June 14, 2018, 1:16 pm
With everyone whining about how the Warriors ruined basketball, the Rockets decided to flip that narrative with a season that was successful until an unfortunate injury struck Chris Paul. The Rockets had a season that is one of the best ever statistically, winning 65 games with a top-10 offensive rating in NBA history. They added more switchblade wings to defend and hit 3s and a Hall of Fame point guard while getting a career season out of their MVP.
The Rockets made a power play trading for Chris Paul in the summer of 2017 and it was a move that almost paid off. Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell were gone, but the Rockets would fill out their roster by adding P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute and later Gerald Green and Joe Johnson. GM Daryl Morey’s ultimate goal and reasoning was to beat the Golden State Warriors and win a championship, something the team fell just short of. However, we can take a look at the process and see there is still some hope after what happened after this season’s heartbreaking Game 7 loss.
Coach Mike D’Antoni seamlessly incorporated another ball-dominant point guard a season after proclaiming James Harden as the team’s point guard which is great news for the Rockets. It helps to have a coach who is in tune with the front office and the players. Every move made this offseason was an effort to counter the Warriors, which was something we didn’t get to see on display until May. Houston was able to push the Warriors to a point that they’ve never been to with Kevin Durant, trailing in a series and losing more than one game.
Even though they were at home for Game 7, no one expected Houston to pull it off as Chris Paul exited Game 5’s win with a hamstring injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the playoffs.. With Paul, the Rockers looked like a legitimate threat to topple the Warriors as they won both of close games thanks to major defensive efforts and gutsy shots by CP3. Without him, they were still elite, but the Warriors’ talent proved to be too much to overcome.
With a taste of how close they were to their first finals trip since 1995, the Rockets will seek to add an additional star to their roster. Paul George and LeBron James are the main targets and although the cap situation is dicey, Daryl Morey is no stranger to making huge moves and jumping through hoops to obtain his superstars. Even if they fail to nab another star, you can expect the Rockets to head into the 2018-2019 season with something to prove as they’re still short of the goal they set this season.
Coach Mike D’Antoni built the prototype of the offense that almost every NBA team is running now. Pace and space is dominating the league and although he’s been given a ton of flack for not having strong defensive teams, D’Antoni made that notion look silly this year. Houston had the sixth-best defensive rating this season as D’Antoni employed a switch-everything defense which is also common among NBA teams today.
With the addition of Chris Paul, D’Antoni flexed his offensive genius again, shifting the playstyle of his team completely. The Rockets went from a run-and-gun, pick-and-roll squad to the most isolation-heavy team playing at one of the slowest paces and it worked. The Rockets have two of the best iso players in Chris Paul and James Harden and D’Antoni decided to just let them dictate the game by abusing mismatches. It’s not pleasant to watch if you aren’t a Rockets fan as you’re just watching James Harden dribble for 15 seconds and then dissect his opponents like an apex predator. There were concerns about how this playstyle would fare in the playoffs, but D’Antoni stuck to his guns even though the Rockets lost the first game against the Warriors.
He stuck with the plan they’ve been running all season and even though they fell short, any criticisms about iso-ball should be waived. The Rockets handed the Warriors three losses this postseason which doubled the amount of losses Golden State had since signing Kevin Durant. D’Antoni was able to dismantle an elite Jazz defense in five games and make the Timberwolves look like a cake walk all on the back of iso ball. The elite defense they’ve constructed should also be credited to the coaching staff as that was the most consistent piece of this Houston team.
Once again when the league zigged, D’Antoni zagged and with positive results to show for it. We can expect a lot of changes this offseason around the league, but if Houston stays put we wouldn’t be surprised to see D’Antoni mix it up a bit with some wrinkles on minutes management or playstyle. He implemented some off-ball action sets with James Harden in the playoffs which could be used more frequently next season as he tries to maintain the fatigue factor. The Rockets are in a marathon until spring and he knows it.
ADP: 4 / 4 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 3/4 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 2/3 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 72
2017-2018: 35.4 MPG 30.4 PTS 3.6 3PM 5.3 REB 8.7 AST 1.7 STL 0.6 BLK 0.449 FG% 0.858 FT%
Houston starts and ends with James Harden and with the Beard at the helm they had an NBA-best 65-win season. Harden followed up a career season with an even better one. Although the rebounds and assists were down, he increased his efficiency in every shooting metric and decreased turnovers while hitting more triples and leading the league in scoring. The MVP is his and if he didn’t deal with a hamstring injury in December which cost him 10 games, he’d have fantasy MVP locked up as well.
There was skepticism about his ability to play with another ball-dominant point guard in Chris Paul, but putting two highly-skilled and smart players together worked out just fine. In hindsight it looks foolish that there was any doubt about their cohesion, but last season Harden’s team played at a top pace while Paul’s teams have always been slower. What we witnessed with Harden (again) was his ability to adapt, as the Rockets were one of the slowest paced teams after the All-Star break.
