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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Houston Rockets: the Team to Beat?


James Harden of the Houston Rockets.

With the Boston Celtics first in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers in close second, riding a 13-game win streak, and the Golden State Warriors second in the Western Conference, it’s hard to look at any other teams as the team to beat.

I’m here to argue that it’s high time we view the Houston Rockets as that team.

James Harden is in beast mode, yet again. Along with Chris Paul’s addition to the team and their current Offensive and Defensive Ratings, these are the main reasons the Rockets should be considered the team to beat in the NBA.

Harden never stops. Ever since his move to the Rockets, Harden has been on an offensive tear that the NBA has never seen before. It’s really hard to say, but after coming up second for MVP voting two years in a row, this year still seems to be his best year. He’s averaging slightly less than last year in every category, so eyebrows could be raised on that statement. But, this year, he’s playing defense.

Boasting a rating of 103, Harden now looks enthusiastic about playing on the defensive side of the ball and actually willing to try to lock down. He’s now leading by example on both sides of the ball, not just one, which causes players to hold one another accountable.

Harden might be the best player in the NBA. That alone puts the Rockets in the conversation of who is best.

Moving away from the face of the Rockets comes the newbie, Chris Paul. After spending half of his time in the NBA with the Charlotte Hornets and the other half with the LA Clippers, Paul decided to start winning and picked Houston as the team to perform on.

Paul is churning out 9.8 assists on a 19.2 percent usage rate. He is being used less than Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and Harden, but still averaging the most assists.

That’s insane.

If you take every backcourt flaw with Harden and put it into a player, that player would be Paul. Low turnovers are getting the Rocket’s free-flowing offense even more so while his pinpoint passes are also skyrocketing past the three-point efficiency of his teammates.

But here’s the thing. At the end of the day, it’s all about team play. Whether Harden and Paul decide to show up seems to not matter as much because all the players are doing their part. They are second in Offensive Rating and fifth in Defensive Rating. As a team, they are getting it done on both sides of the ball.

But the most telling statistic from the team comes from the Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) stat. It’s a stat that shows the drop in team play when a player is substituted, and Harden is only at 2.8. His 30 points per game and 9 assists per game still give him a VORP of only 2.8. Why? Because the team plays so well with everyone. It really doesn’t matter who’s on the floor.

Frankly, the Warriors will still be regarded as the barometer for team success—and rightfully so. They won two out of the last three Finals games in beautiful fashion and still boast masterful ratings throughout.

However, after assessing this year, the Rockets seem to have pulled together their best season so far. It really is a shame we aren’t giving them their due.