• The season didn’t begin the way the Rockets hoped it would and even though the journey was wildly different than last season, it ended in the same fashion – at the hands of the Warriors. GM Daryl Morey and new owner Tilman Fertitta had a questionable offseason at best and the results were almost catastrophic. Luckily they have one of the best players in the league on their roster in James Harden to prevent such a result.

    Overview

    “Run it back” was the theme after last season’s near-victory over the Warriors, but the Rockets let Trevor Ariza walk for his giant payday and instead opted to sign James Ennis and Carmelo Anthony. Anthony played 10 games, averaging 13.4 points on 40.5% shooting from the floor and 32.8% from deep as the team went 4-6 during the Melo era. In a surprising turn of events, the team spoke with Melo and decided to part ways with him after only 10 games and it actually led to them going 5-1 in their next six contests.

    The rockets dealt with injuries to Eric Gordon (knee), Chris Paul (hamstring) and Clint Capela (thumb) throughout the season, with all three overlapping at times. GM Daryl Morey tried to remedy his poor offseason by obtaining Austin Rivers and Kenneth Faried off waivers and signing Danuel House Jr. from the G-League. These moves would pay off as they were serviceable starters (and role players when the team became healthy again), but the real story of the season was James Harden’s insane statistical run.

    With the team barely clinging onto life in a tight playoff race, the Rockets would push Harden to his limits until they found a breaking point. That point didn’t exist as he strung together a historic scoring run of 32 consecutive games of 30 points or more. The team went 21-11 during that stretch and any criticism of his play during this span was just asinine as the other starters during this run were either waived or from the G-League.

    Once the Rockets regained their starters, they began to look like the team of old, blowing out bad teams and beating good ones. They would run into the same opponent they played in last year’s playoffs, the Jazz. After a hard fought five-game series, the Rockets advanced to face the team that has always stood in their way, the Warriors.

    The Rockets tied the series at 2-2 after losing the first two and with Kevin Durant going down in Game 5, the prime opportunity to steal the series was there. Houston failed to do so, and in Game 6 at home, the Rockets would fall to a Stephen Curry side-step 3-pointer. Generating offense wasn’t an issue, but their season would hinge on a defensive possession and they failed. The defensive work had been inconsistent all season and it was fitting for their season to end on that side of the floor.

    It was a cruel and poetic ending for the Rockets, who had demanded to run it back after their star went down with an injury last year. This season, the opposite had occurred and everything lined up, but as long as the core trio played for GSW, they would prove too difficult to bounce.

    Running it back didn’t work, but Kevin Durant is out for what looks to be a year with a ruptured Achilles. Tensions rose between Chris Paul and James Harden. The team still lacks depth and rotational players with most of their pickups hitting the open market this summer. Morey has his work cut out for him and if history repeats itself, the Rockets’ summer will be anything but boring.

    Coaching

    Mike D’Antoni is one of the easiest coaches to read in the league which is exactly what you want when assessing fantasy players. He keeps his rotations strict and tight, but this season he had to be a bit more creative due to the poor start and pile of injuries suffered in the winter.

    After tinkering with Anthony and Ennis, D’Antoni opted to hand some minutes to Gary Clark, but that failed as well. He did the best with what he had and there’s no one in Houston questioning his decisions in the regular season. When the team started Rivers, Faried and House, it was because those were the best options.

    With a healthy squad, he almost exclusively played Faried as Capela’s backup, stuck Rivers as a backup for both guard minutes and still found a way to utilize House with Eric Gordon. His playoff rotations were much tighter but reasonable as well.

    He’s entering his final season on his coaching contract and extension talks have rekindled, which would be great news for both sides as the partnership has seen much success relative to their prior years. The question is whether or not he has the chops to adjust and surpass the Warriors, which is a valid criticism as he struggles with in-game adjustments. Although D’Antoni’s coaching is great for fantasy owners and his stars, the lack of playoff success poses real questions that need to be answered.

    Then again, the Kevin Durant Warriors have yet to lose a playoff series — at least until a hobbled Warriors squad fell to Toronto. Owner Tilman Fertitta and GM Daryl Morey have a lot to gauge when deciding whether or not to move forward with D’Antoni, but as it stands,  he has another year to prove himself in what seems to be a “prove it” season where the results will matter more than the process unlike years past.

