14.) The Houston Rockets

Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?

I think we might be in store for an all-time great James Harden season. And yes, I’m counting the runner-up MVP campaign of two years ago, last year’s season which was even better than that statistically, AND his time in OKC when he went nuts against the Spurs in the Conference Finals.

Gone is Dwight Howard, team malcontent and total outlier to Harden’s 1 on 5 style of pick-up basketball. Gone is JB Bickerstaff, who was easily one of the three worst coaches in the league last year and did everything in his power to prevent Harden from dragging these guys into the postseason kicking and screaming. In his place, the team hired go-go offensive innovator Mike D’Antoni and plundered the Pelicans’ free agents to bring in sharpshooters Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. With the third year hyper-athletic Swiss Army man Clint Capela being promoted to starting center and above-average three point shooters at every other position, Harden is poised to have the most offensive weaponry around him since leaving Russ and KD four years ago.

D’Antoni is going to want to play fast, fast, fast and has all the tools to do so. Harden is a master at attacking the basket, and should increase his league-leading free throw attempts even more when getting out in transition. Anderson is one of the best pure stretch 4s in the league and this team can even go super-big by making Harden the de facto point guard and playing Gordon off the ball for another 40% marksman. These guys are going to put up points period. Don’t be surprised if this is the 2nd best offense in the league next year. (Not really seeing anyone catching Golden State).

Where they should be absolutely, god-awful horrendous is on defense. The one thing I’m genuinely curious about Howard’s move to Atlanta is to see how much left he has in the tank when surrounded by good defenders in a solid system. I think it’s fair for me to assume that Dwight was actually an underrated defender last year and that Houston’s 21st ranked group is about to take a major nosedive. Capela has the hops to get up for blocks and alley-oops, but at 6’10” he’s undersized both in weight and wingspan and could get bullied a lot down low. I know that not a lot of teams still feature a strong post game, and I do think the Rockets signing Nene to a 1 year deal for $5 million was an absolute steal, but I could see other groups crushing Houston on the offensive glass.

Still a dynamite offense and a shaky defensive group should provide a bunch of crazy scoring nights and plenty of entertaining basketball. In all the depressing smog of last year, I think most of us are guilty about forgetting how good Harden is as an offensive centerpiece and I’d put even money that these guys finish the season with a better record than league darling Portland Trailblazers. With most of these Western teams, I’d say that that four spot in the West is wide open, but Houston has an outside track to beating out the Clippers and even San Antonio if everything breaks right. Hell, with 20-1 MVP odds for Harden in Vegas right now, that wouldn’t be the craziest bet to make.

Last year’s ranking: 11 (-3)

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