Rockets of the past, Rockets of the future
The red-hot Houston Rockets, led by MVP frontrunner James “The Beard” Harden, are sitting atop the Western Conference, dismantling opposing teams with ease with the best record in the NBA: 57-14.
The Rockets garnered success this season by constructing an offensive system built entirely around Harden, a system that has proven successful in the past. The ’90s Rockets were centered around the legendary post-play of Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon, a former Houston Cougar and NBA Hall of Famer.
The game plan for the ’90s Rockets was simple: Get the ball in the post to Dream and let the defense dictate what happened next.
With an array of nearly unstoppable moves to choose from, like his patented “Dream Shake,” Olajuwon was near impossible to guard one-on-one. When teams opted to send a second defender to help, it was an easy kick-out for a wide open three. A simple yet highly effective offense.
The Rockets’ current squad follows a similar game plan, although instead of dumping the ball into the post, it relies heavily on pick and roll action and seek mismatches in favor of its bearded leader. Once the mismatch is set, Harden can either take his man one-on-one to the hoop for a bucket or nail his signature step-back.
If the defense attempts to double team him, Harden’s incredible court vision allows him to dish the ball to a teammate for an uncontested three-pointer. Sound familiar?
As incredible as Olajuwon was and Harden is, superstars require the right role players around them to succeed.
The ’93-’94 Rockets had Mario Elie, Vernon Maxwell and Robert Horry, players who specialized in playing great defense while also providing lethal three-point shooting at the other end.
The ’17-’18 Rockets have also sought out similar “3-and-D” players to surround Harden, such as Trevor Ariza, now in his fourth straight season with the Rockets, and newly acquired PJ Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute.
But the key piece separating the team from the glory days and today is Chris Paul. The current Superteam Era of basketball means that one all-star is not enough to get the job done like it was in the ’90s.
In today’s NBA, a team needs two to three all-stars to compete at the highest level. Paul provides the Rockets with that second star, someone to play Robin to Harden’s Batman.
The Rockets are 40-4 when Harden and Paul both play together, with the team a handful of games ahead of the Golden State Warriors for the first seed.
Their success has yet to be tested in the playoffs, and if the team continues to play at such a high level, the Rockets may soon have one more similarity to the ’93-’94 team: a Larry O’Brien championship trophy.