We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.
The Houston Rockets lost 180 man-games to injuries last season; only two teams, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves, had more players receive DNPs. And the Rockets still won 56 games — mostly because of shooting guard James Harden, who led the team in scoring 60 times while playing in 81 games. A healthy Rockets team should compete for a title, and while keeping the core group together was important, the trade for point guard Ty Lawson brings an added dimension to the offense. FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projects the Rockets to go 52-30.
And here’s how CARMELO sees the Rockets’ key players:
James Harden is one of the best players in the NBA — just check out his top five comparables. But the Rockets expect Harden to do less ball handling thanks to the addition of Lawson, and the team is trying to speed up the pace this season. Both those things may help Harden cut down on his turnovers. Lawson becomes the main ball handler, thus pushing Harden into more of a traditional two-guard role where the Rockets want him to catch and shoot, and play off the ball.
Is this the beginning of the end for Dwight Howard? In 2013, he produced 8.1 wins above replacement, and his WAR has declined each year since. However, last season’s 1.6 WAR was a result of his playing in just 41 games because of injuries. Howard’s WAR should increase this season; it’s projected to be 3.3. But CARMELO has Howard on the downslope of his career: He turns 30 in December and has a history of injuries. Howard’s poor foul shooting doesn’t help his cause, making him a liability on the floor late in games. When healthy and on top of his game, he’s a dominant center, but CARMELO is skeptical, putting Howard in the “key role player” category.
Here’s a case where I disagree with CARMELO, which projects Ty Lawson to produce about the same WAR as he did last season. The Rockets love what Lawson brings to their backcourt in terms of pushing the pace and creating for others. Expect his WAR to improve.
Before every game, Trevor Ariza (the Rockets’ third offensive option) plays EA Sports FIFA 16 on PlayStation. It relaxes him.
He’ll lose some minutes to Lawson, but Patrick Beverley’s value to the Rockets has never been higher; he’s a defensive point guard who’s expected to create havoc this season.
Injuries slowed Terrence Jones’s game down, but in training camp Rockets coach Kevin McHale said he’s making quicker and smarter decisions, which is a positive step. Jones is expected to start at power forward this year.
Read more: 2015-16 NBA Previews