Welcome to the beginning of the 2023-24 NBA season here at The Dream Shake. We’re happy to have you along for this ride.
This version of the Houston Rockets has to be better than the previous three iterations by default. In 2022-23, they finished tied for the second-worst record in the league (22-60). The two previous seasons resulted in the worst record overall (20-62 and 17-55). I’m not one for hyperbole, but to say that the Rockets were little better than a G-League team almost feels insulting to the G-League.
Houston’s undergone a bit of a makeover in the past couple of years, with the coaching change being front and center. Ime Udoka only has one year of head coaching experience, and it came with the talented Boston Celtics. Obviously, off-the-court issues led to his “dismissal,” Rockets fans are hoping that he brings his defensive chops to the table for a team that finished 29th in defense last year. Again, it’s difficult to compare the 2021-22 Celtics to the 2022-23 Rockets because of differences in talent, but Udoka’s Celtics team led the league in defense in basically every category that matters. They parlayed that defense into two Game 7 wins on the way to the NBA Finals, where they were defeated by a resurgent Golden State Warriors squad.
The other big changes to the Rockets are in the form of their free agents. Houston had money to spend in the offseason once Russell Westbrook/John Wall’s contract finally came off the books. Houston ponied up big money for Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks, and Jeff Green. Of Houston’s five highest-paid players in 2023-24 salary, four were not on the team last season. VanVleet’s job is to bring stability to the offense in a way that his predecessor, Kevin Porter Jr., couldn’t. KPJ of course was traded to Oklahoma City and subsequently cut after his domestic assault charge. Brooks took a lot of crap after trash talking LeBron James during their playoff series, but he brings a bulldog mentality on defense that the Rockets sorely need. Patrick Beverley and P.J. Tucker are no longer here, but Rockets fans would love to support another hard-working perimeter defender. Green will likely play a bit of everything in his second stint in Houston, and his veteran leadership should help off the court. Jock Landale was also brought in, presumably to give Houston someone taller than 6-9 to defend the bigger centers in the NBA.
All told, there are several storylines that figure to define Houston’s upcoming season. Here are a few of the questions we’ll be thinking about during the season:
- Can Udoka fix the defense?
- Will the veterans help create a winning culture?
- Will Jalen Green make “The Leap” this season? And bonus.
- Will Jabari Smith Jr. make “a leap” this season? And bonus.
- How good is Amen Thompson?
- Does Cam Whitmore belong in the rotation or in Rio Grande?
- Tasked with putting forth more effort on defense, how will Alperen Sengun adjust?
- Who is Houston’s target in a Victor Oladipo trade?
Seriously, no one produces more or better content about the Rockets than The Dream Shake. Find me another site that covers this team better and I’ll show you an aggregator.
Since we’re no longer in preseason, we can talk a bit about tonight’s opponent. The Orlando Magic surprised everyone by taking Paolo Banchero at the top of the 2022 NBA Draft, and he rewarded them with a Rookie of the Year award. The Magic jumped from 22 to 34 wins and are definitely expecting a push into the Eastern Conference playoffs. Their rotation features a plethora of young players trying to break out, and a couple of veterans in Gary Harris and Joe Ingles to stabilize the group. In short, they have a similar roster makeup to the Rockets. They drafted Anthony Black at sixth in the draft, and it will be interesting to see where he fits. On paper, he’s stuck behind the quartet of Markelle Fultz, Cole Antony, Jalen Suggs, and Harris. For their bigs, the Magic have Franz Wagner, Banchero, and Wendell Carter Jr. Ingles, Jonathan Isaac, and Moritz Wagner (Franz’s older brother) will also feature heavily.
Obviously, we’d love to see Houston start the season with an upset win. The Rockets have not won the first game of the regular season since 2017 when Kevin Durant had a game-winner waived off after the buzzer in Golden State. So it’s been six years since Houston didn’t start in the red, and the oddsmakers think the Rockets will continue that streak tonight.
How to Watch
Space City Home Network
Looking ahead because we can
Friday at San Antonio Spurs