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30 Teams in 30 Days

2020-21 NBA Season Preview: Will Houston Rockets' new backcourt of James Harden and John Wall extend playoff streak?

The 2020-21 NBA season is set to tip-off on Dec. 22. To get you ready for the year to come, we're dedicating one day between now and the start of the season to each team in the league.

Today, we take a look at the Houston Rockets.

2019-20 season record

44-28, 4th in Western Conference

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Notable additions

John Wall, Trade

Sterling Brown, Free agency

Kenny Wooten, Free agency

Christian Wood, Free agency

Kenyon Martin Jr., No. 52 pick in 2020 NBA Draft

Notable departures

Robert Covington, Trade (Portland Trail Blazers)

Russell Westbrook, Trade (Washington Wizards)

Jeff Green, Free agency (Brooklyn Nets)

Austin Rivers, Free agency (New York Knicks)

Depth chart

Starter 2nd 3rd 4th
PG John Wall Jerian Grant Chris Clemons
SG James Harden Eric Gordon Sterling Brown David Nwaba
SF Danuel House Jr. Ben McLemore Gerald Green Kenyon Martin Jr.
PF P.J. Tucker Bruno Caboclo Jae'Sean Tate Kenny Wooten
C Christian Wood DeMarcus Cousins

3 key storylines

The Harden-Wall pairing

On opening night, James Harden is set to start alongside a third different backcourt mate in as many years in John Wall.

It's been nearly two years since Wall has appeared in an NBA game, as he last saw the floor on Dec. 26, 2018. After undergoing surgeries on his left heel and his left Achilles tendon, Wall begins a new chapter of his career after spending his first 10 seasons in Washington.

Two questions now loom large: Can Wall return to a level near his All-Star calibre play? And, simply put, will a backcourt of Harden and Wall work?

In his last full season, Wall put forth a career year in which he averaged 23.7 points and 10.7 assists with a usage rate of 29.9, good for ninth among all players that appeared in 60 or more games. Just last season, Harden had a usage rate of 35.6.

Wall has played beside Bradley Beal in the past and Harden has shared the floor with Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul, but their familiarity with playing next to ball-dominant guards doesn't necessarily simplify the learning curve for this fit.

As Wall gets re-acclimated with the NBA game, he'll also be getting acclimated with a new team and a new city. The one thing that could be helpful is that this roster will all be on the same page with respect to learning a new system under a new coach.

Stephen Silas at the helm

Following Houston's postseason exit, head coach Mike D'Antoni and the franchise agreed to mutually part ways, leading to a lengthy head coaching search.

Ultimately, the Rockets decided to hire Stephen Silas, a first-time head coach that has spent the last 20 years as an assistant coach with a number of different franchises. Silas comes to Houston after spending a few seasons in Dallas, where he was credited with engineering the Mavericks' historically-efficient offence.

Over the course of his coaching career, Silas has worked with a number of talented guards from Baron Davis to Stephen Curry to Kemba Walker and, most recently, Luka Doncic.

Now, Silas has the opportunity to craft an offence around perhaps the most gifted scoring guard in the league in Harden and, due to the recent shakeup, another potentially prolific guard in Wall.

A steadily-evolving situation might not necessarily be ideal for a first-year head coach but Silas' pedigree and experience around the league will allow him to adjust on the fly while tailoring his new system to a roster that could continue to take shape as the season progresses.

A re-tooled roster

Last season's Rockets went all-in on the small-ball approach, crafting a roster tailored for a unique style curated by D'Antoni.

Now, with a new general manager and a new head coach on the sidelines, Houston has made some changes to restructure its roster to that of a more traditional team. The Rockets still have a bevy of talented wings and, as mentioned above, a new dynamic point guard, but they have made a few acquisitions of traditional bigs, none more intriguing than Christian Wood.

In the final 10 games in which he appeared last season, Wood averaged 24.2 points and 9.8 rebounds on .578/.375/.778 shooting splits. It was a very limited sample size on a poor team but production of that level is impossible to ignore, regardless of the circumstance.

MORE: How Wood can get Rockets back on track

At 6-foot-10, Wood projects to play at centre, moving 6-foot-6 P.J. Tucker back to a forward position, which means far fewer mismatches on the interior.

Houston also took a roll of the dice in signing DeMarcus Cousins, who has not played in a game since the 2019 NBA Finals. Cousins, who is reunited with his college teammate in Wall, has undergone various injuries but is said to have looked spry during his offseason training. The former All-Star provides more legitimate size and skill should he be able to shake off his misfortune from the past few seasons.

In bringing in traditional bigs, Houston has much more flexibility with its lineups which, in turn, gives Silas more room to be creative with his offensive ingenuity.

5 games to watch

vs. Los Angeles Lakers, Jan. 10, 2021

It's the defending champs. It's a playoff rematch. No more need be said.

vs. Phoenix Suns, Jan. 20, 2021

Since a postseason rematch with the Oklahoma City Thunder would be pretty underwhelming, the focus shifts to the catalyst of it all in Chris Paul, who has now moved on to the up-and-coming Suns. While a high level of Intensity is the norm for Paul, you can expect an extra edge in this one, as he faces the team that traded him just one offseason ago.

vs. Washington Wizards, Jan. 26, 2021

With Wall and Westbrook being swapped for one another, we're sure to see an entertaining point guard duel between the two once they are set to face off.

vs. Brooklyn Nets, Mar. 3, 2021

A noisy offseason saw Harden linked to the Nets in numerous trade rumours. Since he's still in Houston, it adds for more intrigue as Harden and Wall will face off against Brooklyn's duo of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

vs. Golden State Warriors, Date: TBD (Second half of season)

Some faces may have changed but that doesn't mean that the rivalry between the Rockets and Warriors isn't still alive. Last Christmas, an injury-plagued Golden State team earned an inspired win over Houston. Now, with Stephen Curry back in the mix, things will get a little more interesting.

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