This offseason, A LOT has happened for the Rockets. Some prominent faces are gone, and a lot of new faces have been added. For the most part, it’s been a success, and the Rockets are poised to be as good, if not better, than they were last season.
Here is how the depth chart looks as of today:
Guards: Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Michael Carter-Williams, Rob Gray, Brandon Knight
Forwards: P.J. Tucker, Carmelo Anthony, Gerald Green, James Ennis III, Marquese Chriss, Vincent Edwards, Bruno Caboclo
Centers: Clint Capela, Nene Hilario, Zhou Qi, Isaiah Hartenstein
Here’s how I think the lineups will break down next season by position- with no preseason games played, mind you.
Chris Paul- Paul was instrumental in the Rockets’ success last season. There were early hot takes before the ’17-’18 season that he wouldn’t gel with Harden, but that was proven false as he went on to average 18-7-5, and led the Rockets to being one game away from an NBA Finals appearance. He signed a 4-year, $160 million max contract with the Rockets this offseason, so, yeah, he’ll start.
James Harden- The 2018 Scoring Champion. The 2018 NBA MVP. The face of Adidas. The face of the Rockets. And, overall, a pretty good basketball player. He will start at shooting guard.
Eric Gordon- Gordon might have missed 13 games last year, but he improved on his stats from his award-winning season. He started 30 games in the regular season, 15 more than the year before, and averaged nearly two points and shot nearly 20 percent better from the field than his Sixth Man of the Year campaign. He’s still the Rockets sixth man.
Brandon Knight- This may come at a surprise for some, since the Rockets picked up Carter-Williams before the trade for Knight, but this move makes more sense for the second unit. Knight missed all of last season due to injury, plus 20 games in ’16-’17, but he’s only two years removed from a 19 and 5 campaign. When he’s healthy, he’s a serviceable point and even a starter. He’s been as good of a playmaker as MCW, but he’s a better scorer, and he can shoot the three.
Michael Carter-Williams, as it seems, was signed to be a part of the second unit. Barring injury or outplaying Knight in practice and preseason, he will likely be on retainer as insurance. Gray is with the Rockets for training camp, so only time will tell if he makes the lineup.
Carmelo Anthony- For some reason, a lot of people believe that Melo will come off the bench. I’m here to tell you that that is not going to happen- at least not to start the preseason and regular season. Something dramatic or lineup-altering will have to happen for Melo to convince him, and everyone else, that he should be part of the second unit. Still, don’t panic. He was in a bad situation last year, and he’s with better personnel this year. Let’s give him a chance before we push him to the reserve spot.
P.J. Tucker- Tucker started the final 30 games of last season, 34 total, including all of the playoffs. As of now, he’s the Rockets best and most versatile defender, shot 37% from the three, and he’s the most equipped to guard the four.
James Ennis- Ennis makes the most sense in being the backup PF. He has good size, he’s a great defender, and he’s a solid three-point shooter. Many thought he’d be starting at the SF position, but, even though Gerald Green puts in the effort defensively, it would not be a good choice to have Melo and Green guarding the opponent’s second unit. So, he’ll be playing backup, for now.
Gerald Green- Green is electric, hard-working, and he can catch fire like The Human Torch. He’s a hometown favorite in Houston, and he’s earned his spot on the roster after signing in the middle of the season and becoming a solid piece in the Rockets’ success. He averaged 12 points a game on 36% shooting from downtown, leading to him re-signing with the Rockets in July. Imagine this: he was sitting on his couch the first part of the season, then he comes into Houston and starts jacking up seven threes a game. That’s Rocket ball.
Vincent Edwards can bring some shooting to the Rockets if his three-ball can transfer over from college. It’ll be tough, though, and he has a lot to prove before making the roster. Like Gray, Caboclo is with the Rockets for only training camp, so he will have to play his way into the lineup.
Clint Capela- Capela has gotten better every year that he’s been with the Rockets. He had a breakout year with the Rockets last season that earned him a five-year, $90-million contract. He’s a maestro in the pick and roll, and he’s become an elite defender and rim protector. He’s earned his keep, and he’s now a member of the Rockets Big Three.
Marquese Chriss- I HOPE I’VE BLOWN YOUR MIND BECAUSE I’VE BEEN SITTING ON THIS ONE. Also, honestly, it shouldn’t be that mind-blowing, as Colin broke down yesterday. It just seems like the logical choice here. He’s 6’10”- about the same height as previous backup, Nene- he’s a great athlete, and he can defend well. With Gordon and Knight creating for him in the back court, this could be a mini Hard-Paul-Capela lineup. If he can prove his worth, then this is an easy choice.
Nene is beloved by the Rockets fanbase, but his time may be coming to a close with professional basketball. With nagging injuries bothering him, Nene played only 52 games last season and averaged a meager 14 minutes a game. He also averaged a career-low (minimum 30 games) six points a game. Now, more than ever, it makes sense to go with a younger big man.
Isaiah Hartenstein might be in the cards for the third center spot after signing a three-year deal with the Rockets this July, but he’s likely to be a RGV work-in-progress for now. After a solid showing in the Vegas Summer League, playing time wouldn’t be out of the question for him, though.
Zhou Qi, on the other hand, has looked great playing overseas, but there’s not much indicating playing time this season, and he’s becoming a mythical player of sorts. Who’s to say how the Rockets will go forward with him, but he’s still on the roster, so there may be a plan.