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NBA - US Sports: Can the Houston Rockets improve?

Houston Rockets had a season to forget last year as they finished rock bottom of the Western Conference with a dismal 20-62 overall record, the worst in the NBA.

It has been a tough few seasons for the two-time champions as they have finished bottom in the West in each of the last two years, following a run of eight straight in the postseason and six of those were as top four seeds.

During that period, they had one of the best players in the league in the shape of James Harden but his move to Brooklyn Nets in 2021 and the exit of general manager Daryl Morey prior to that started a rebuild.

Houston are 33/1 to make the playoffs next season, while Jabari Smith Jr is 13/2 to win the Rookie of the Year award.

What happened to Houston Rockets in 2021-22?

Last season was always going to be a difficult year for the Rockets and their goal was to help their younger players develop.

Houston acquired John Wall as part of the trade deal that saw Russell Westbrook move to Washington Wizards but they had no intention of building a team around the five-time All-Star guard.

Initially, the Rockets had planned to use Wall in their rotation to give young guards Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green the chance to develop but ended up reaching an agreement with the former Wizards star not to play, and he has now joined Los Angeles Clippers.

Green went on to average 17.3 points-per-game and was named on the All-Rookie first team, while Porter averaged 15.6 points-per-game, 6.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds in his third season in the NBA.

Houston may have come in bottom spot in the West but the conference is incredibly competitive and now the play-in tournament has been introduced the team who finishes 10th can still reach the playoffs. 

Last season, San Antonio Spurs came in 10th with a 34-48 overall record so the Rockets weren't too far away and they should head into the new season in better shape.

Can Houston Rockets improve in 2022-23?

The Rockets gained extra draft picks for the deals involving both Harden and Westbrook and have been able to use some of those, while they also have future picks for 2023.

Houston managed to bring in Smith Jr in this year's draft with the third overall pick in what looks to have been a good move for the franchise. Smith was widely expected to be selected by Orlando Magic with the first pick but instead they opted for Paolo Banchero, meaning the Rockets got the player they wanted. 

Smith had a mixed Summer League but has all the attributes to be a success in the NBA and should develop as the season progresses.

The Rockets also drafted Tari Eason with the 17th pick and he did impress in the Summer League as he was named on the All-NBA Summer League First Team, and they also added highly-rated guard Tyty Washington and gained further future draft picks from Memphis Grizzlies in exchange for Wendell Moore Jr.

Houston haven't just focused on recruiting youngsters during the offseason, however, and have added experienced center Boban Marjanovic, forward Marquese Chriss, guard Trey Burke and the versatile Sterling Brown.

Houston are taking a patient approach with their ongoing rebuild and the playoffs are not necessarily a target for the campaign ahead, but they will be hoping for significant improvement and the focus will once again be on trying to help their youngsters develop.

Green will be looking for a big season after a strong rookie year, despite playing for a struggling team, and Smith should be able to challenge for the Rookie of the Year award.  

The number one target will be giving their younger players as much game-time as possible while remaining competitive, and improving on last year's tally of just 20 wins. 

It isn't completely out of the question that they could gatecrash the top 10 in the West but that still looks unlikely as they build for the future, rather than bid for instant success.

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