“Melo is cooked, the Rockets are doomed, Houston is living in 2009.” Just take a look at the responses to this post by SB Nation.
It all feels very Chris Paul from last year to me, and what the oodles of haters all seem to be forgetting is that when Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela were healthy last year, the Rockets already were pretty dang near unstoppable. They only need Melo to come in and do his job as the fourth or fifth piece for this team to get better, not be the superstar from 10 years ago.
There is one data-driven prediction that has stood out to me, though, and that’s this one from CBS’s self-proclaimed data-scientists Sportsline predicting that the Rockets will actually be a worse team with Melo on board.
This isn’t a prediction that they’ll be worse than last year or worse after subbing in Anthony and James Ennis for Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. It’s saying that the Rockets will become a worse team tomorrow than yesterday simply for having Melo on the roster.
Personally, I think there’s several factors not being accounted for here, both by the haters and by the prognosticators.
First, as I mentioned earlier, there are three key, core players to this Houston team. None of them are named Ariza, Mbah a Moute, Anthony or Ennis. When the Paul, Harden, and Capela trio all played last year, the Rockets had a 42-3 regular season record. Include the playoffs, and the mark jumps up to 53-7 (with two of those losses coming to the supposed greatest team of all time in a knockdown, drag-out seven-game series).
The Rockets also played 15 games without Trevor Ariza last year. Given the predictions of doom by many without him in H-town this year, you would think the Rockets simply couldn’t survive without Trevor in the lineup.
Well, Houston went 14-1 in those 15 games Ariza missed. Those 14 victories included wins over the Golden State Warriors, Minnesota Timberwolves, San Antonio Spurs, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers.
I’ve historically been lower on Ariza than most around here, but it’s likely management realized they could win without the aging, high-mileage forward that choked offensively in two of the last three postseasons.
Houston’s record without Mbah a Moute was a more pedestrian 13-8 in the regular season, but keep in mind five of those losses came in Houston’s only extended losing streak of the year in late December in which the Rockets had significantly larger problems going on than missing the seventh man in their rotation. Capela was also out for four of those five losses in a row.
The Rockets proved they could win without Luc by cruising through the playoffs with Mbah a Moute either out or extremely ineffective. In fact, they beat the Warriors in back-to-back contests with Mbah a Moute not playing at all and only succumbed once a member of their key three went down with a balky hamstring.
Of course, there’s also still an entire group of Russell Westbrook apologists out there discounting the positive effect of getting out of the way of Brody’s hero-ball shadow that’s sure to enrich Melo over last year’s Westbrookian-induced malaise. How many times do we need to bring up Enes Kanter, Victor Oladipo and Kevin Durant before people realize that playing with Westbrook is no fun, and guys often get better and happier when they escape his ever-present focus on stat-padding and ego stroking?
Watching a career 31 percent three-point shooter chucking up contested bombs while more capable shooters stand wide open and ignored has to wear on even the most amicable of teammates, and in a rush to quantify everything in modern basketball with a number or statistic, we often overlook this emotional aspect of the game.
Anthony is likely going to enjoy playing with Harden and Paul, the latter of which is one of his best friends on the planet. He didn’t enjoy playing with Westbrook.
Is Carmelo the same player he once was? That is obviously an unequivocal no. But in the right system, with the players and the right coach, can he still be the fourth or fifth option (don’t forget about Eric Gordon) on a team with title aspirations?
We’re about to find out, but I think you’re going to see the difference it makes playing with two of the best playmakers/creators the game has known and under one of the Association’s greatest offensive minds.
I have no problems eating my fair share of crow if I’m wrong, and the Rockets organization will happily eat it too given Melo’s veteran minimum deal, which makes this a low-risk, high-reward situation for the team.
But something tells me those who are predicting this situation to end up like Melo’s time last year in Oklahoma City will instead be the ones serving themselves up a huge helping of the big, infamous bird.