The easy comparison for the Dwight Howard-led Rockets is to the 2009 Orlando Magic. That’s the team Howard led to the NBA Finals, of course.
There’s one important difference, though: that Orlando team (with Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick) had nowhere close to the NBA’s best backcourt. Led by James Harden, these Rockets just might.
Bradford Doolittle of ESPN Insider released his rankings of the league’s top 10 backcourts, based on each team’s probable starting guards and its top reserves. They’re ranked on combined WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player), a term and concept from baseball’s sabermetrics movement.
To some surprise, Harden, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley graded out as No. 1 with a combined WARP of 22.6. (Doolittle’s commentary on the Rockets is not behind the paywall, since they’re ranked first.)
Surprised? Well, remember that elite players in the NBA generate such a disproportionate amount of a team’s production that unit rankings will invariably be dominated by star performers. So it is with the Rockets, who landed a big man as the jewel of the current offseason yet still project to have the league’s most valuable backcourt. The rating is of course driven by MVP candidate Harden, now entering his age-24 season, and it’s somewhat speculative given the optimism about Beverley despite his short track record.
Doolittle adds that one of Houston’s key questions is whether Beverley or Lin fits best as Harden’s primary backcourt mate.
In the playoffs this past spring, Lin and Harden played together for 70.2 minutes, per Basketball-Reference.com, during which Houston was outscored by 28.7 points per 100 possessions. However, Harden teamed with Beverley for 172.4 minutes and the Rockets outscored opposing Oklahoma City by seven points per 100 possessions.
The Rockets are followed in the rankings by the Spurs, Heat and Clippers.
Earlier this summer, the same metrics were used to grade players individually. Howard, as most would expect, was projected as the league’s top center. It seems plausible that Asik will be one of the league’s best backup centers, and there’s still Marcus Camby behind him.
By those metrics, the Rockets could have the top backcourt and center rotation when training camp opens on September 28 in Houston. It’s a season of high expectations for the Rockets, and they appear to still be growing by the day.