Who You Got: Houston or Golden State?

RvGSWWith the free-agency period well underway and most of the big-name players already committed to teams, it is time to start evaluating the moves, and no two teams improved more via free agency than the Houston Rockets (or Astros as Phil Jackson seems to think they are called) and the Golden State Warriors.  But which of the two teams stand a better chance of making a run at the championship in 2014?  It seems highly unlikely that either team will win it all, but both teams ought to reasonably expect deep playoff runs so long as the teams are healthy.  Ultimately though, it seems that the Warriors have made out better than the Rockets.

Is the Dwightmare over?

Is the Dwightmare over?

Of all the players hitting free agency this season, there is perhaps none whose on-court play carries a bigger impact than Dwight Howard (the only other player in the conversation is Chris Paul of course). So it would seem that since the Rockets were 2 victories of tying the Warriors’ regular season record that the addition of Howard would easily catapult the Rockets past the Warriors whose only additions have been Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights.  But this is a great example of how the sum is greater than the whole.

                                                                    

Andre Iguodala is a team orientated player who is unlikely to cause drama.

Andre Iguodala is a team orientated player who is unlikely to cause drama.

Firstly, despite losing All-Star power forward David Lee to injury, the Warriors this year managed to get past the first round and win two games against the Spurs in a series that could have gone either way given a couple of close games.  The Rockets on the other hand won only two games against the Oklahoma City Thunder who themselves were short an All-Star in Russell Westbrook.  The Thunder then lost to the Memphis Grizzlies who failed to even earn so much as a victory against the Spurs roster that the short-handed Warriors won two games against.  While their regular season records were very close, it was also very clear in the post season that the Warriors were clearly the better team.  Coupled with that, the Warriors’ regular season record took a big hit when the team hit a dry spell and went on a of a losing streak.  Records aside, looking at how each team faired in the post season, it seems that the Warriors were clearly the better team last year.

Big men David Lee and Andrew Bogut both have post moves, jumpers and can pass the ball.  It is a very versatile pairing.

Big men David Lee and Andrew Bogut both have post moves, jumpers and can pass the ball. It is a very versatile pairing.

Looking at the addition of Howard, it is easy to be excited as a Rockets fans, however, one of the issues with Howard has been his relationships with coaches.  Howard has always believed, since the 2009 playoffs that saw him lead the Orlando Magic to the NBA finals, that he needs to see the ball more in the post.  Howard publically criticized Stan Van Gundy (SVG) for not giving him the ball more down low despite the team’s success.  This would serve as a point of contention that would limit Orlando’s effectiveness on offense.  Once he landed in Los Angeles, Howard took issue with Mike ‘Antoni’s failure to get the ball into Howard on the blocks.  The bottom lines is that Howard is a great offensive rebounder who can create his own high-percentage shots and that he is great on the pick-and-roll to the basket.  His post moves, though they have improved, are limited, as is his mid-range jumper (let’s be honest, Howard has the range of a meter stick, or yard stick as my American friends might say).  Howard does not seem to be willing to admit this though, and since he strategically placed an opt-out clause in his contract in 2016, the Rockets will be under pressure to run the offence through Howard or face alienating him and losing him either in a trade demand or to free agency.  The problem is that if they do supplicate to him, their offence will be less effective, so while there isn’t a player in the league that impacts the game more on the defensive end than Howard, his demands for a bigger role on offense will dilute his defensive impact.  Unless the Rockets can find a way to convince Howard of his offensive limitations without bruising his ego, he may do more harm than good on the floor. 

Having two sharp shooter like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the back court is as exciting as having Lee and Bogut in the front court.

Having two sharp shooter like Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in the back court is as exciting as having Lee and Bogut in the front court.

Coupled with that, the Rockets only have one player than can create his own shot and that is James Harden.  Harden is like Paul Pierce or LeBron James or Dwayne Wade in that he can handle the ball, create for himself and distribute, so he may be able to help Houston compensate for the fact that they don’t have an All-Star calibre point guard to compete with the likes of Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Stephen Curry when the post season rolls around, but at the end of the day teams with a solid point guard stand a better chance of going the distance.  Miami has managed to circumvent that logic because they have two great ball handlers in Wade and James.  The Rockets only have one in Harden and it is debatable as to whether or not he is as effective at distributing as James and Wade are.  The Rockets also have a thin bench and no starting power forward currently on the roster.  Though staring Omer Asik at power forward may be an option, it will hurt the team on the offensive end. 

James Harden's growth last season may be hampered by Howard's demand for the ball, but Harden has shown much maturity and can be counted on to do what is best for the team.

James Harden’s growth last season may be hampered by Howard’s demand for the ball, but Harden has shown much maturity and can be counted on to do what is best for the team.

The Warriors, on the other hand, seem to have their offensive identity in place.  Curry is the primary ball handler and can create for himself, but both Andrew Bogut and David Lee are solid post scorers with decent mid-range jump shots and can both pass the ball well for big men.  Harrison Barnes had a solid rookie year and will be a great guy to have coming off the bench to cover minutes at both shooting guard and small forward, allowing Iguodala and Klay Thompson to get starting minutes while also facilitating Barnes’ growth.  None of the three will have to see a decrease in minutes.  The addition of Speights gives the Warriors some rebounding and shot blocking off the bench.  The Warriors will also have sophomore Festus Ezeli who showed some promise, though he has room to grow, and he can also provide some rebounding and shot blocking off the bench.   The only issue now for the Warriors is to replace Jarret Jack with a quality back-up point guard.  Considering that the Warriors were without Lee in the playoffs, next year’s post season will see the Warriors adding two All-Stars to their playoff run in Lee and Iguodala and it will also give Bogut time to develop chemistry with the team since he had been injured most of the year this past season. 

Kevin McHale will have one of the toughest coaching jobs in the league next year.  I expect him to call Stan Van Gundy for some advice.

Kevin McHale will have one of the toughest coaching jobs in the league next year. I expect him to call Stan Van Gundy for some advice.

The additions that the Warriors made seem to fit their current system and will not require the team to change things up, rather they will simply have more weapons than they had last year (so long as they find a decent replacement for Jack).  The Rockets though will have some growing pains as they look to incorporate Howard into their system and try to appease his ego by giving him enough touches on offense and finding a role that he likes enough that he will not demand a coach be fired (though firing Kevin McHale might be in the Rockets’ best interests).  The Warriors though have a great starting line-up in place that features a former All-NBA center in Bogut, All-Stars Lee and Iguodala and future All-Stars (I think it’s fair to say) in Curry and Thompson.  The Rockets have two All-Star players in Howard and Harden, but what their chemistry will be like remains to be seen.  As far as coaching goes, I think most people would give the edge to the Warriors (Mark Jackson was a great leader on the floor, and seems to be as good on the bench), but we haven’t seen enough of either coach yet to make a reasoned argument in favour of one or the other.  It seems the Warriors, in losing out on Howard, have actually come way the better team.  This is all contingent on healthy rosters of course.  The Warriors are one ankle injury away from a first-round exit whilst the Rockets are one back injury away from the lottery.  

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