The 2017 offseason was the wildest in NBA history. LeBron James and Kyrie Irving are now Eastern Conference rivals. Out West, Chris Paul joined James Harden, while Paul George and Carmelo Anthony united with Russell Westbrook. Ten recent All–Stars changed uniforms, and we haven’t even gotten to Kevin Durant’s strange summer, so let’s get to previewing. The 2017-18 NBA season is finally upon us.
2016-17 finish: 55-27, lost in the second round
• Offensive rating: 111.8 (2nd)
• Defensive rating: 106.4 (18th)
Did the summer help at all?
It sure looks that way.
The Rockets added the best point guard of his generation to a backcourt that already featured arguably the league’s best player last season. How Paul and James Harden coexist will determine whether the Rockets are any better than the 2016-17 team that owned one of the 10 greatest offenses in NBA history, but lost by 40 to the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs in a closeout Game 6.
Offensively, Paul and Harden represent a potentially lethal combination of playmaking and off-the-ball effectiveness. They have a premier pick-and-roll partner in Clint Capela and a plethora of weapons to kick out to once they break down the defense. While the Rockets have lost some of the scoring depth that made them so relentless, Paul’s greatest contribution will be his ability to limit the load on Harden’s shoulders, helping the two-time MVP runner-up stay spry for the stretch run.
The two All-Star teammates have spent the summer working out together, throwing alley-oops to each other, splitting primary ball-handling duties, and, yes, even bickering about innocuous missed opportunities in the Drew League. This chemistry experiment will be explosive, one way or another.
Defensively, even though Paul’s a perennial All-Defensive pick, he’s no upgrade over Beverley in that regard. Tucker and Mbah a Moute are sticklers on the wings, though, and they should help a unit that ranked below-average last season. Although, it’ll be interesting to see how much that pair’s lack of shooting (combined 34.2 3-point percentage in their careers) disrupts what made Houston so special.
This is a new-look Rockets team. Whether the results will be all that different remain to be seen.
Best-case scenario: Harden and Paul go together like a horse and carriage, trampling opponents at a furious pace. General manager Daryl Morey finally finds a third team to eat Ryan Anderson’s contract in another unforeseen trade for a star. The Rockets’ offense reaches even greater historic heights. And the defensive reinforcements solidify a legit threat out West. This season is conference finals or bust.
If everything falls apart: Oh, man. This could really get dark. Harden and Paul butt heads. Eric Gordon and Anderson aren’t the flamethrowers they were a year ago. Capela’s leg gives out again. The Rockets enter a tough first-round matchup with the Denver Nuggets or some other frisky fringe contender and bam — they’re cooked. Paul leaves in free agency, and Morey is back to Square One, searching for another star, only now without all those assets he sent to the Los Angeles Clippers and with three-quarters of his salary cap committed to Harden, Anderson, Gordon and Tucker through 2020.
Best guess at a record: 57-25
Read all of Ball Don’t Lie’s 2017-18 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Hornets • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors • Washington Wizards
Dallas Mavericks • Denver Nuggets • Golden State Warriors • Houston Rockets • Los Angeles Clippers • Los Angeles Lakers • Memphis Grizzlies • Minnesota Timberwolves • New Orleans Pelicans • Oklahoma City Thunder • Phoenix Suns • Portland Trail Blazers • Sacramento Kings • San Antonio Spurs • Utah Jazz
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