ER).
1. Wins: 56.5. Higher or lower?
AK: Lower. I know Daryl Morey has stated that he wants the Rockets to be a 60-win team, but I think he meant it in the general sense rather than specifically shooting for that number. He's also stated the Houston's goal is to merge what will likely be a top 5 offense with a top 10 defense. Generally, contenders are teams that are top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. However, you have to be able to score to beat the Warriors so offense takes a priority for Houston. Either way, I see Houston being a little less lucky with injuries this year and some growing pains to start the season. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Rockets get 55 wins again. With the revamped West, I'll say they get 53.
JB: Higher, but this number is close. Vegas has them at 56.5, but I think 57 or 58 is the magic number. They won 55 last season, and that was a lot. If they are smart about who is resting and can limit the amount of injuries they have, winning more than 56 is a very strong possibility. However, I think this team will struggle with chemistry and they might drop a few games early on. But once this team gets it together and click, they will be very difficult to stop.
CA: I really, really want to believe higher. I just can’t do it. The Rockets probably should win 60 games, but “should” really doesn’t mean anything. Also, think about how many more numbers there are between 1 and 56 that 57 and 82. I’m just playing the probability game here, guys. Under.
MC: Higher. I have Houston pegged for 57 wins. The Rockets and their offense is built to run through regular season games where teams don't have time to acclimate to their offensive pace. This would be a small progression from last season. The big question is if Houston can battle their constant issue of complacency.
ER: Higher. The Rockets won 56 games during James Harden's first MVP runner-up season and 55 last year. Neither year did he have an All-Star with him. This year, he has a Hall-of-Famer and seems like he's in ridiculously good shape. For the Rockets this year, anything less than 58 wins, their all-time record, would be a disappointment in my eyes.
2. Placement in the Western Conference: 2.5. Higher or lower?
AK: Lower. With my pick of 53 wins, I see them grabbing the third seed once again. Still, it's easier to conceive a world where the Thunder or Spurs win more games than Houston than it is to see Houston winning more games than everyone but the Warriors.
JB: Lower. I still think the Spurs finish second to the Warriors and the Rockets finish third. However, the Rockets will be better built for a postseason run and will defeat the Spurs in the second round. San Antonio is a really good regular season team and they aren’t as well-built for the postseason than Houston is. Their savvy veterans and smart team play will allow them to be strong competitors in the regular season, but once the season wears on, bodies will shut down while the Rockets depth will help them overtake San Antonio.
CA: I also go lower here because I think they’re a comfortable 3 seed. I think the 4 seed is a lot of games behind and I think they just lose out to San Antonio for the 2. I remain unconvinced Kawhi Leonard and Greg Popovich lose more games. This is another answer where I’m probably wrong, but especially since the Rockets schedule looks to be a little rough, I might not be.
MC: Lower. Or higher. Whichever one is second place in the Western Conference. San Antonio regressed this offseason. They'll still be good for 54 wins, but the odds seem better that Oklahoma City takes second place if Houston doesn't. The season ending scenario would be finishing 4th. Don't do that, Houston.
ER: Higher. I think the Thunder and Spurs are the only challengers for the Rockets at the No. 2 seed, and ultimately injuries will be the deciding factor between a couple wins here or there. The Rockets are now better equipped to handle a major injury; CP3 and Harden are both great enough to lead a team to a lot of regular season wins on their own.
3. Team PPG: 115.3. Higher or lower?
AK: Lower. The Rockets scored 115.3 points per contest last season in the most efficient season of all-time. I think the offense will slow down because Chris Paul will have it slow down. That's fine. He'll also take a bunch of midrange jumpers and tank some efficiency numbers. That's also fine. He's Chris Paul. You tweak your system for a guy like that. Houston will still score loads of points and if new signings LRMAM and PJ Tucker can hit open 3s at a similar rate to what Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams did, the drop off won't be as bad. Still, I see Houston scoring 108 points per game at a slower pace.
JB: Lower, only because the defense will be more of a priority for the team this year. I reckon the team will be looking to be a Top-10 defense, and with that push comes a sacrifice on the offensive end. Also, 115.3 is a large bar to maintain. Houston created such a high bar for themselves. If they cannot maintain this high standard, it is not the end of the world. They will be a solid team regardless.
CA: I think I go higher here. The Rockets lost Bev, but they didn’t lose scoring. The least talked about/most fun thing about the Chris Paul trade is just how much he’s going to enjoy playing for Mike D’Antoni. Every team CP3 has played on in the past needed him to shoot more, and I think he will in Houston, in spite of him having the ball in his hand less.
MC: Lower. 115.3 is the second highest team points per game this decade. Second only to last season's Warriors. Not even the 73 win Warriors scored this many points. Houston could have scored 3.5 less points a game last year and still held second place in the stat. This statistic is beginning to enter the theoretical realm of how many points a team can average in the three and D era.
