Basketball journalist Huw Hopkins assesses the 2021-22 season for the Rockets and then casts an eye ahead to the 2022-23 campaign.
Where my love for the NBA and interest in the Rockets came from…
I’m Huw Hopkins, a basketball journalist, and I have to admit from the outset, I’m not a supporter of the Houston Rockets – but due to a late scratch from the Rockets fan due to write the piece, I have agreed to stand in. I do, of course, follow them quite closely as I’m a fan of the San Antonio Spurs, and as a fellow Texan franchise, I feel the rivalry, even over here in the UK.
The clashes that David Robinson and Hakeem Olajuwon had been epic, even if The Dream got the better of The Admiral (nicknames in the NBA aren’t the same these days), but when Tim Duncan arrived fortunes changed. I loved the Yao Ming era, from Stevie Franchise through to T-Mac, and was gutted the Rockets’ potential was crushed by injuries. My favorite moment in the rivalry was Manu Ginobili’s block on James Harden.
You can find me on all social media channels @TheHoopsNerd and I host The 3×3 Basketball Podcast.
my favorite player
My favorite player has to be Alperen Sengun – partly for the fun factor. He has so far sucked on defense, but he’s crafty like Nikola Jokic and it’s entertaining to watch him use his pivot step 100 times on each possession.
Jalen Green has kicked (the proverbial), and is the top face of the franchise coming into this season. He will put up All-Star numbers, and with Dejounte Murray and Donovan Mitchell having moved East, not to mention Chris Paul getting older, a spot might open up in the guard rotation on the All-Star ballot. But we can also expect to see Ja Morant getting votes, Klay Thompson and maybe Damian Lillard return, as well as John Wall looking to make a comeback. It will be tough, but it’s possible.
Another reason to be positive for Rockets fans is you need to include No 3 pick Jabari Smith Jr in the top tier of players to watch. Many thought he could have been selected first overall in a pretty decent draft, so I’d expect him to start and handle offense sooner rather than later.
Grade for last season: C-
It was a month last year, but understandably so. The team lost its long time GM two years ago, so they moved their All-Star James Harden and starting bringing in assets to trade, and young players to develop.
It’s disappointing to see so much losing, but you understand the reasons why, and getting such a high draft pick and top talent will have been a highlight.
It’s hard to give a positive grade with so much losing, but the Rockets did it the right way – quick and painful, and now with a chance to reboot the franchise with a few cornerstones for the future. I’ll give them a ‘C-‘.
Assessing the offseason and NBA Draft for the Rockets
Houston selected Jabari! No one’s ever sure how the draft will go, even with the third pick, but most fans figured we were getting Paulo Banchero, and had to adjust to getting Jabari, but it’s worked out and he’s probably a better fit.
He is someone who can contribute straight away and has a high ceiling. There’s no guarantee he’ll get there, but I like his chances of it. It will be interesting to see how much ball handling he does. He’s a good playmaker but Jalen Green will likely have the ball in his hands most of the time.
I also like Tari Eason, the No 17 pick, but Houston has loaded up on forwards (which the Rockets needed) so it’ll be interesting to see who comes out with the most minutes at the end of the season.
Free agency was relatively quiet with the focus on drafting and trading, but Jae’Sean Tate will be useful. He’s not expected to star, but he will be a useful young veteran glue player.
Seeing Christian Wood get moved was tough but his value was high, he wanted out, and with Sengun looking good, it was the right move.
Overall, the off-season work was solid. No home runs, apart from drafting Jabari, but the team wasn’t in a place to make win-now moves, Houston just needed to focus on laying groundwork.
The Rockets’ aims for next season
With a good scoring young trio of Kevin Porter Jr, Jabari Smith and Jalen Green, the most difficult thing will be managing personalities of people who are effective with the ball, especially when you throw in Alperen Sengun as well. Head coach Stephen Silas is great with players, so he should have a good chance to help the players mesh.
Everyone likes to win. Last year, the Rockets felt like they wanted to lose to improve draft chances. This year, losses will happen because of youth and chemistry development, but there is a direction and enough talent to be in with a shot of winning games most nights.
Jalen and Jabari will determine how far this team can go. That’s more of a long-term objective rather than this year. But with so much potential talent, there is a lofty ceiling of a play-in game with a chance to squeeze into the playoffs if everything goes right with this Rockets roster.
Three predictions for the season ahead…
- Jabari Smith will win Rookie of the Year
- Jalen Green will be an All-Star
- There will be some Coach of the Year buzz for Stephen Silas
Why should people watch the Rockets?
By mid-season, they will be one of the most exciting teams in the league, with four or five players having the potential to go off on any night, depending on match-ups. Who wouldn’t want to watch a team like that?