Entering this season, the Houston Rockets were a strong pick to take a step back after a 54-win season last year.
The Rockets had just lost significant talent in the offseason, specifically Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.
But Houston is making its critics look silly right now, as the Rockets have won eight of their first nine games and are tied with the Memphis Grizzlies for the best record in the Western Conference.
The easiest explanation for the Rockets’ strong start is that their two superstars are dominating more than ever before, which is allowing them to overcome their loss of depth this summer.
James Harden is leading the way offensively, averaging 26.2 points per game, which is the second best mark in the league. Harden isn’t even shooting the ball very well this year (39.2 FG%, 30.3 3P%), but he’s getting to the line often and taking advantage of it.
Harden’s averaging an astounding 10.8 free throws attempts per game and converting 90.7 percent of such shots. Harden’s also doing the best job he’s ever done in his career when it comes to setting up teammates, as he’s averaging 7.4 assists per game.
Also, after receiving significant criticism for his defensive effort last season, Harden’s putting more work on the that side of the floor this year.
Still, the Rockets’ defensive ace is Harden’s running mate, Dwight Howard.
Howard is healthier than he’s been in years and it’s showing in his play. The Rockets are averaging the fewest points per possession in the league and Howard (2.8 blocks per game) is the biggest reason why.
The Rockets allow 92.7 points per 100 possessions when Howard’s on the court and 107.1 points when he’s off the court, according to 82games.
He’s also been hauling down rebounds at a high clip (11.9 rebounds per game) and excelling on the offensive end, doing damage in the pick-and-roll and in post-ups to the tune of 20.1 points per game.
Now, the Rockets are benefitting from an easy schedule and it’s unlikely they’ll keep up this torrid start to the season.
But Houston will remain a real threat in the Western Conference as long as Harden and Howard are playing at this level.