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Five Reasons to Watch the Houston Rockets This Season

All eyes are on the Russ-and-Harden show, but don’t forget about P.J. and the Hobbit

Alycea Tinoyan

In lieu of a traditional franchise-by-franchise NBA preview, we asked Tyler Parker to give us five players to watch on each team. If we want. For reasons entirely his own.


P.J. Tucker, Forward

P.J. Tucker. That’s coverage you can count on. I know metronomes less reliable than him. Jalen Rose likes to say something to the effect of, “Be a superstar in your role.” Tucker has taken that advice and washed himself in it. NBA.com says he’s 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds, which is huge in regular people numbers but slight when it comes to NBA players. Doesn’t matter. The Tuckwagon lineup remains a nightmare to play against. Tucker moves around the court like a souped-up tank. He and the Ankylosaurus have a lot in common, none of which I’ll go into right now. He has somehow made himself, at least in my mind, synonymous with sneakers. His style is critically praised. GQ had him chopping it with Will Welch, their editor-in-chief, for Advertising Week on a panel titled Big Business: The Role of Athletes in Culture. Sean Taylor jerseys and captions that include the words “bespoke vibes.” The range is outrageous. You absolutely have to respect the range.

James Harden, Guard

Probably the best offensive basketball player on the planet the past couple of years. He picks food from his teeth with a french fry. Sometimes more algorithm than basketball player. Will show up to a game in a sweater made of slain Sasquatches and on the front it says I HAVE MIXED DRINKS ABOUT FEELINGS. Used to be a full-time working artist. Now he splits his time between painting and building computers. Building computers can be pretty boring at times, yes, but he is the best computer-builder in the world. How boring can a thing really be if it’s the best of its kind?

Adidas should make an ascot for him to wear during games. Seems like we’re a few years away from him taking his shoes off and changing into slippers while he’s on the bench. Maybe he takes that time to put on a new pair of dry socks. Nobody likes a wet sock. Perhaps this is the way Harden pushes the game forward next. Also, at what point does Nike start making robes for each team to wear as part of their warm-ups? That’s coming, right?

He has led the NBA in free throws attempted every year for the past five seasons. This is both extremely impressive and a little disgusting. Monday night, in a game against the Thunder, he shot 22 free throws and made 21 of them. Oklahoma City, as a team, shot 24.

It’s not that he’s lacking the ability to be consistently fun. He’s a blast when he wants to be. He’s just so smart. I don’t think he’s too smart for his own good but I thought about saying I did so I’d have a nice way to end this.

Russell Westbrook, Guard

Chaos is coming, maybe. Probably. Most likely. Depends on how he feels. Gets his cheek dented and just keeps going. He generally plays like he’s either literally on fire or actively trying to make sure the person who wants to set him on fire can’t catch him. This includes the defensive end. Sometimes he’s so busy looking around for the guy with the flamethrower, the man he’s guarding cuts backdoor for a layup.

He is uninterested in the aesthetics of today’s NBA. His face has well-toned muscles. He doesn’t like to explain himself. He will wear so many things you wouldn’t.

Still makes me a little discombobulated seeing him in red, but it has been wild to see the Rockets’ extended universe attempt to embrace him like they didn’t just spend a full three years trashing the guy. Triple-doubles are cool if he’s getting them for you, I guess. Didn’t quite get there Monday night against his old team. Stopped short on the assists. Ended with 21, 12, and nine. Only took one 3. Got a huge rebound late and a huge assist late to help shut the door. I keep waiting on the burst to fully leave him. That day will come, but it hasn’t yet.

