All the preseason speculation and conjecture about the Rockets are over. It’s time to find out just how close to blasting off these young Rockets are as the 2022-2023 NBA season tips off this week.
After consecutive subpar seasons, Rockets fans are ready to see just how much improved Jalen Green & Co are as the Rockets move into Year 3 of their complete makeover.
If the way the Rockets performed in their four-game preseason schedule is an indication, they will be fun to watch and maybe not so much fun to play against this season.
“I feel good,” said third-year Rockets coach Stephen Silas, whose team tips off the season on the road against the Atlanta Hawks. “Probably don’t put too much into the results of the preseason but it was good to win three games in the preseason and it was good to see some development in our guys, it was good to see us carryover from practice to games, it was good to see development from the summer to actual game settings.
“So yeah, I feel good about the development our team has made going into the first game.”
The biggest storyline this season will be the continued development of Green, last year’s No. 2 overall selection. Green has superstar written all over him and the next in line of Rockets’ high-volume guards like Clyde Drexler, Tracy McGrady and James Harden.
But Green’s growth is far from the only intriguing storyline as general manager Rafael Stone and Silas continue their from-the-ground-up rebuild of the Rockets. The team is coming off a 20-62 last-place finish, but there seems to be major buzz because the core returns almost entirely intact with the exception of center Christian Wood, who was traded to Dallas in the offseason.
The Rockets have added a couple of great pieces in lottery pick Jabari Smith (No. 3 overall) and first-round NBA draft selections Tari Eason and Ty Ty Washington.
The team has been working together diligently since the summer and looks to be as cohesive as any Rockets team in the past few years.
“The growth that we’ve had, not only from this summer but from last year,” said veteran swingman Jae’Sean Tate. “Seeing Scoot [Kevin Porter Jr.], JG [Green] and just all of our rookies grow. And our willingness to pass the ball and our willingness to really hone in on the film.
“I don’t know if you guys have been paying attention to the defense that we’ve been playing but we’ve made it really difficult for teams to score in our paint.”
Here are some more aspects of the Rockets to watch as the season unfolds:
How much more improved will the backcourt of Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. be in Year 2 as a tandem?
If the preseason is any indication, this duo will be much improved and arguably the most promising young backcourt in the league. With Porter running the point guard spot and Green holding it down at the 2, they showed glimpses last season as each took turns shining. But they are now looking as though they are playing more as a unit, able to share the ball and score in the natural flow of the offense. The Rockets brass sees a bright future with the duo leading the way, which is why the stalemate was broken this week and Porter was given a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension that is guaranteed for only a year but if all goes smoothly look for him to be around for a while.
What can be expected of the Rockets’ rookie class of Jabari Smith, Tari Eason and Ty Ty Washington?
There is no question Smith will receive much of the spotlight as the team’s second straight lottery pick and as a Day 1 starter in the frontcourt, but Eason is looking more and more like he could be the steal of the entire 2022 draft. The athletic small forward out of LSU has the defensive presence along with the ability to be an impact player on both ends of the floor. We saw it during the NBA Summer League and also during the preseason where he showed a willingness to be a versatile defender and a more than capable scorer off the bench. Look for Eason to be in the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
When will the Rockets be ready to contend for a playoff spot in the West?
The Rockets, with a core of primarily first and second-year players, won’t make a serious push for the playoffs until next season. But be assured that this year’s group will be fun and exciting to watch and the Rockets will be a tough matchup against some of the elite teams because of their athletic ability and relentless defense. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how they look out the gate against Atlanta and then in their home opener two nights later versus Memphis.