Houston Rockets

The Rockets’ breakout player will be…

There are two options right now for breakout player on the Rockets. The first is Danuel House, who Houston signed to a three-year, $11.5 million deal in the offseason. House played in 38 games last season for the Rockets and spent some time in the G-League during a contract dispute, but his 41-percent shooting from deep and 6’7” frame made him an asset for a team that lacked size on the wing. Now that he’s with the team full-time, House has a chance to improve on the 9.4 points per game he averaged last year and possibly even become a full-time starter. The second option is Ben McLemore, who’s been somewhat of a disappointment in his NBA career, but has looked great in training camp and in the preseason and has a real chance to turn his career around as a microwave man off the bench for a title contender.

It all goes wrong if…

James Harden and Russell Westbrook just can’t seem to rekindle their on-court chemistry. There’s plenty of “there’s only one-ball” haters out there, but these two players are close friends and former teammates who had success playing alongside one another before. But that was years ago, before Harden became the fully actualized supernova that he is today. When they played for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Harden came off the bench. Now he runs the show, and he’s proven he can be successful with another ball-dominant guard when he played next to Chris Paul. But can Westbrook take a necessary half-step back and be option 1B instead of the certifiable team alpha? That’s the key.

What we’ll be saying about the Rockets at the end of the season…

That this is one of the best, if not the best team in the league. Now, there’s plenty of competition out there; Many teams have improved dramatically. But the league is also without the same Golden State juggernaut they’ve had the last several seasons. The Warriors will be good, but it’s not the same team. So despite added competition in places like L.A. and Utah, there’s an open window here for the Rockets. And not only do they have premiere talent again at the top of their roster, they’re also a much deeper team than they were last year. Austin Rivers will be with the team for the full season, so will Danuel House. Tyson Chandler is now aboard, so is Ben McLemore and Thabo Sefoloasha. Eric Gordon has been resigned. So has Gerald Green and Nene. They have a top coach (best win percentage in franchise history), a great GM, and they’re armed with the knowledge that the time is now for these Rockets. Expect them to go for it.

Final prediction

Vegas odds have the Rockets’ over-under at 52.5, and I feel like you have to take the over. This is a better squad on paper than last year’s team. Heck, James Harden might be able to get this cast of players to the over by himself without Russell Westbrook next to him. After all, Chris Paul missed 24 games last year, and the Rockets still won 53 games. This year’s team is deeper overall, shoot better, are more athletic, and actually have a few wing defenders. Add Russ to that, and as long as the chemistry is right, this team should have one of the highest win totals in the league. Tough competition will mitigate that some, but look for another big year for the boys in red.

Final prediction: 57-25

Darren Yuvan (@DarrenYuvan)