By Alex Kennedy

Looking at the Houston Rockets’ 15-43 record, one might think that this season hasn’t gone quite as planned.

Houston has by far the worst record in the Western Conference, and the Rockets have the NBA’s 30th-ranked defense (allowing 114.3 points per 100 possessions) and 27th-ranked offense (scoring 104.3 points per 100 possessions).

However, the Rockets entered this season with the sixth-youngest roster in the NBA. Eleven of their players are age-24 or younger. Houston knew that this would be a rebuilding year, with a focus on developing their young talent and getting as many reps as possible for Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Alperen Sengun, Christian Wood, Josh Christopher, KJ Martin, Armoni Brooks, etc. This is a talented core, as our Mark Schindler and Mat Issa recently pointed out in a terrific two-part series.

The Rockets’ decision to prioritize their youth is also why John Wall hasn’t played this season. The 31-year-old guard reportedly wanted to play a featured role on offense, but the Rockets’ decision-makers wanted him in a complementary role behind the youngsters, so the offense could run through Green, Porter Jr. and Co. The two sides couldn’t come to an agreement, so Wall has been working out in Miami with fellow veterans Michael Beasley and Tyreke Evans among others.

Interestingly, these young Rockets have pulled off some shocking wins throughout this season, beating the Chicago Bulls, Brooklyn Nets, Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz, Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets among others.

Ryan Hollins, a 10-year NBA veteran who is now the lead television analyst for Rockets games, has been really impressed with this young core and loves what Houston is building.

“I think this season has been an absolute success thus far because the whole goal has been for the young guys to get minutes and grow and take their lumps and get better,” Hollins told BasketballNews.com. “And when I think of every young guy that has been in the lineup, they have improved. The sky’s the limit. I’m watching Jalen Green, who is only 19 years old, develop and grow; he’s getting better at attacking the rim and learning NBA defenses and understanding where strength is a factor in games. Josh Christopher, who just set another career-high [with 23 points against the Spurs], is just playing lights out right now off the bench and I think he’s been one of the bigger surprises of the season.

“And the steal of the draft, by far — it’s not even close — is Alperen Sengun; there’s no other name that we should be saying. He’s made so many plays that it’s just crazy and when I talk to NBA executives, coaches and staff, they always ask about Sengun and talk about how good he is when they sit back and watch his film. He’s a rookie and he’s getting double-teamed on the block. They are double-teaming him to get the ball out of his hands! For a player, that’s the ultimate sign of respect. Unfortunately, Usman Garuba broke his wrist and he had to spend some time down [in the G League] with the Vipers, but we saw him improve and get better too.

“I give Houston an A++ as far as their development, and that’s really what this year is about. And what’s really cool is that you also have veterans like Eric Gordon, who’s shooting a career-high percentage from the field, and that’s something that a lot of people didn’t really expect. In the midst of a rebuild, Gordon is having a career-year and really flourishing and, even bigger than that, just staying healthy, which has been the only real question when you think about Eric.”

Speaking of Eric Gordon, the Rockets had the option of moving the 33-year-old prior to last week’s trade deadline, but they ultimately decided to hang onto him. While Houston could’ve added a draft pick in exchange for the veteran guard, they apparently felt that he’s more valuable as a mentor and locker-room presence than as a trade chip. Hollins raved about what he’s seen from Gordon — on and off the court.

“His professionalism has really helped teach these young guys how to be successful,” Hollins said. “And they see Eric Gordon night in and night out scoring a not-so-sexy 20-to-30 points off the bench without having plays drawn up for him. You have to appreciate what Eric brings to the table. He has that type of demeanor and impact here, and he just means so much to this team and this community.”

The Rockets will have another top pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, which features some very intriguing talent such as Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey and Chet Holmgren among others. If they can add another stud to this young core, don’t be surprised if Houston is just a few years away from making some serious noise in the Western Conference.

Produced in association with BasketballNews.com.

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