The NBA is now in full swing after three weeks full of competitive battles that have featured major scoring outputs from Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Blake Griffin all going for 50+ points. While the heat checks have been real, so have the cold starts and streaks from one of the league's most talented rosters. The Houston Rockets haven't gotten off to the start that they anticipated, now things in H-Town are looking a bit shaky in early November as the Rockets are shopping for new talent around the league.
THE HOUSTON ROCKETS, 2018 WESTERN CONFERENCE RUNNER UPS
Houston's Harden led regime is currently 4-5, ranking them at 12th in the competitive Western Conference standings. H-Town began the season 1-5, and are now on a three game win streak against the Eastern Conference (Brooklyn, Chicago, and Indiana).
The last thing that the Rockets needed was a slow start out of the gates after suffering a devastating blow losing the final two games of their season to the Golden State Warriors in series-clinching situations after CP3 injured his hamstring.
Now, only five months later, there are rumors starting to fly around about Houston offering the Minnesota Timberwolves FOUR first round draft picks in exchange for Jimmy Butler. Some in the league may see this as a way of Houston hitting the panic button, but there is still plenty of time for the Rockets to prove that they don't need another all star in order to get their swagger back.
Logically, the trade would be beneficial for Houston in the sense of a "win now" mode mentality, which they're obviously in (due to Paul's age and injury history). If they could somehow acquire Butler without giving up P.J. Tucker or Eric Gordon, they will have maintained their core from last season while adding one of the league's top 3-and-D wings in Butler. They also added a valuable veteran scoring presence in Melo, who showed he could heat up like a microwave at any given moment against Brooklyn.
Although it is very early in the season still, Houston looks like a team that is far too comfortable for their own good. They've been sluggish on defense, out of rhythm on offense, and stagnant as far as improving goes. If they want to get back to the full form they were in last season, they will need to improve every day from here on out.
This relatively slow start for Houston could just be a hangover from the depressing ending the Rockets experienced last May, but if it isn't, and serious changes need to be made, General Manager Daryl Morey is the last person to hesitate to make those moves that may be deemed necessary.
THE TORONTO RAPTORS, 2018 EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMI FINALS EXIT
For all of the talk about the new look addition of Kawhi Leonard in a Raptors jersey, there has not been enough praise towards the new Head Coach, Nick Nurse. The Raptors are sitting pretty towards the top of the Eastern Conference standings at 7-1, just behind the Milwaukee Bucks. The Raptors rank third in offensive rating at 115.5, and eighth in total points per game with 117.1. Their defense has been staggering as well, they're allowing only 107.8 points per outing which helps categorize them as one of the league's five best defenses.
The roster depth that the Raptors are capable of utilizing has allowed Toronto to produce seven players averaging double figures in points per outing (Leonard, Lowry, Ibaka, Valanciunas, VanVleet, Siakam, and Green). The excellent bench output was the signifying distributor to a lot of wins on the road for Toronto last season, which earned them the label of the best bench mob in the NBA.
OG Anunoby, Toronto's most coveted young player whom they hope to develop into a consistent 3-and-D wing, isn't even in that category as a double-digit scorer yet. Although his presence on the floor is just as influential as any of the other Raptor bench members, Anunoby isn't putting up quite the amount of points that his team needs. And that is a very scary sight for the rest of the league, if Anunoby can get in a shooting rhythm equal to that of the rest of Toronto's eight man rotation, then the Raptors could very easily be the favorites in the East.
Toronto's newly acquired MVP Candidate, Kawhi Leonard, is averaging 26 points on a shooting clip of 50-45-90. This is not to be taken lightly, those are shooting numbers that are typically only seen from the league's deadliest shooters in it's entire 70 year history. Leonard's shooting right now puts him in the same category as Larry Bird, Stephen Curry, and Dirk Nowitzki.
Kyle Lowry has been playing out of his absolute mind as well, averaging a solid 18 points and 11.5 assists. He's nurturing the rage within him that accumulated following the DeRozan trade, and is putting into his efforts within his business as an NBA point guard. While he may be more detached from the team's chemistry as a group after his best friend was deported to another organization, Lowry is still doing his best to improve each season as a court general.
The Raptors could be the frontrunners in the Eastern Conference for the entire season if they continue to play at the pace they're displaying right now. As long as they can remain healthy, and continue to integrate Anunoby into the offense, Toronto will be a dominant force in the East that frustrates the Bucks, Sixers, and Celtics title hopes.