Harden added a lethal stepback to his game which coincides with eurostep because they both require a player to change direction quickly. His handle is elite and ability to read the floor is on par with the best playmakers in the league so his game should age well, but he’s only turning 29 this season which means he’s due for another monster season. Even if the Rockets add a third star, Harden will get his due and when his volume decreases, his efficiency spikes so it’ll be a win-win. He’s also played in 95 percent of his games since joining Houston six years ago so durability isn’t a concern.
ADP: 15 / 14 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 28/22 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 13/8 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 58
2017-2018: 31.8 MPG 18.6 PTS 2.4 3PM 5.3 REB 7.8 AST 1.6 STL 0.2 BLK 0.459 FG% 0.918 FT%
Paul’s start to the year wasn’t ideal, except for the fact that the Rockets beat the Warriors in the opener. He had a left knee injury which was week-to-week and ended up shelving him for the first month of the year. Injury concerns were always there for Paul and as a smaller aging player, the outlook isn’t bright for the upcoming years in terms of fantasy potential.
The good news is that Paul was able to produce All-Star numbers when he played and on a per-game basis he’s still one of the best options in fantasy hoops. He shines in 9-cat leagues as he boasts a high assist to turnover ratio and maintains an efficient percentage in all shooting splits. Paul also delivered in the playoffs and silenced any doubters about his ability to carry a team deep into the postseason. He had a gargantuan 41-7-10 effort in a series-ending victory against the Jazz and carried Houston’s stagnated offense in a Game 5 win over the Warriors. However, his stock will rightfully be down as he suffered a hamstring injury against the Warriors in Game 5, reminding the world of his bad luck.
Paul’s season was a microcosm of his career – a Hall of Fame level player who has what it takes to win and carry a team, but bad luck and injuries are always fighting against him. It’ll be interesting to see how Houston will manage his minutes next season knowing that the fragility of their star will only worsen over time.
ADP: 65 / 68 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 37/25 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 43/35 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 74
2017-2018: 27.4 MPG 13.8 PTS 0.0 3PM 10.8 REB 0.9 AST 0.7 STL 1.8 BLK 0.652 FG% 0.560 FT%
Capela continued his trend of increasing his fantasy value in 2017-2018 as most analysts expected him to. The 23-year old-center was playing in his final year of his contract and is going to hit restricted free agency this summer and he’ll get a ton of deserved attention. He helped anchor an elite Houston defense while leading the league in field goal percentage at .652 to go with strong rebounding and shot-blocking numbers. Capela gets easy looks playing alongside James Harden as he was assisted 198 times by the Beard, second most in the league behind Russell Westbrook to Steven Adams. The Harden-Capela lob has become a staple in the half court and the chemistry is apparent when watching them play.
Capela plays well within his role and doesn’t try to extend too far from that which is a good thing considering his skillset. It means that his bad games are just quiet, not detrimental. He won’t kill you on percentages when he has an off night and there’s value in having a player like that. The Rockets are going to match any offer for Capela this offseason and he’s so young there’s nowhere to go but up, so you’ll have to spend an early-round pick in order to have the uber-efficient center on your fantasy squad next season.
ADP: 89/ 96 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 89/105 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 86/98 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 69
2017-2018: 31.2 MPG 18 PTS 3.1 3PM 2.4 REB 2.2 AST 0.6 STL 0.3 BLK 0.429 FG% 0.809 FT%
Gordon has been thriving in Houston and has experienced the healthiest two-year stretch of his career since his first two seasons in the league from 2008-2010. Knee, back, calf and ankle injuries contributed to his missed games this year but he was still fairly healthy. His minutes played have hovered slightly below his career averages, but he’s still producing elite 3-point numbers which is what he’s on the squad for. During the playoffs Gordon was asleep for the first two rounds, but against Golden State it looked like he was one of the best players on the court. There’s some streakiness to his shooting, but with the Rockets trying to manage Chris Paul’s minutes we can expect Gordon to be good for three triples a game. He doesn’t do much besides score, so he’ll be a specialist as long as the Rockets are healthy. There are also rumors that Gordon would be shipped out if the Rockets acquire a third star and if that’s the case his value will go up, but the injury concerns will as well.
ADP: 70/ 65 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 97/66 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 87/59 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 67
2017-2018: 33.8 MPG 11.6 PTS 2.5 3PM 4.4 REB 1.5 AST 1.4 STL 0.1 BLK 0.411 FG% 0.853 FT%
Ariza has been one of the most boring fantasy options for a while and this year didn’t change that. In fact, his fantasy arrow is pointing downwards as he enters his 15th season in the league. He established a five-year low in games played thanks to a two-game suspension, two rest days, a sprained foot and a sore leg. The 3&D wing turns 33 next season and his efficiency isn’t increasing with his age. He’s still a strong defender and barring his disastrous Game 7 against the Warriors, he’s still a capable 3-point shooter. He’s an unrestricted free agent this season and the Rockets have plenty of options to choose from so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him on another team, but if GM Daryl Morey can’t rake in a third star you can expect him to run it back with the same squad.