ER: Lower. I think they'll be more efficient and score more points per possession, but I think with CP3 in town, the pace will slow down and they'll score fewer total points. The Rockets were third in the league in pace last year and the Clippers were 16th. They scored just 108 points a game. I think they'll be around 113 when the season's over, but more efficient and improved defensively.
4. 3PM PPG: 14.4. Higher or lower?
AK: Lower. The Rockets set an NBA record last season in made threes and look to hit plenty more this coming season. Asking for 14.4 from a team with Chris Paul is an interesting prospect. On the hand, CP3 is liable to take enough jumpers and shots at the rim to drag that total down just from decreased three point attempts. On the other hand, his ability to create open shots (and by extension, threes) could make life easy for Houston's shooters much like Harden does. I'll say lower, but just barely. Call it 13.8 per game.
JB: Higher. MDA had a vision for this offense when he came to Houston and even though Chris Paul is here now in Year 2, I still think he has a vision to fulfill it. This team is still going to shoot threes like they are layups. Paul was a better three-point shooter than Patrick Beverley was last season, and the additions of Paul and possibly Carmelo Anthony open up the offense on the perimeter for guys like James Harden and last year’s three-point champion Eric Gordon. They will be more wide open from the perimeter and it will add to the team’s makes.
CA: This is tough to me. That’s a high number, and if I take the over I’m really putting my first two answers into question. I guess I take the under because 14.4 is just such a high number to me. I think they cut it close — I think it hovers around that number whether it’s above or below.
MC: Lower. 40.3 attempts per game was an NBA record. We should hope and expect that Chris Paul's presence is going to unlock the game closer to the basket. The floor general will unlock more opportunities for James Harden to move toward the basket which should bring Houston's play closer to the hole. Fans should also expect Ryan Anderson to hit the exit at some point which would likely depress the attempts by 1 to 2 a game.
ER: Higher. CP3 may slow the offense down, but the Rockets players around him are at their best when their jacking three-pointers. The Point God may take his fair share of mid-range shots, but I don't see Trevor Ariza or Ryan Anderson increasing their mid-range games. With more efficiency and better shooters, the Rockets make more three-pointers and break another all-time team record.
5. All-Stars: 1.5. Higher or lower?
AK: I guess I'm just Mr. Lower since I'm going to go lower here too. There's a max of six guards on each All-Star team. The two starting guards, the two backup guards, and then the two wild card spots. Injury replacements can be anything, and in the West that usually means guards. So that means between James Harden, Chris Paul, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Russell Westbrook, Damian Lillard, and C.J. McCollum, at least one of those guys will be on the outside looking in. That doesn't account for Mike Conley having a big year with more of the offensive load placed on his shoulders. It doesn't account for millions of Lakers fans voting at Georgians-for-Zaza-type levels to get Lonzo Ball into the game. It doesn't account for the possibility that Jimmy Butler is a guard now rather than a forward. And it doesn't account for the inevitable wild card that gains steam as a "deserves to be an All-Star" guy that pops up every year (Devin Booker?). Luckily for Rockets fans, the media doesn't get to vote on All-Stars or else it would go to the six guys with the most triple-doubles. Nevertheless, I think the West is so packed that the league will want to have as many teams represented as possible. They're already going to have four Warriors on the team, so keeping an extra Rocket off the squad might be a solution.
JB: I will say higher. I think CP3 gets in. Last year, CP3 was not an all-star for the first time since 2007. I was in the third grade the last time Chris Paul did not make an all-star time. I’m now a sophomore in college. It’s been a while. He did not make this past year’s team because he was injured for a good portion of last season at the beginning of the year. Barring his health, CP3 should get in. He averaged 18 PPG and 9 APG last season. This doesn’t mean his numbers will repeat this season in a new offense and situation in Houston, but he won’t fall off the horse completely. Paul joins Harden as an all-star in LA this February.
CA: Gotta be 2 all-stars. It’d be easy to make a joke here, but I won’t. Harden will start, CP3 will come off the bench. If he doesn’t, something’s wrong.
MC: Higher. James Harden is an All-Star barring injury. Chris Paul has the benefit of reserve spots being voted on by coaches. The future Hall-of-Famer is still the president of the NBA player's union (lots of former players coach now) and has a seven-foot-tall reputation in the league. Look no further than Carmelo Anthony waiting three season to be named an All-Star or Damien Lillard's continued drought to see the bias toward established players in this vote.
ER: Higher, barring injury of course. The West is insane, but Paul and Harden are two of the top 10 players in the game. The four locks at guard are them two, Curry and Westbrook. Everyone else is battling for fifth.