The Houston Rockets, reloaded with new players and a new identity, are looking to reestablish themselves as an elite Western Conference power this year. The Rockets finished the 09-10 season with a record of 42-40. While this constituted their fourth straight winning season, they missed the playoffs for the first time in as many years and ended up 8 games back of the final playoff spot in the West. Houston played all of last year without 7’6” center Yao Ming, who missed the entire season with foot injuries, and star guard Tracy McGrady, who was sent to the Knicks just before the trade deadline in February.
Arguably the biggest storyline surrounding the Rockets this season is whether or not Yao Ming will be able to fully recover and play up to his full potential. Yao was certainly missed by the rockets last season due to his incredible size and intimidating inside presence. He will undoubtedly be a little rusty after missing all of last season, so the preseason will be critical for him to get back into peak form. In addition, the Rockets want to limit his minutes to begin the season until they determine that he has fully recovered. Even with his diminished role however, if he is able to stay healthy throughout the season, then there is no reason why he can’t put up the monster numbers he did before his injury.
Commanding the majority of the point guard duties for the second straight year will be Aaron Brooks, the NBA’s reigning most improved player. Brooks has become a better passer every year since he entered the NBA, seeing his assists totals rise considerably while also limiting his turnovers. He has also developed into a deadly perimeter shooter, knocking down a league leading 209 threes last season. Like any great point guard, his role will be to distribute the ball to the plethora of scorers around him, but also to make tough shots when he gets an opportunity.
Another focal point of the Rocket offense will be Kevin Martin, who fit in nicely with the team last year after a mid-season trade sent him to Houston from Sacramento. The 6’7” shooting guard averaged over 21 points per game with the Rockets last year while also shooting above 92 percent from the line. Expect more of the same from Martin this year, who no longer has Trevor Ariza around to steal his touches. His Achilles’ heel is undoubtedly his susceptibility to injury, as he has never played an entire NBA season since he first entered the league in 2004.
Anchoring the power forward position for the Rockets will be Luis Scola. The 6’9” Scola is coming off a superb year in which he averaged 16.2 points to go along with 8.6 rebounds per game. It is worth noting that he posted these numbers while Yao Ming was injured, but he certainly has the ability to prolong his low post dominance with the big man back in the equation. Scola has a lot of experience playing in both the NBA and with the national team for his native Argentina. He must use this experience to become a leader both on and off the court if the Rockets are to succeed this season.
Over the summer, Houston helped solidify their team with the addition of shooting guard Courtney Lee. The Rockets acquired the 6’5” Lee from the woeful New Jersey Nets in a 4 team trade that sent Trevor Ariza to the New Orleans Hornets. Lee is in just his third year out of Western Kentucky, but he already has something none of his Rockets teammates have: legitimate experience in the NBA Finals. In his rookie season, Lee started for the Orlando Magic during their methodical run to the 2009 NBA Finals. This quick and tenacious guard plays stingy defense and is an excellent free-throw shooter. Head coach Rick Adelman, who is in his fourth year with the team, will have difficulty keeping Lee out of the starting lineup, but it will be nothing short of a luxury to have someone of his caliber coming off the bench.
Houston spent their first and only 2010 draft pick on 6’9” power forward Patrick Patterson out of Kentucky. The Rockets hope the 23 year old Patterson will develop into a legitimate scoring threat and defensive machine. However this may take several years, so as far as this season is concerned, expect Patterson to give the Rockets further depth at the power forward position by battling with Chuck Hayes and Jordan Hill for minutes off the bench.
The Rockets organization has put to together a solid team that seems to have great chemistry. The players are working on all the things they need to be in order to improve. This is an incredibly deep team and look for them to certainly make the playoffs this year, if not win the southwest division outright. Barring any injury issues, they have all the pieces to win an NBA championship if they continue to gel and work together as a team.