THE DEFENDING CHAMPS ARE (STILL) HERE
Kawhi Leonard may be gone, but the champs are still the champs until they get officially eliminated. Also, as amazing as Leonard was, no one can really take away one key stat from this Raptors team: they went 17-5 in the 22 games that he sat out last season.
Pascal Siakam is looking to take the reins in the defending champs’ clubhouse. The 2019 Most Improved Player had a breakout year this past season and posted career-highs in just about every category, highlighted by scoring 16.9 points with 6.9 rebounds on 54.9% shooting. As an excellent defender with a decent outside shot and a 7’3 wingspan, Siakam could be the next big thing out of the Raptors.
The Raptors also retained every key rotation player from the championship team, as led by All-Star point guard Kyle Lowry, who has transitioned into a pass-first PG.
Lowry and Siakam would be seeing the floor with Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol, a pair of defensive big men that can also stretch the floor with their reliable jumpers.
HOUSTON DOESN’T HAVE A PROBLEM… FOR NOW
The Houston Rockets joined in on the trend of having a pair of big-named perennial All-Stars. They pulled some strings and were somehow able to package Chris Paul and his massive contract to get themselves Oklahoma City Thunder superstar, Russell Westbrook.
On the surface, it’s nothing short of intriguing and exciting. James Harden and Russell Westbrook own two of the last three Most Valuable Player awards and both are among the most prolific stat sheet monsters today, with the former averaging 33.4 PPG in the last two seasons and the latter having three-straight triple-double seasons.
Two ball-dominant players on the same team is never a good idea, but now is not the time to pass judgement, especially on a Mike D’Antoni offense that can manage to feed the ball to anyone. It’s also good to consider that the Harden-Westbrook duo is surrounded by players that fit their styles, such as big man Clint Capela, who could run the floor or wait in the paint for drop-offs and alley-oops, Eric Gordon, a veteran shooter, and PJ Tucker, a hard-nosed forward that has developed a knack for an outside shot.
WHO COMES OUT ON TOP?
The Rockets destroyed the visiting Shanghai Sharks in their preseason opener on September 30th, 140-71, with Capela going 11-13 from the field for a game-high 25 points and Harden notching a triple double in just 21 minutes of action – 10 points, 12 rebounds, and 17 assists.
The Sharks are way behind the Raptors, even if we just compare them to the Raps’ second unit, but if that Rockets team is a preview of how hungry they are again this season, we should see them continue the rampage Tuesday night.
We give the Rockets the nod for this game..