    The Players

    James Harden

    ADP: 3/2 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 1/1 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 1/1 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 78

    2018-19 averages: 78 G | 36.8 MP | 36.1 PTS | 4.8 3PM | 6.6 REB | 7.5 AST | 2.1 STL | 0.7 BLK | 5.0 TOV | .442 FG% | .879 FT%

    The Rockets ran out of the gate fumbling, their defense was a mess and as the season went on the injury list grew longer. None of that mattered to James Harden, who put on his best Atlas impression this season.

    The reigning MVP played in almost every game and single-handedly pushed the Rockets into the playoffs as the 4-seed while they featured G-Leaguers and players who were waived in the middle of the season in prominent roles. Harden scored 30-plus in 32 consecutive games and had a span of 20 games where he averaged 42.8 points.

    There were 22, 50-plus point games this season from 13 players — James Harden had eight of them, three of them coming in triple-doubles. He scored 60-plus twice this season and averaged the second most 3-pointers per game, while hitting the most triples this season overall.

    By every mark he was the best fantasy player and the injuries and playstyle of the Rockets helped boost him above his peers, specifically Anthony Davis, who had another bad ending to his season. Whether you enjoy his playstyle or not, Harden has proven to be the safest No. 1 pick in fantasy leagues and that won’t change next season.

    Stephen Curry (due to KD’s Achilles injury), Anthony Davis and Giannis Antetokounmpo have opportunities to surpass Harden next season, but the floor for The Beard is a top-3 player and the fewest games he’s played in Houston is 72. Try not to overthink things.

    Chris Paul

    ADP: 22/18 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 49/47 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 20/22 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 58

    2018-19 averages: 58 G | 32.0 MP | 15.6 PTS | 2.2 3PM | 4.6 REB | 8.2 AST | 2.0 STL | 0.3 BLK | 2.6 TOV | .419 FG% | .862 FT%

    Chris Paul’s IQ and handle haven’t waned, but his explosion and burst definitely have.

    He had his worst shooting season from the field this year and it can be attributed to his hamstring injury in the playoffs against the Warriors. At the ripe age of 33, Paul’s minutes are trending towards the low 30s and this season he pulled his hamstring again, keeping him out over a month. This marks the second consecutive season he’s failed to play in at least 60 games and with load management becoming a trend, you shouldn’t expect him to top that mark next season.

    He’ll probably be overdrafted next season because of his name, but he’s still a strong source of dimes and swipes with some triples mixed in. However, the decreased efficiency in shooting really takes shine away from grabbing him in the early rounds, especially when you factor in his health issues and age.

    Clint Capela

    ADP: 36/37 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 44/29 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 28/23 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 67

    2018-19 averages: 67 G | 33.6 MP | 16.6 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 12.6 REB | 1.4 AST | 0.7 STL | 1.5 BLK | 1.4 TOV | .648 FG% | .636 FT%

    Capela missed a month of action due to a thumb injury, but when he was on the floor he was effective.

    He put up early-round value on a per-game basis and if he didn’t get hurt he would have returned third-round value. He’s the model for a modern day big, rim-rolling and defending while taking high-percentage shots generated by perimeter players and there’s always a high demand for that.

    The Rockets are reportedly shopping him after his disastrous series against the Warriors and he should be an early-mid round player no matter where he lands.

    P.J. Tucker

    ADP: NA/136 (ESPN/Yahoo)Total Value: 78/55 (8/9-cat)Per-Game Value: 118/90 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 82

    2018-19 averages: 82 G | 34.2 MP | 7.3 PTS | 1.8 3PM | 5.8 REB | 1.2 AST | 1.6 STL | 0.5 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .395 FG% | .695 FT%

    Tucker’s fantasy value will never emulate his impact in reality, but this season he was a top-80 play thanks to his peripheral stats and slightly above average rebounding numbers. He’s not a guy you’re going to roster for all 82 games, but Tucker is always on the radar as a 3&D specialist.

    The Rockets are prioritizing keeping him on the squad and the feeling seems mutual so his value is going to stick. It also helps that he rarely misses time as he played in every game this season.

