Article written by Zach Zola (@ZachZola1), with contributions from Hayden Gray (@haydenmgray), Dex Hinton (@DexHinton), Michael Knight (@TheKnight97), Tyler Jones (@tjjszn), and Drew Middleton (@htx_drew_)

After months of trade rumors, Vegas videos, and, more recently, an incident involving our own Barbershop quartet, things seem to have finally stabilized for the Houston Rockets.

With nearly half the roster sidelined due to contact tracing protocols for the first two games, the Rockets were able to close out the week – back to almost full strength – with two quality wins over the Sacramento Kings. The Rockets will take a record of 2-2 into next week, hoping to build on some of the positives we’ve already witnessed from this new-look team.

To give some initial thoughts on how the Rockets have looked early on, a group of our contributors here at Clutch City Control Room have answered some questions regarding what they have seen so far this season.

Spoiler Alert: City Jerseys are a hit.

1) Who is your Rockets player of the week and why?

Hayden: John Wall. After two years of recovery from his achilles injury, he set the tone in his first game with 22/9/6. The next game, he went on to lead the way in the second matchup against the Kings, dropping 28 points, 6 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks with Harden out. So far, he is exceeding expectations by a considerable margin.

Dex: John Wall. Great to see him back to being his old self after 2 years off.

Michael: For me, it’s gotta be John Wall. In his first real week of games in two years, he averaged 25 points, 7.5 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 1.5 blocks a game as the Rockets defeated the Kings twice. He was incredible and led the team to victory with James Harden hurt for the second game. His leadership and play will be fun to watch this season.

Tyler: It’s impossible to choose between Christian Wood or John Wall as the best storyline of the new NBA season, so I’ll choose Sterling Brown as the best Rockets storyline and let Wood and Wall tie for second. Brown was a relatively low key offseason acquisition compared to Wood, Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins, but has made a huge impact off the bench with solid defensive effort and 60% shooting from 3 through the Rockets’ first 4 outings.

Drew: John Wall. Coming off of two major injuries, many expected that Wall, a guard that relies on athleticism, would lose a step. Instead, Wall has shattered the expectations that many had for his return to an NBA court after his two year absence. Through two games Wall has averaged 25 points, 5 rebounds, and 7.5 assists, and appears to be healthy and hungry to prove everyone wrong. 

2) Favorite play of the week?

Hayden: It has to be the Harden lob that House and Wood both put through the rim. Really it was just a quirky coincidence that they both went up for the lob, but it symbolized a return to a fun brand of basketball that was sorely lacking from this team in the past year. Watching Rockets basketball is fun again!

Dex: Tate dunking on Jokic. So excited to see what Jae’Sean Tate becomes.

Michael: The Christian Wood/Danuel House double alley-oop was something that I’ve never seen done before, so I am definitely going with that. The clutch buckets from James Harden also are up there.

Tyler: Wall’s high off the glass floating layup through two defenders versus Sacramento. Some of the best touch I’ve seen off the backboard and showed the extent of Wall’s incredible athleticism.

Drew: The alley-oop pass from James Harden that both Christian Wood and Danuel House both dunked at the same time. Harden thrives when he plays alongside a lob threat. When this pass was caught by both House and Wood it shows that the Rockets now have a couple players with the ability to catch lobs from Harden. 

3) What was the most promising aspect of the first week of Rockets basketball?

Hayden: It was very encouraging to see that the supporting cast is able to carry more of the offensive load, so that Harden can save some of his energy for crunch time. If Harden ends up staying with the team through the rest of the season, he should have fresher legs for the playoffs.

Dex: The bench players. The Rockets so far look deeper than they were last season, and Tate, Nwaba, and Brown on defense are very exciting.

Michael: The most promising thing to see this week was how deep the Rockets are compared to other years. When Ben McLemore returns, the team will have 11 players worthy of getting minutes. It’s going to be a tough decision from Stephen Silas on who won’t get minutes! My guess is that David Nwaba might find himself out of the rotation at first.

Tyler: Christian Wood, by far. Watching Wood’s Detroit highlight reel in anticipation of his Houston debut didn’t do his game justice. Offensively Wood is elite from almost every area of the court. Accurate from deep, fantastic touch from midrange and around the basket, and seriously underrated passing vision off the roll. Did I mention we have this guy for 3 more years at only 41 million dollars total?

