While the Houston Rockets don’t have a third superstar to add to their high profile duo of Dwight Howard and James Harden (Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin aren’t that kind of player), if everything does fall into place next season, there’s no denying this is a good enough team to challenge for the NBA title.
The most important figure in this two-variable equation is Dwight Howard. James Harden might not be the best shooting guard in the NBA just yet, but it’s hard to believe that last season was a one-time thing. He is a superstar of the highest caliber, who gets to the line more than any other perimeter player in the NBA, now combining forces with the big man who gets to the line more tha anyone else (but has a problem converting those shots).
Howard’s last season has suddenly raised questions about the validity of the claim that he’s the best center in the NBA. His limited offensive arsenal, the back and shoulder injuries that might have a longer effect than anyone realized, and the behavior displayed by him during his last season in Orlando are all a cause for concern for those who don’t trust his ability to bounce back from a bad season in Los Angeles.
But the key to Howard’s resurgence is being happy, and it seems that at least for now, he’s found himself in the right place. James Harden isn’t a player who wants to play second-fiddle to anyone, but he’s a good teammate, and doesn’t recognize other strong-personality players as a threat to his own status with the team (Kobe Bryant, for example). Harden can adjust to make Howard feel more comfortable in the Rockets’ offense, as he tries to show he can share the ball with another star while Howard tries to prove he has more than one move on offense.
Things don’t even have to click right away. It will be a shock if they do. As much as Harden caught on fire from the first moment he was in Rockets uniform,as the season progressed problems came up the moment his shots stopped falling. Howard is going to go through the same difficulties, only with a more supporting and possibly better group of players than he had last season.
And that’s even before we mention the defense. A 100% Dwight Howard is a defensive force the rest of the NBA simply doesn’t have an equal to. He can shut down the lane better than Roy Hibbert and Marc Gasol, and has had games in the past in which he, alone, lifted the Magic to victory while making sure it was almost impossible to score against his team.
And there are the pieces around. Omer Asik might be the best backup center in the NBA, and he’ll shake his unhappiness at some point if he wants a team to take a risk at his huge salary next season, and he might even enjoy the twin-tower sets the Rockets will use from time to time. Chandler Parsons can continue to become one of the best second round picks right now in the NBA, while Jeremy Lin might not be in an ideal situation for him, but he’s an excellent compliment to the two stars if the Rockets find a better way to use him.
Championship? We’ll know a bit later on during the season if this group is good enough to contend with the Spurs, Thunder, Grizzlies and Clippers for the Western crown, but in theory, the Rockets got a whole of a lot stronger after an impressive season, and just might have the best superstar duo in the NBA.