Eric Gordon, Guard

Born on Christmas day ’88 in Indianapolis, Indiana. Currently built like a pallet of bricks. He’s transitioned to an all-organic vegan diet. It’s given him more energy. He’s sleeping better. Was once asked the question, “How important is organic to you?” and answered: “Oh, very important. I think that’s everything. Raw, organic, having raw or organic things in your body. I’ll do anything to help my career and generate more years to come by. You know, as you get older, things change. Your body changes and you got to put in the right food, just like putting the right gas in your car, so down the line things will still be working and operating the way that you really want to. So, I definitely want that chance and I think it’s the best way, the best route to do it as you get older.”

Signed a four-year extension with the Rox this offseason. Apparently, some people call him The Hobbit(?), which, don’t get me wrong, is rad. I just don’t understand the reasoning behind it. Is it supposed to mean something like Bon Iver means something? Or is it more impressionistic like how it is with R&B/soul sensation Seal? Gordon does have a very compact body but I wouldn’t call it hobbit-ish. When I think hobbit and NBA I go immediately to Isaiah Thomas for very obvious, very lazy reasons. I got to get out of this paragraph.

Another in a long line of fallen sleevesmen, by which I mean he used to wear a T-shirt under his jersey back when he was playing for Kelvin Sampson at Indiana, only to abandon that look once he got to the league. Here are some highlights from those days. Bask in their light.

Gerald Green, Guard/Forward

He had surgery on his broken left foot this past Monday. The Rockets expect him to be out for around six months. That’s at least the entire regular season. Maybe, if they make another deep run into the playoffs, he can come back, be a factor. Either way, you feel for him. He’s had something of a minor renaissance in Houston these past couple of seasons. It’s been nice to see, especially considering he was out of the league and playing in Russia back in ’09-10 and ’10-11.

Gerald Green was born at halftime of Super Bowl XX, the ’85 Bears up on the Patriots 23-3. The best play in that game wasn’t Fridge’s touchdown run. That was boring. It was the play where he tried to throw a pass out of the backfield and got hit for a 1-yard loss. All clips of that are lost to time, though. The internet needs to try harder.

What if Green had gone to Oklahoma State? That’s where he initially committed before deciding to enter the draft out of Gulf Shores Academy in Houston. Would anything have gone differently for him? Would he have found his niche in the league sooner? He’d have been out there with JamesOn Curry, Byron Eaton, and Mario Boggan. That was ’05-06. Those Cowboys wound up 17-16, a young bunch of stud recruits unable to live up to the John Lucas III, Daniel Bobik, and Graham brothers Final Four team from the year before. That ’05-06 team was Eddie Sutton’s last at OSU. In February 2006, Sutton got busted for driving under the influence after he ran into another vehicle, then into a tree. Witnesses told stories about seeing him stumbling in the parking lot before driving off in his Durango. Sutton blew a .22 that night, resigned later that year. My dad has a friend who was a graduate assistant under Sutton during the ’90s. Told a story once about how Sutton asked him to tape Lonesome Dove and use the team’s video equipment to clip out all the commercials so his wife Patsy wouldn’t have to deal with any of the ads.

Green’s had a strange road. He’s played for eight different teams in the league and this is his second stint with the Rockets. His first was in ’07-08. It lasted for one game. He scored six points and grabbed two rebounds, both of which were offensive. He didn’t miss a shot and the Rockets beat the Wizards by 25.

Gerald’s always had springs. Won the NBA Slam Dunk Contest in ’07. That’s forever ago, but the bounce has mostly stayed. In his younger days he was looking down into the hoop. There’s a video on YouTube that’s 13 minutes and nine seconds long and all it is is clips of him dunking the ball. He’s been jumping with flair for some time. In ’05 he won the McDonald’s All America Game Slam Dunk Contest. He beat Josh McRoberts in the final. Now, McRoberts, despite his height—that’s a guy with some classic, real-deal hobbit energy. The best dunk Green ever had was against the Rockets. This was in 2012 when he was with the Nets. It was early March and he caught an oop. Luis Scola just stopped in his tracks, didn’t really know what to do. DeShawn Stevenson just started screaming.

Tyler Parker is a writer from Oklahoma.