ADP: N/A / 139 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 150/133 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 208/189 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 82
2017-2018: 27.8 MPG 6.1 PTS 1.4 3PM 5.5 REB 0.9 AST 0.9 STL 0.3 BLK 0.390 FG% 0.716 FT%
Tucker’s deal looks like a bargain now as he joined the Rockets thanks to a connection with Chris Paul and a desire to win big. He’s outright stated that he loves the winning culture in Houston and he played a major role in the Rockets’ effort to push Golden State to seven games and next season will be the same as he’s under contract for two more years. Tucker brings mental toughness, defense and rebounding to the squad and his contributions were much more notable during the playoffs than the regular season which makes him a streaming option at best in standard fantasy leagues.
ADP: 113/ 118(ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 198/173 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 202/169 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 66
2017-2018: 26.1 MPG 9.3 PTS 1.9 3PM 5 REB 0.9 AST 0.3 STL 0.3 BLK 0.431 FG% 0.774 FT%
Ryno has fallen far from his first season in Houston. Now that the Rockets have P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, Anderson has just become a regular season matchup-dependent player with limited minutes. He still drills his triples, but not enough to warrant ownership as his minutes are too low and the Rockets really don’t need him anymore. His name will be floating in trade rumors until the day he’s gone because of his bloated contract which lasts for two more seasons. Although Morey has made many savvy moves, the Ryno contract will always be a blemish on his resume. That being said, he could have value as a 3-point specialist like Eric Gordon if he were to be moved to another team.
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 267/250 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 170/141 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 41
2017-2018: 22.6 MPG 12.1 PTS 2.6 3PM 3.2 REB 0.6 AST 0.5 STL 0.3 BLK 0.406 FG% 0.85 FT%
Green is a Houston native who was picked up in January on a guaranteed contract as the Rockets were dealing with injury troubles and a lack of depth, but he quickly became a crowd favorite. Since day one, Green has displayed his love for his hometown with his braided hair, pregame outfits and the Houston “H” he throws up with his hands after every made triple. He was another bargain player that exceeded expectations for the Rockets and was vital in keeping the team afloat while they dealt with multiple injuries in December-January. It’s unclear whether or not he’ll re-join the team next season as his deal was so cheap (we’d expect him to look for more money) but he had a solid stretch of fantasy value while James Harden was injured. Houston will always be home for Green and the fans in H town will always have a place in their hearts for Gerald.
Luc Mbah a Moute
ADP: N/A / N/A (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 210/201 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 197/193 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 61
2017-2018: 25.6 MPG 7.5 PTS 1.0 3PM 3 REB 0.9 AST 1.1 STL 0.4 BLK 0.481 FG% 0.684 FT%
Mbah a Moute was another 3&D wing that offered defensive flexibility and an ability to hit triples, but he suffered a shoulder injury which cost him a month in Decemer which he re-aggravated in the last game of the season. He never regained his confidence afterwards as he rushed back to play in the playoffs and was a shell of his healthy self. Mbah a Moute went from canning open triples and slashing dunks to missing open layups and being hesitant whenever he caught the ball. His fantasy value was always as a fringe streamer, but the shoulder injury cost him his confidence when the Rockets needed him most, rendering him unplayable against the Warriors. He’s a free agent this summer and his value isn’t too high so a re-signing with Houston isn’t out of the cards.
ADP: N/A / 141 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 299/296 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 330/332 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 52
2017-2018: 14.5 MPG 6.5 PTS 0.0 3PM 3.4 REB 0.8 AST 0.5 STL 0.2 BLK 0.569 FG% 0.635 FT%
Nene was an insurance policy this season and luckily the Rockets didn’t have to deploy him. He would play in the first half of many games and then rest for the remainder as he’s 35 years old and suffered a thigh injury last year which cost him the 2017 playoffs. His off-court presence is more important than any stats that he gathers and he’s a fantasy non-factor as long as Houston has their No. 1 and No. 2 options healthy in the frontcourt.
ADP: N/A / 139 (ESPN/Yahoo), Total Value: 295/299 (8/9-cat), Per-Game Value: 339/343 (8/9-cat), Games Played: 52
2017-2018: 21.9 MPG 6.7 PTS 0.7 3PM 3.1 REB 1.5 AST 0.3 STL 0.1 BLK 0.405 FG% 0.888 FT%
Iso Joe was signed to Houston after being bought out by Utah and was an insurance policy just like Nene. When Chris Paul got hurt we saw Johnson run some point guard for the Rockets in the playoffs, but his age and decreased agility made him tough to play on the defensive end of the floor. He wasn’t a particularly strong shooter for the Rockets either so his time in Houston wasn’t very memorable.
Morey’s goal is to attain LeBron James this summer and he has stated he has a plan to clear cap space, but it all depends on the King’s desire. Even if the Rockets fall short on their free agent chase, we can expect the team to run it back as they were right on the cusp of beating arguably the greatest team ever assembled. Their championship window with Chris Paul will only be a couple more years and it’s aligning with James Harden’s prime so all signs are pointing towards running it back or adding a third superstar. Either way, a healthy Rockets team will be a contending team again next season with most of their fantasy impact remaining the same.