    Eric Gordon

    ADP: 126/100 (ESPN/Yahoo) | Total Value: 144/142 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 152/146 (8/9-cat)Games Played: 68

    2018-19 averages: 68 G | 31.8 MP | 15.9 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 12.8 REB | 2.0 AST | 0.8 STL | 2.3 BLK | 1.6 TOV | .669 FG% | .636 FT%

    The reigning 6th Man of the Year had a historically atrocious start to begin the season, hitting 23.4% from deep in his first six games on 47 attempts.

    He was wildly inconsistent after that and dealt with nagging injuries all season which made him hard to roster during the regular season. However, he began to heat up in the warmer months of the year and even during his worst stretches, he put up points and triples.

    There’s an argument to be made that Gordon was the Rockets’ second best player in the postseason and with the team shopping the entire roster, his fantasy value could skyrocket if he lands in the right situation.

    Kenneth Faried

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo)Total Value: 295/281 (8/9-cat)Per-Game Value: 197/184 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 37

    2018-19 averages: 37 G | 19.7 MP | 10.4 PTS | 0.2 3PM | 6.8 REB | 0.5 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.6 BLK | 0.9 TOV | .589 FG% | .646 FT%

    Faried was huge for the Rockets when Capela sat out with a thumb injury, but there was a reason why he wasn’t claimed off waivers by any team except a depleted Houston — it’s because of his inability to play average defense against starters in the NBA.

    He’s a solid regular season rotational piece who hustles hard and can even hit the occasional triple, but he just doesn’t have the intangibles and physique to guard frontcourt players during the playoffs. Even with those deficiencies, Faried proved his ability to play a bench role on an NBA team and may have revived his career with his solid play for Houston this season.

    Danuel House

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo)Total Value: 288/273 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 200/189 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 39

    2018-19 averages: 39 G | 25.1 MP | 9.4 PTS | 1.9 3PM | 3.6 REB | 1.0 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.3 BLK | 0.9 TOV | .468 FG% | .789 FT%

    House’s season was a wild one to say the least. He bounced back and forth in between the NBA and G-League due to some contractual negotiations that weren’t settled between him and the organization. The Rockets wanted to lock him in on an affordable multi-year contract, but he wanted to hit the free agent market and bet on himself.

    He served well as a slashing wing with the ability to put the ball on the floor and defend and attack in transition, which are desirable attributes for any team. He knocked down 41.6% of his triples in the regular season, but shrunk to a measly 25.8% from deep in the playoffs, hurting his value.

    He’ll have a contract next season, but his play when it mattered most rendered him almost unusable which lowers the market price. Depending on which team he joins, his fantasy impact will vary from non-existent to 3-point specialist.

    Iman Shumpert

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo)Total Value: 208/199 (8/9-cat)Per-Game Value: 218/205 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 62

    2018-19 averages: 62 G | 23.9 MP | 7.5 PTS | 1.5 3PM | 3.0 REB | 1.8 AST | 0.9 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.8 TOV | .374 FG% | .800 FT%

    Shumpert was acquired in a deal with the Kings at the trade deadline to bolster Houston’s wing defense and shooting, but his play was inconsistent and his expiring contract was also a reason for the deal. Part of his downgraded play can be attributed to adapting to a new system that doesn’t feature the role players as much and there’s little doubt that Shumpert will be able to find a spot on a team next year with a sizable role as he performed well with the Kings.

    The jumper is streaky, but his defensive effort is there (although the actual production is a bit suspect as well). 3&D wings are the wave in the new NBA and Shumpert classifies as one.

    Gerald Green

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo)Total Value: 201/189 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 247/239 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 73

    2018-19 averages: 73 G | 20.2 MP | 9.2 PTS | 2.1 3PM | 2.5 REB | 0.5 AST | 0.5 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.7 TOV | .400 FG% | .838 FT%

    The H-Town God slung his way again onto some fantasy teams as a 3-point streamer on Sundays when you needed a boost, but that’s about it. The defensive lapses were easier to overlook in the regular season which is part of the reason why he averaged over 20 minutes a night and Houston is the prime spot for him to deliver streaming value.

    If he re-ups with the Rockets you can expect the same stat lines, but if not his value becomes much hazier.

