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Houston Rockets 2022-23 NBA preview: All eyes on Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr. and Alperen Sengun



As much as you want to see your team win, there’s something comforting about a rebuild. Without the pressure of playoff seeding and championship expectations, you’re content to sit back and watch the young talent develop before your eyes while the lottery balls pile up with every loss. The Houston Rockets have plenty of potential stars to keep an eye on, led by their top-three draft picks from the last two seasons, Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr., along with 22-year-old Kevin Porter Jr. and consummate fan favorite Alperen Sengun.

Behind them are all sorts of intriguing young pieces like Kenyon Martin Jr., Josh Christopher, Usman Garuba and two more draft picks from this year — Tari Eason and TyTy Washington. Put it all together, and you have a fun, energetic team that should be worth watching pretty much every single night, even if they often come out on the losing side.

Here’s a quick look at the offseason moves for the Rockets, followed by a preview of their 2022-23 NBA season.

Key changes

Roster

Sterling Brown

Forward

27

Trey Burke Guard 29

Marquese Chriss

Forward

25

Josh Christopher

Guard

20

Tari Eason

Forward

21

Bruno Fernando

Guard

24

Usman Garuba

Forward

20

Eric Gordon

Guard

33

Jalen Green Guard 20
Trevor Hudgins Guard 23

Boban Marjanovic

C

34

Kenyon Martin Jr.

Forward

21

Garrison Mathews

Guard

25

Daishen Nix

Guard

20

David Nwaba

Forward

29

Kevin Porter Jr. Guard 22
Alperen Sengun Center 20

Jabari Smith Jr.

Forward

19

Jae’Sean Tate

Forward

26

TyTy Washington Jr.

Guard

20

Top of the key: Maintaining momentum

Their record may not have supported it, but the Rockets played a much better brand of basketball toward the end of last season. They went 3-8 over their last 11 games, but their net rating was close to even at minus-1.7, compared to minus-8.9 prior to that stretch. That’s the blueprint for this season — even if they’re not winning games, the Rockets need to be competitive. No more 15-game losing streaks.

“We just want to keep improving like we did last season and be the team that we were toward the end of last season. But we also want to be a team that’s really hard to play against,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas told The Athletic. “Building winning habits is through the work and playing hard and being super, super hard to play against to where when people come into Houston, it’s not an easy night. And that’ll lead to all good things. That’ll lead to wins.”

Silas, who last season became the first coach since 2006 to put four teenagers on the court, knows the biggest challenge to staying competitive comes on the defensive end, where the Rockets finished dead last in the NBA by allowing 116.4 points per 100 possessions. It’s a tall task for such a young roster without a true rim protector, but defensive improvement will tremendously help the Rockets, who should have an extremely fun and dynamic offense to go with it.

Next up: Greener pastures

A huge part of last year’s late-season improvement was the play of Green, who averaged 22 points over his last 25 games on incredibly efficient 48/39/76 shooting splits. He topped the 30-point mark in six of his last seven games, showing what Silas called “All-Star potential.” Now comes the hard part — consistency. Green’s proven that he can go out and get 30-plus on any given night, but doing it more than once every two weeks is what separates All-Stars from good players. Case in point: In the 42 games prior to that hot stretch to end the season, Green shot 38 percent from the field, 30 percent from 3-point range and averaged 14 points per game.

Green will also need to put in some work on the defensive end if he’s going to help Houston win a few more games this season. He has a slight build that will eventually fill out and has the length and quickness to work himself into a solid wing defender. He needs to take steps in that direction this season, in addition to his scoring and playmaking, if the Rockets intend to maintain an upward trajectory.

One more thing: Sengun season

NBA Twitter’s favorite young big man will be unleashed this season … hopefully. With Wood in Dallas, that means Sengun should get much more run than the 21 minutes per game he played last year, with his unique brand of pump fakes and no-looks ready to shine. The 20-year-old center is a numbers machine, putting up per-36-minute averages of 16.7 points, 9.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists last season, and did major damage in the post. He was in the 93rd percentile on post-ups including passes last season, according to Synergy Sports, thanks to no-look, lefty dimes like this one to Christopher.

“Part of that growth and part of that struggle at the beginning of the season [for Sengun] is that nobody knew how to play with him, and he didn’t know how to play with our guys,” Silas told The Athletic. “So as the season went along, it became more natural for guys to know when those passes are coming, and for him to know that this is where you’re gonna most likely get the ball and this is where you can be effective.”

Defensively, it’s going to be a struggle for Sengun, but the Rockets can run a lot of offense through him in the half-court, and he’ll only get better as he learns which of his tricks work and which result in direct passes to the wrong team. Either way, it’s going to be a blast to watch.

Key games

The Rockets probably won’t have many games that bear too much significance in terms of the standings this season, but they’ll have a few meaningful matchups nonetheless. James Harden returned to Houston twice as a member of the Brooklyn Nets, but he’ll make his first appearance at Toyota Center as a Philadelphia 76er in December. In early November they’ll see the Clippers and John Wall, who was understandably displeased about his situation with the Rockets last season.

Another interesting matchup will come against the Oklahoma City Thunder a couple of days after Thanksgiving. These will probably be two of the worst teams in the league record-wise, but they’re among the most exciting young franchises in terms of young talent. It will be fun to watch them duke it out on national TV (well, NBA TV). And then in January, Houston makes its lone ESPN appearance when it takes on the Sacramento Kings.

  • Wednesday, Nov. 2 vs. Clippers
  • Saturday, Nov. 26 vs. Thunder (NBA TV)
  • Monday, Dec. 5 vs. 76ers
  • Wednesday, Jan. 11 vs. Kings





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