There’s a lot of contingencies to this piece.
For one, I wanted it to be a ranking, but these things are so hard to weigh. Like, how do you compare the first Chinese-born No. 1 pick going into the Hall of Fame to a player earning an MVP two seasons after not even making an All-NBA team? You can’t. Instead, this is just going to be a list of some awesome happenings for Houston Rockets individuals.
Secondly, this is a list of awards, titles, denominations, etc. given by the league. So, having the first-ever 60-point triple-double is a great personal achievement for Harden, but we’re only counting tangible awards here — mostly because we’d be listing a boat-load of Harden personal stats.
Lastly, I’m probably going to miss some, because I can’t remember all of them, ya know? So, if you have some you want to drop in the comments, feel free to do so. Enjoy!
Aaron Brooks, Most Improved Player Award
Oh, yes. We’re starting off hot right out of the gate. Wouldn’t it be amazing if I remembered Brooks’ MIP award but forgot something like Eric Gordon’s Sixth Man nod? What a list that would be.
Anyways, it’s hard to believe that the former Oregon Duck won most improved nearly 10 years ago in the offseason of 2010. That year, Aaron Brooks averaged a career-high 19.6 points, 5.3 assists and 2.6 rebounds on a stellar 39.8% from three. His 19.6 points a game that season was a far cry from his 11.2 PPG the previous season and his 9.7 career average.
Aside from this being a great accolade for a Rockets fan-favorite, it was also the first accolade for a Rockets member that decade, and the only one that season. Tracy McGrady would be traded that season to the Knicks, and Yao Ming didn’t make the All-Star game due to a nagging injury. The Rockets didn’t even make the playoffs that season.
It was Aaron Brooks alone who gave the Rockets faithful something to cheer for.
All-Star Weekend Champions
This decade saw some pretty great representation for the Rockets during the All-Star Weekend events.
In 2015, Patrick Beverley, known by this time as a defensive specialist, shocked the world when pulled out several come-from-behind wins in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge. Bev beat Isaiah Thomas, Jeff Teague, and Brandon Knight on his way to being named the most skilled player in the NBA.
Two years later, Eric Gordon, in the midst of one of the best bounce-back seasons ever, would be the NBA Three-Point Contest Champion in 2017. Much like Beverley in 2015, Gordon flew under the radar in his competition, upsetting Kyrie Irving in a bonus-round shootout. Even more sweet? In the process, Gordon bested defending champion Klay Thompson at the peak of Splash Bros. mania. There’s an even more important element to the story of Gordon’s win, but that’s something we will divulge later.
Patrick Beverley, First Team All-Defense
There are several great Rockets stories of validation, vindication, and redemption this decade, and probably the greatest one is Patrick Beverley’s 2017 NBA All-Defensive First Team nod.
Beverley went from a guy completely out of the NBA to a pest off the Rockets’ bench to the most hated matchup for guards in the league. He had earned a second-team spot in 2014, but now he was doing it on a contending team, alongside one of the most polarizing players in the league. The Chicago native was also the only Rockets player to make first-team in the new millennium (Scottie Pippen, 1999) and only one of two guys to not be named an All-Star that season. Beverley was later granted the Hustle Award during the 2017 NBA awards.
There probably wasn’t another Rocket who worked as hard as Bev this decade.
Eric Gordon, Sixth Man of the Year
Gordon’s 2016-2017 season was one of the greatest stories of redemption for any player this season, let alone as a Rocket.
Eric Gordon was essentially deemed washed up after his 2016 season. He wasn’t exactly flourishing in New Orleans after his high-scoring days with the Clippers, and he had played only 45 games the season prior to signing with Houston. He was actually the accent piece to the big Ryan Anderson signing that offseason.
Instead, he would prove the be the most viable piece not named James Harden to Mike D’Antoni’s system. That season, Gordon averaged 16.2 points on a stellar 37.2% from three in 60 games off the bench, 75 games played total. Gordon embodied what the system was that season, shooting only 40.6% from the field on 13.5 FGA, but showing the value of the three, taking a career-high 8.8 attempts a game.
Following the trend of his three-point contest win, he would beat out the Warriors’ Andre Iguodala and his team Lou Williams.
Mike D’Antoni, Coach of the Year
MDA’s 2017 Coach of the Year award is one of those aforementioned things that is so difficult to quantify.
If we’re talking just Rockets here, D’Antoni ushered in a completely new culture of winning for the franchise. He flipped the entire team around, going from an abysmal 41-41 record and eighth in the West to 55-27 and the third seed. His style of play put Eric Gordon in position for a revitalized career and a sixth man award. And the decision to have Harden play point guard put made him the unprecedented assists leader for that season, back in serious contention for MVP and on the All-NBA first team after having not made a single team the year before.
If we’re talking his career as a whole, it was complete vindication for the man who was seemingly run out of the two biggest markets in the NBA in the Knicks and Lakers in back-to-back stints. This was a former Coach of the Year that was expected to get two franchises off the ground with the completely wrong personnel. MDA’s COTY nod — coupled with sharing the inaugural Michael H. Goldberg NBCA Coach of the Year Award with Erik Spoelstra and another serious run at the award with a 65-win season the year after — showed what he was/still is truly capable of.
Rockets in the Hall of Fame
Rockets legends Ralph Sampson, Yao Ming, and Tracy McGrady all entered the Hall of Fame this decade.
Ralph Sampson entered in 2012. Yao entered the Hall in 2016 with his fellow big man legend, Shaquille O’Neal, and another Houston legend, Sheryl Swoopes. In 2017, McGrady was one of only four players to enter the Hall that year.
Also, a little nod to all-time Rockets favorite Dikembe Mutombo for entering the Hall in 2015.
Daryl Morey, Executive of the Year
Daryl Morey has made a lot of moves for the Houston Rockets over his tenure — a lot. But in 2018, he finally got the cast that he always wanted for the Rockets. Behind the personnel of Mike D’Antoni, James Harden, Chris Paul, Eric Gordon, and a deep core of wings and shooters, his squad won 65 games and clinched the first seed behind a historic offense and iso-ball.
There wasn’t a single part of that squad that wasn’t hand-picked by Daryl Morey.
I’m going to do this obnoxious thing where James Harden doesn’t get just one award, but gets a lot of recognition.
Daryl Morey, in a desperate search for a superstar, bet the farm on James Harden in both trade assets and in money. In 2013, his first year in Houston, Harden saw his first NBA All-Star selection and made All-NBA Third Team, the first of his career and the first Rocket to do so since Yao in 2009. Morey had its star.
The very next year, Harden made the leap and passed Dwight Howard as the clear best player on the team. He earned his first All-NBA First Team honors in 2014 and introduced himself as the best shooting guard in the league.
In 2015, despite leading a heavily injured Rockets team to the second seed with a 56-26 record, Harden didn’t get the vote of the league for MVP, controversially losing the award the Stephen Curry. Instead, he won the vote of his peers and was named the inaugural NBPA’s MVP.
Three years later, James Harden would finally hoist up the MVP award. Not only did he lead the league in scoring in 2018, but he also lead his team to a franchise-record 65 wins and the only No. 1 seed in its history.
Let’s hope for a lot more accolades, including lifting up the Larry O’Brien Trophy in the next decade.