    Austin Rivers

    ADP: NA/139 (ESPN/Yahoo)Total Value: 240/242 (8/9-cat)Per-Game Value: 308/313 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 76

    2018-19 averages: 76 G | 26.7 MP | 8.1 PTS | 1.4 3PM | 2.1 REB | 2.2 AST | 0.6 STL | 0.3 BLK | 0.9 TOV | .406 FG% | .526 FT%

    Rivers was scooped off waivers from the Suns after being traded by the Wizards and ended up playing a crucial role for the team as Chris Paul dealt with a hamstring injury. He had a nice run of counting stats and low efficiency (trademark Rivers, really) when starting and playing heavy minutes as the Rockets were shorthanded, but still stayed in the rotation even in the playoffs.

    His fantasy impact was non-existent when he wasn’t starting, but he proved himself as a smart and hard-working defender which should earn him a spot on a team next season as defending perimeter guards are always going to be desired.

    Gary Clark

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo)Total Value: 329/315 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 385/341 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 51

    2018-19 averages: 51 G | 12.6 MP | 2.9 PTS | 0.8 3PM | 2.3 REB | 0.4 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.5 BLK | 0.1 TOV | .331 FG% | 1.000 FT%

    The Clark Knight was a real thing for Rockets fans as he stepped up big time in the first few games of the season when the team was struggling. He provided the ability to switch on defense, make strong hustle efforts and hit his 3s. However, after his nice two-week stretch, his confidence in his outside shot waned and the defensive abilities regressed as teams began to exploit him more.

    There’s no doubt that he can work his way up and provide some positive value, especially in regards to shooting, but he’s still a prospect at best. The 3&D potential is there, but he’ll have to have a productive summer and the right situation next season for fantasy circles to pick up on his name.

    Nene Hilario

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo)Total Value: 357/345 (8/9-cat)Per-Game Value: 392/368 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 42

    2018-19 averages: 42 G | 13.0 MP | 3.6 PTS | 0.0 3PM | 2.9 REB | 0.6 AST | 0.4 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.3 TOV | .517 FG% | .660 FT%

    Nene did exactly what the Rockets expected him to do as a 36-year-old big. He was signed as an insurance policy and with Clint Capela being sidelined for a month with a thumb injury, Nene was able to fill in for some rotational minutes to provide some reprieve for the Rockets frontcourt. He performed well in the playoffs as Capela disappeared for stretches, but in the fantasy world Nene is just an afterthought.

    Isaiah Hartenstein

    ADP: NA/NA (ESPN/Yahoo)Total Value: 404/406 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 428/428 (8/9-cat) | Games Played: 28

    2018-19 averages: 28 G | 7.9 MP | 1.9 PTS | 0.1 3PM | 1.7 REB | 0.5 AST | 0.3 STL | 0.4 BLK | 0.5 TOV | .488 FG% | .786 FT%

    Hartenstein was originally drafted in 2017, but didn’t play his first NBA minutes until this season. He had a regular role of around eight minutes per game in the first two months of the season, but after it was clear he wasn’t ready for the NBA yet, the Rockets assigned him to their G-League affiliate.

    During his run with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Hartenstein led his squad to a G-League championship and won G-League Finals MVP, highlighting his ability to play against professional competition. The Rockets still view him as a project with some decent upside as a big man who can shoot and we’re still probably a year or two away before he makes a sizable impact, but with Capela on the trading block he might actually see rotational minutes next season.

    Doctor’s Orders

    There is only so much you can do when you’re spending the majority of your salary cap ($108M) on three players, but the Rockets are looking at that situation now with Chris Paul ($38.5M), Clint Capela ($16.5M) and James Harden ($37.8M). The Paul contract looks ugly, but last season the Rockets almost toppled the Warriors dynasty and GM Daryl Morey took a risk to extend the title window that didn’t pan out. Hindsight is 20/20, but running it back was the most logical move given the circumstances that offseason.

    Now with the team strapped on money, Morey is going to have to figure out whether or not they need to overhaul the roster. The Warriors sans Kevin Durant are still an elite team, but things might be even more wide open with Klay Thompson tearing his left ACL. This year’s Rockets aren’t as good as Toronto and the Raptors still had a battle on their hands in eliminating a hobbled Warriors team.

    All of this just shows that the Rockets need to improve their roster somehow in order to contend against the best. With Morey’s creativity (the Chris Paul trade involved the most players in any deal made in the NBA) and willingness to trade anyone, there will certainly be some moves during this offseason. The obvious one would be improvements on the wing and their overall defense, but trying to predict what moves Morey will make is like guessing the weather a month in advance.

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