As insane as it might sound, despite the fact that the Houston Rockets finished dead last in the NBA last season, it might be easy to have high-ish expectations for this year.
Christian Wood was one of the best power forwards in the league last year and could have easily been an All-Star — probably should have been. Jae’Sean Tate was an incredible undrafted pick-up and landed First Team All-Rookie honors. Kevin Porter Jr. was one of the best trade acquisitions of last season, with the Rockets nabbing a guy would average 16 points and six assists for a second-round pick. Porter would also go on to be the youngest player with a 50-point, 10-assist game. Kenyon Martin Jr. has the intangibles and work ethic to be a break-out player either this season or next.
Now, after a masterful tank job, the Rockets were able to pick up arguably the most NBA-ready rookie in Jalen Green with the No. 2 pick. With the No. 16 pick, Houston added Alperen Sengun, who looks to be the steal of the draft. Each rook currently lands in the top five for Rookie of the Year betting odds. They also added highly-productive veteran center Daniel Theis, who averaged a career-high 9.6 points a game last season. And before you scoff at that, that’s very similar to Kelly Olynyk who had a mind-melting stint with the Rockets last season.
So where does that put us for this season?
The short answer: in a very similar situation to last year’s.
While Houston does have quite a bit of new talent, they won’t be building off of last year’s roster as much as they will be replacing them. Guys that got some significant minutes last year were just filling roster spots for the rookies of this year. On top of that, you’re developing those rookies along with your second and third-year players like Tate, Martin, and even Kevin Porter Jr. Let’s face it, Kevin Porter Jr. is still a very raw talent that could be anywhere between prime J.R. Smith (really good thing) and James Harden.
On top of that, you have to hope your star player, Wood, remains a star player after only 60 games of proving that he’s at that talent level. Then you throw in the fact that you still have guys like John Wall and David Nwaba that aren’t exactly the best supporting cast.
If you really break it down, one actual star-level talent, a bunch of promising raw players under the age of 21, and no supporting cast isn’t what makes a playoff team. But guess what? That’s OK.
I would like to believe that most of you reading this already know what I’m telling you. For the rest: this Rockets team is only in the second year of rebuilding and only in their first year of having a lottery pick. For reference, in 2008-2009, the Oklahoma City Thunder had great second-year talent in Kevin Durant and Jeff Green and would add rookie Russell Westbrook and still won only 23 games, which was actually only a three-game improvement from the previous season. This would be the Rockets’ first year of having a “Durant” — so please let that sink in for a moment.
It actually wouldn’t be all that surprising if the Rockets were once again the worst team in the league this year. Which, if you actually think about it, is much better than being a 30-win team and drafting in the 10s, as opposed to a top-five pick. No, the true fun of this team will be watching the young talent develop and have fun, break-out games. If, somehow, they end up landing the bottom seed in the playoffs, then all they’ve done is demolish expectations.