Houston scored 8.1 fewer points per 100 possessions without James Harden on the court last season. Some drop-off is expected when a star sits, but the burden placed on Harden by the Rockets is one of the heaviest in the league. Over the last two years no one has logged more minutes than Harden, who's expected to carry the attack as a scorer and playmaker every second he's on the court.
Houston went all-out this summer to close that 8.1-point gap, hiring Mike D'Antoni—a coach known for making any lineup potent—and signing Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon to reinforce its three-point-heavy bombardment. Gordon could be the key pickup, especially if he's able to use more of his off-the-dribble skills than his catch-and-shoot game. A quintet of Anderson, Gordon, Harden, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley would be the best shooting lineup outside Golden State, though it could probably only survive a handful of minutes outside NBA 2K.
Though the defense is certainly a work in progress—Anderson and Gordon don't help in that regard—Houston will surely have a more balanced offense as it looks to return to the playoffs after a 15-win decline last year.
PROJECTED LINEUP | 2015--16 stats
COACH MIKE D'ANTONI (1st season with Rockets)
2015--16 RECORD 41--41 (4th in Southwest)
PG PATRICK BEVERLEY
9.9 PPG; 3.4 APG; 43.4 FG%; 40.0 3FG%
SG JAMES HARDEN
29.0 PPG; 7.5 APG; 43.9 FG%; 35.9 3FG%
SF TREVOR ARIZA
12.7 PPG; 4.5 RPG; 41.6 FG%; 37.1 3FG%
PF RYAN ANDERSON*
17.0 PPG; 6.0 RPG; 42.7 FG%; 36.6 3FG%
C CLINT CAPELA
7.0 PPG; 6.4 RPG; 1.2 BPG; 58.2 FG%
SG ERIC GORDON*
15.2 PPG; 2.7 APG; 41.8 FG%; 38.4 3FG%
SF COREY BREWER
7.2 PPG; 2.4 RPG; 38.4 FG%; 27.2 3FG%
PF NENE HILARIO*
9.2 PPG; 4.5 RPG; 1.7 APG; 54.4 FG%
A rival scout sizes up Houston
I thought it was an interesting approach to the off-season to say, "All right, we're going all in on offense. Screw defense." I don't know how much of that was [GM] Daryl [Morey] or the owner [Leslie Alexander]. There have been rumors that [new coach] Mike D'Antoni wasn't really Daryl's call. But they hired D'Antoni, who's a really good offensive coach, and they signed guys who can shoot. Finally, James Harden is going to have some legit shooting around him—he's got Ryan Anderson, he's got Eric Gordon. They're gonna be awesome on offense. But they're gonna be atrocious on defense.... Every time D'Antoni has been a head coach, he hasn't really cared about defense. And as coaches get older, they lose the desire to fight those battles making players play D or get back in transition. If the head coach doesn't care, assistants can scream and show film all they want, but you won't get much buy-in.... In a couple of years, that [four-year, $80 million] deal for Anderson may not look very good, but they'll be hard to guard with him this year. Teams could start guarding Anderson with a wing and then just switch when he screens for Harden. Some coaches would struggle with that, but D'Antoni is savvy enough to counter it. He just won't use Anderson as the screener as much, and use him to space the floor.... The big advantage Houston has is that Harden can really beat a switch. He's one of the few guys in the league who has the whole offensive package. You've got to be careful if you're switching onto him because he's so good with the ball.
TELLING NUMBER 8.1
D'Antoni and Harden make them must-see. That won't necessarily translate to wins.