And now for something completely different, in which we ask if a Western Conference Finals team that came one utterly horrendous stretch of three-point shooting away from a shot at the title is good.
Of course they’re good. The Houston Rockets still have Chris Paul and James Harden. They have Clint Capela and Eric Gordon and the unpredictable but amazing-at-his-best Gerald Green. They even managed to grab Marquese Chriss off the Suns’ trash heap in hopes of turning him into someone other than a guy who sucks at NBA basketball.
Houston won 65 games last year. They’re forecast for a 10-win drop, with a 54.5 over/under.
Man, Trevor Ariza was the heart and soul of the team, wasn’t he?
But seriously, where is Vegas getting that number from? Are they expecting Golden State to go 82-0? Are they figuring on the Rockets losing repeatedly to the Jazz and Lakers? Do they think they’ll miss 27 threes in a row on the regular?
This demands a further look.
2017-18 record: 65-17
2018-19 over/under: 54.5
Well, let’s look at Ariza’s advanced stats.
Let’s see…11.8 PER, .113 WS/48 (on a 65-win team!), 1.5 BPM, 2.0 VORP (5.4 wins added.)
Wait, an 11.8 PER?! Whoa. Volume shooter blues, huh?
Replacing Him Will Be…
Who knows…I wouldn’t even be surprised if Mike D’Antoni ran out a three-guard lineup with Harden ostensibly the small forward.
The point will be that the Rockets have versatility on the perimeter.
But Then Again…
The Rockets have Carmelo Anthony. And Anthony is completely washed up.
40.4/35.7 shooting splits, good for a plug-awful .476 eFG%.
Add in a 12.7 PER/.071 WS/48/-3.8 BPM and a worst-in-the-league for a big-minutes guy -1.1 VORP and what you have is a guy whose advanced stats say that any team he’s on would win three more games if they replaced Carmelo Freaking Anthony with a player from the G-League.
Is he supposed to start? If so, where? In Ariza’s old spot? And if he’s on the bench, will he piss and moan and complain all season, ruining Houston’s chemistry?
The last time that happened, it involved Dwight Howard and a desultory five-game exit in the playoffs against Golden State in 2016 after a 41-41 season.
The Crux of the Argument, Then
So what Vegas is basically saying is that Carmelo Anthony is going to be such an extreme negative that between his addition and Ariza’s departure, Houston is going to drop ten games extra, and it won’t be offset by a healthy CP3 and a team with a chip on its shoulder after that choke job in the playoffs.
I mean, Melo sucks, but he’s only a $2.4 million cap hit. If Houston wants to kick him to the curb, they can do so and just tell him have a nice retirement.
Look, this is all just a matter of degrees. I think Melo will suck. I think he’ll drag the team down. But I also think he’ll be waived rather than the Rockets letting him bring their entire season to an ignominious crash landing.
This year’s Rockets aren’t nearly as good as last year’s Rockets. The roster’s not as deep, the rotations beyond Harden, Paul, and Capela don’t make much sense, they have the literal actual worst player in the league on their team…but Mike D’Antoni got 55 wins out of them in 2017 when they didn’t have CP3, and that really does seem like this team’s floor.
Look, they’re Confirmed, and with a 55-win minimum, a very solid pick for the Over. They’ll choke in the playoffs again (the Warriors will eat their lunch if the Jazz or Thunder don’t first), and they look like a classic “great regular season, second-round playoff exit” team, basically Toronto West…but 55 wins is good. And it’s Over.