Basketball is back folks and everything is right with the world. James Harden has finally, officially, been anointed a point guard by Mike D’Antoni, something everyone seemed to know already apart from Harden himself, who promptly responded by donning a headband, pulling his shorts up to John Stockton’s testes-popping level and losing himself to some Adele.
Whilst the move seems an elementary one to anyone who has followed Harden since his Oklahoma City Thunder days, I believe that announcing it publicly could play a huge part in shifting Harden’s mentality more towards that of a pass-first distributor. Scoring has never been a problem for the euro-stepping, three-point hitting, foul magnet and in truth, neither has racking up the assists.
However, at times last season Harden got caught in too many back-breaking iso situations, forced to create points out of nothing from that buttery step-back jumper with two defenders in his face. By bringing the ball up himself (something Patrick Beverley would do for before handing it off to Harden at half-court) and attempting to create looks for his teammates earlier in the shot clock, rather than trying to score himself and then passing out if he’s doubled, these kind of bail-out scenarios should be greatly reduced.
As a result, you can expect to see Harden’s efficiency and shooting percentages improve on last year. The number of turnovers, however, could get ugly.
Prediction 1: Point Harden leads the Rockets to the best offensive rating in the NBA (7th last season) and sings ‘Hometown Glory’ in a Foot Locker commercial
Speaking of turnovers, Corey Brewer is still in Houston. Now, I will pre-empt this by admitting that CoBrew (does that work? I think it works) is quite possibly my least favorite basketball player of all time. During the 2016 playoffs I confidently, loudly, and unashamedly stated that I would rather, if my life depended on a made basket, have JR Smith shoot a turn around fade away from half-court blindfolded than have Corey Brewer attempt an uncontested layup on a fast break. To this day, I stand by my comment. Anyway, due to the pace that the Rockets will play at and the fact that, realistically, he can’t get any worse, I firmly believe that Corey Brewer might actually start to look sorta like an average-to-not-great NBA basketball player again. So that is bold prediction number two.
Prediction 2: Corey Brewer stops making small children cry with his 3-point shooting
Of the other rotation pieces on Houston’s roster, K.J. McDaniels stands out as a player that should see his playing time greatly increase. In Wednesday’s preseason victory over the Knicks, McDaniels played the fourth-most minutes on the team and finished +15 with a couple of highlight dunks and blocks. Whilst any action in the preseason must be taken with a pinch of salt, KJ finally appears to have found his way into the Houston rotation after racking up the DNPs last season under J.B. Bickerstaff. It is on the defensive end that McDaniels will prove invaluable for the Rockets this season, combining length, tenacity and the vertical leap of an agitated Seaworld Orca (#Blackfish), it will be his job to guard players 1-3 that, essentially, the team doesn’t want James Harden chasing around.
With that in mind, I think McDaniels finally becomes a staple piece for Houston, maybe the 2nd or 3rd guy off the bench, and will see his career kick-start again after stalling since his trade from Philly.
Prediction 3: Clint Capela gets a 5x5 stat line at least one
Which brings me nicely to my main man Clint Capela. With a name befitting of both a rockstar and a superhero, this elasticated Swiss man-child can do everything on a basketball court. And by everything, I mean only the following things: screening, rolling and dunking. This season, Capela is going to channel his inner Hakeem Olajuwon (stop laughing) and become one of the select few in NBA history to record a 5x5 stat line. Clint will have little problem achieving his 5 points, rebounds and blocks on a good night, and a 7’5” wingspan means that he could generate steals even if he stood in the same spot at centre court and just flailed his arms all night.
Fortunately, Capela can move his feet well enough on the perimeter and has the agility to shadow guards, meaning that there will be a couple of nights where he gets 5 steals.
Remember as well the infamous D’Antoni pace the Rockets will be playing at, meaning way more turnovers, more fast breaks and more possessions, shifting the odds in Capela’s favour.
Unfortunately, this is a player who averaged 0.6 assists per game last season and 1.2 per 36 minutes. Assists are clearly the obstacle here and Capela doesn’t possess any real post game to attract defenders and draw open looks for teammates on the perimeter. I do, however, envisage a nice two-man game developing with Harden and he should find easy assists come his way simply by giving the ball up to the Beard. Not only this, but Capela should have numerous outlet passes on after clawing down boards, with the Rockets leaking out in transition and the aforementioned Corey Brewer’s singular talent for running in a straight line really fast and blowing the layup.
Should Capela learn how to throw long passes à la fat Kevin Love and Corey Brewer make the layup, the 5x5 could seriously be in play.
Yeah, I’m not confident either.