You’re in your second semester of AP Basketball History, you love really good teams, and you love lists. With precious little drama left in the NBA’s 2015 offseason, why don’t we hit the barroom and/or barbershop, pour ourselves a frosty mug of Barbicide, and get to arguin’ over each franchise’s most formidable starting five-man lineup.
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Because we don’t like making tough decisions, the lineups will reflect the All-NBA line of thinking. There will be no differentiation between separate forward and guard positions, and the squads will be chosen after careful consideration of individual merits only – we don’t really care if your team’s top shooting guard and point guard don’t get along.
These rankings will roll out based on when each franchise began its NBA life. We continue with the Houston Rockets, who have never been uninteresting.
C: Hakeem Olajuwon. Possibly the most versatile center in NBA history, easily one of the most dominant in an era that was made up of dominant big men. Averaged 22.5 points, 11.4 rebounds and five combined steals/blocks as a Rocket, despite spending three seasons sharing the low post with Ralph Sampson and three other seasons sharing it with Charles Barkley. A 12-time All-Star, two-time champion and absolute unstoppable force on both ends of the ball. Still, somehow, maybe even underrated.
F: Tracy McGrady. Much maligned for his inability to drag the Rockets into the second round of the playoffs and for his nagging back injuries, McGrady nevertheless turned in four killer seasons (and two not-so-great seasons) as a Rocket small forward. Averaged 22.7 points and a combined 11.1 rebounds/assists as a Rocket, willingly ceding touches to center Yao Ming in Jeff Van Gundy’s offense.
F: Rudy Tomjanovich. Rudy T’s frightening punch to the face from Kermit Washingtonin 1977 too often overshadows what was a brilliant career as a Rocket hybrid forward. A five-time All-Star, Tomjanovich only played for the Rockets, and he averaged 17.4 points and 8.1 rebounds in just 33 minutes a contest while with the team. His fantastic work as a head coach does not factor into his placement in this starting lineup: Rudy T could play.
G: James Harden. If you think this is an overshoot after just three seasons as a Rocket, that’s fair, but when you brush up to the top of the heap when it comes to the MVP vote you tend to leave more tenured players behind. Harden has averaged 26.3 points, 5.1 rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.8 steals as a Rocket, and he was part of the team’s first Western Conference finals appearance in two decades in 2014-15. He is already the 48-year old franchise’s 14th-leading scorer.
G: Calvin Murphy. At a time when the NBA valued size above all else, Murphy’s role as a scoring (and not always playmaking) lead guard was in a way just as unique as Magic Johnson’s role with the Lakers during the same era. At just 5-9 (maybe) Murphy averaged 17.9 points per game on a series of Rockets teams that had several mouths to feed, and finished his career with an 89.2 free throw percentage.
The Rox run deep, which is why several other Rocket contributors have a legitimate claim to this starting five. We don’t even have the time nor space to get into the heaps of role-playing helpers that surrounded Hakeem as he won those two titles. They know who they are.
Elvin Hayes, for one, was a scoring and rebounding machine during his four years with the San Diego/Houston Rockets, averaging nearly 28 points per game and 17 rebounds in his first four seasons. The Rockets brought him back for a second tour of duty late in his career, which lessened his overall per-game statistics with the club. He has a legitimate gripe when it comes to being left off of either forward spots.
Moses Malone nearly led the Rockets to a title while working out of the low post in Houston, a town he would remain in to train and live even after joining the Philadelphia 76ers. Center Yao Ming, meanwhile, was briefly the best center in basketball before foot injuries sadly derailed his career. Please, always tell tale of his 2006-07 season, one that saw him average 26.6 points per game and 10 rebounds before things went wrong. Sigh.
Ralph Sampson, a three-time All-Star, was also well on his way to stardom before the injury bug hit. Dwight Howard, even after just two years in Houston, could retire as yet another Rocket legend. Otis Thorpe made one All-Star team in Texas and was a key piece in the franchise’s 1994 title, and his presence allowed the team to deal OT for Clyde Drexler, who turned in three and a half stellar seasons of all-around ball for the franchise. Charles Barkley and Steve Francis’ respective eras with the team may have been disappointing overall, but they did have their moments.
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