Here at Today’s Fastbreak, we’re rolling out an “All-Time Starting 5” for every team in the NBA. Don’t thank us, thank Shaquille O’Neal and Scottie Pippen. So, if you were to assemble the best possible Houston Rockets team, who would be on your team?
The hardest part of these discussions is determining the rules. Are you trying to assemble the best possible five-man combination of players or do the players have to all play their original position? For the Rockets, we’re going with the first option because it’s my article, and that’s the way I want to do it.
The other question is: Who do you consider a Rocket? For the purpose of this article, I determined that a player had to log at least three years in Houston, and only his stats there are relevant. Anything a player did before or after wasn’t factored in. So let’s do this.
Point Guard: Calvin Murphy
Calvin Murphy played 13 years in Houston, averaging 17.9 points and 4.4 assists. The diminutive 5’9” point guard is the shortest member of the Hall of the Fame. He was also the all-time leading scorer for the Rockets when he retired with 17,949 points; that’s still good for second-most in Rockets history.
He’s the franchise leader in assists with 4,402. He’s second in games (1002), minutes (30,607), field goals (7,247), field goal attempts (15,030), free throws (3,445), steals (1,165), Offensive Win Shares (67.6) and Win Shares (84.1). He’s in the top 10 in 21 of the 51 categories tracked by Basketball-Reference.
In 1980-81, he set the record for free throw percentage in a season with 95.8, which has since been broken. In the same season, he was one of the leaders of the team that made it to the NBA Finals but lost to the Boston Celtics in six games.
Murphy was more of a scoring point guard than a facilitator, but with the passing on this team, that shouldn’t be a principle concern. He only had 10 threes in his career, but that was more the product of the age he played in than his ability. The “Mighty Might” was a pure shooter who would be lighting up the world from behind the arc if he were playing today. He was Nate Robinson before there was a Nate Robinson.
Shooting Guard: James Harden
In just a few seasons with the Rockets, James Harden is already leaving his mark on the franchise history books. He already has more Win Shares than any 2-guard in their history, and only six players have exceeded the 42.1 he accumulated with the Rockets in just three seasons.
Additionally, he’s the all-time leader in points per game with 26.3. Only John Lucas has more assists than Harden’s 7.3. No Rocket with at least 1,500 attempts tops Harden’s true shooting percentage of 60.7 percent.
Harden should work well alongside Murphy precisely because Murphy was more of a scorer than a passer. Offensively, it would be so hard to challenge them because anyone coming off Murphy to defend Harden would have to deal with Murphy’s deadly jumper. And if no one helped, Harden would drive to the rim unabated.
Defensively, there might be some issues with that backcourt, or at least it would be were it not for the phenomenal defense of the frontcourt.
Small Forward: Tracy McGrady
Before the “LeBron vs. Kobe” arguments, there were the “T-Mac vs. Kobe” debates. While Tracy McGrady’s best years were in Orlando, he was still a beast his first three years in Houston before he became one of the victims of the Injury Monster.
In that span, McGrady averaged 25.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.8 assists to 1.5 steals and .7 blocks. And while he had Yao Ming to take some of the burden off him, like Harden last season, he was the only true ball-handler for much of his time with the Rockets.
And frankly, having Harden and prime McGrady working together is utterly frightening because of McGrady’s unreal pre-injury athleticism. Defenses wouldn’t get broken down. They’d get shattered in a million-billion pieces of tiny dust fragments and blown away by the wind created the Rockets violently beating wings.
Again, defense is only a cursory concern. McGrady was never on a All-Defensive team, but he wasn’t a bad defensive player. His Defensive Box Plus-Minus was a healthy 1.4 during his prime Houston years. Harden resolved most of his defensive woes from 2013-14 last year. He wasn’t a plus defender, but he wasn’t a liability either.
Most importantly, the fellas backing them up are pretty solid defenders.
Power Forward: Hakeem Olajuwon
Outside of Michael Jordan for the Chicago Bulls, Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon is probably the biggest no-brainer to go on an all-time starting five list. That’s nothing against the other great players in league history, but few have as big of a chasm between the greatest player in their franchise’s history and the rest of the field.
Of those aforementioned 51 categories tracked at Basketball-Reference, Olajuwon is the all-time leader in 23 of them and top 10 in 37 of them. He’s first in points, rebounds, blocks and second in steals.
He’s the only player in NBA history with 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists, 2,000 steals and 2,000 blocks, and he surpasses most of those numbers by a wide margin. His “Dream Shake” was one of the most unstoppable moves in NBA history.
His DBPM is 13th all-time among players with 10,000 minutes, and that’s understating his impact on the less-sexy end of the court.
He was named to nine All-Defensive teams and has two Defensive Player of the Year Awards to his credit. And he also has a regular-season MVP and two Finals MVPs.
He played center in his career, but his versatility would work fine playing as a power forward. And his presence alone would address 99.9 percent of defensive concerns.
Center: Moses Malone
We cement our starting five with Moses Malone, who’s fourth in Rockets’ history with 70.0 Win Shares, accumulated in just six seasons with the franchise.
During his Clutch City tenure, Malone averaged 24.0 points, 15.0 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. He also won the league MVP in his final season with the club.
According to his bio at NBA.com:
Not as tall as the game’s other legendary centers, Malone has capitalized on his strength, quickness and tenacity. Ferocious on the boards, he was the NBA’s rebounding leader six times in a seven-year span. An equally crafty scorer, he averaged more than 20 points per game for 11 years, using an infinite number of post moves, a nose for offensive rebounds and a knack for getting to the free throw line. A quiet, hulking figure, his silent demeanor and wariness around the media masked his fundamental understanding of the sport.
Of particular note here are the 6.5 offensive rebounds he averaged. On those rare occasions when Murphy, Harden, McGrady and Hakeem aren’t able to get the ball in the hoop on the first try, why not give them a second chance?
An outside shooter in Murphy, two versatile wings who can disintegrate defenses and two post players who can protect the rim and are known for an array of post moves bespeaks of an unbelievable scoring punch.
This might not be the greatest defensive squad you can assemble, but with Olajuwon there they’d be good enough to give up fewer points than they scored, which would be a lot.