Drew: Chemistry. Before the first game versus the Kings, the Rockets had not played a regular season game with the full roster. Despite the lack of on-court time together, everyone appeared to be on the same page. Off the court, James Harden was seen smiling and embracing rookie Jae’sean Tate, who he apparently “threw” a basketball at during a scrimmage at practice. With all the setbacks and negative press surrounding the team, the chemistry on and off the court looks promising.

4) Should House continue to start? If not, who should replace him?

Hayden: It can often be difficult to take a bigger-picture outlook during the NBA season. However, that’s something we have to do with House. Despite his early season struggles, when he is right, he gives the Rockets a tertiary scoring and playmaking option. Silas has to ride with him until a larger sample size is available.

Dex: For now, yes. I don’t think you can rely on anybody else starting in that spot at the moment. But it’ll be something to watch as the season goes on and the young guys develop more.

Michael: Danuel House had a nice two-game stretch against the Kings after a pretty awful start on both ends in the first two games of the year. He had a combined plus-minus of +21 in these last two games, both of which were very close. He’s had his share of defensive lapses, but I think he will continue to improve with the season just underway. I wouldn’t reduce his minutes quite yet, but with so many viable options, he needs to continue to prove his worth.

Tyler: House should continue to start. House’s performances versus Sacramento were much more promising than his first couple outings and John Wall’s return is likely a large reason for that. Limiting House’s offensive responsibilities is best, while maximizing Gordon’s time with the ball off the bench seems best for maintaining the in-rhythm version of EG we’ve seen so far.

Drew: Danuel House should continue to start. House thrives when his role stays consistent. Last season he switched starting spots with Eric Gordon, which prevented both players from getting into a rhythm. So House should continue to start to allow both Gordon and House to get comfortable with their role. 

5) What do the Rockets need to improve on most moving forward?

Hayden: The glaring weakness of the team to this point is defense, particularly against big men. With perimeter defenders like Wall and Tate, the backcourt defense will continue to gel, but the Rockets likely will need to look on the buyout market or in free agency to find another big body to throw at elite big men like Nikola Jokic or Anthony Davis.

Dex: Defensive rotations. The 2nd half of the 2nd game against the Kings was great defensively but, outside of that, the Rockets have looked absolutely lost at times trying to defend screens, hand offs, and back cuts.

Michael: Defense. While the offense is super fun and versatile, the defense has been less than impressive. The Rockets showed signs of improvement in the second half of last game, but need to keep working on the fundamentals on that end of the court.

Tyler: Rebounding. Any team that truly wants to make a deep playoff run must rebound the basketball effectively. Limiting the amount of times your defense must stop the opposing team is absolutely crucial to maintaining an advantage, so the Rockets, and specifically Christian Wood, have to make boxing out a habit.

Drew: Defense. The Rockets’ defense has looked terrible at times in all of their games this season. This could be due to the lack of playing time together and the lack of full roster practices. However, in the second half of the second Kings game, the Rockets’ defense looked great. So look for the defense to hopefully improve as the season goes on.

6) Record predictions for the upcoming week? (DAL, @IND, ORL, LAL)

Hayden: 2-2. With Luka Doncic’s shooting woes so far I like the Rockets’ chances against the Mavericks. Additionally, while the Magic got off to a strong start, look for them to start coming down to Earth as the season goes on. However, the Pacers are a team with more continuity than the Rockets and they have looked strong so far. Throw in the first of two consecutive games against the Lakers, and the good guys could very easily come out of the next four games with a 2-2 record.

Dex: 3-1, depending on Harden’s health.

Michael: 3-1. This is a great test week for the Rockets. I think the Rockets win three of these games, possibly dropping one to the Lakers or Mavericks (should Luka play). Houston is better than Indiana and Orlando, so it will be interesting to see if this team can take care of business.

Tyler: 3-1. Assuming Harden plays all of these games, I see at least 3 wins but a loss to the Lakers, who have looked dominant already at times this season.

Drew: 3-1, with wins against the Mavericks, Pacers, and Magic. They’ve got two consecutive games coming up against the Lakers, and I think they’ll split that series.

BONUS: City Edition jerseys and court – 👍 or 👎

Hayden: I was not an immediate fan of the City jerseys when they were announced, but in game the blue looks great and the court just ties it all together. Big thumbs up for me!

Dex: Two BIG thumbs up 👍 👍

Michael: The new city jerseys are absolutely incredible. The Rockets should wear them every home game. That is all.

Tyler: Two thumbs up for the city edition theme.

Drew: They looked way better than expected. It’s nice to see the Rockets embracing Houston’s history.

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