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Fred Faour: Ranking Houston's 5 most likeable superstar athletes

Jose Altuve and J.J. Watt are among Houston's most likeable athletes. Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated

This is a golden age in Houston sports. The Rockets have more games in a season than ever before. The Astros are about to hoist their first World Series banner. The Texans finally have a franchise quarterback. The city also has a lot of likeable athletes. In John Granato’s piece last week, he mentioned James Harden’s lack of likeability among Houston’s superstars.

It begs the question: Who are the most likeable athletes in Houston? The city is littered with as many superstars as it has ever had, and most are extremely likeable. Using five categories -- play on the field, social media presence/accessibility, commercial presence/marketability, charity/community work, overall national star power. We limited the list to the big three pro sports:

5) Justin Verlander

Sure, he has only been here for a short time, but the Astros don't win the World Series without him, and with a Cy Young and MVP in his back pocket -- as well as his high profile relationship with Kate Upton -- makes him a household name nationwide. The fact that he accepted a trade to Houston in the wake of Harvey only endeared him more to Houston fans. 

4)  Chris Paul

On the court, he has been an amazing addition to the Rockets. Yes, he is a little dirty, but he also has been huge in community work in every city he has been in, his insurance commercials add to his likeability, and if he somehow helps the Rockets win a title...

3) Deshaun Watson

He was already a star after winning a national championship at Clemson, but his small sample size in Houston earned him headlines around the country. Donating a game check to Texans employees after Harvey, his personal story growing up and the fact that he just seems to be an all around good guy. If he can stay healthy in 2018, the sky is the limit.

2) Jose Altuve

MVP. Three time batting champ. World Series champ. The ultimate little guy who made it big. Altuve does not have the social media and commercial presence of the No. 1 guy on this list, and almost all of his is based solely on his play on the field. The fact that he will be here for seven more years and has spent his entire career with the Astros makes fans appreciate him even more. 

1) J.J. Watt

It’s funny; Watt tops this list, but could also make a “least likeable” list as well, because he is so overexposed. But the truth is, beyond the Harvey relief that made him the NFL’s Man of the Year, Watt is one of the most popular athletes to ever play in Houston. On the field, he is a four-time All-Pro and three time defensive player of the year. While injuries have robbed him of most of the last two seasons, even at 80 percent of what he once was he will make an impact. The No. 99 jerseys dominate the city, and Watt is a beast on social media. His “shut you down” fantasy commercials and H.E.B. locally only add to it. There are those who dislike him for all those same reasons, but Watt is a transcendent star.

Honorable mention

Carlos Correa just missed, as his charity work both in Houston and Puerto Rico after the storms really raised his profile. His is a future MVP and will climb this list fast. Dallas Keuchel is well-liked by Astros fans and has a Cy Young. DeAndre Hopkins and Jadeveon Clowney are close as well. 

The good news is there really aren’t enough to make a “least likeable” list. Harden would top it, and maybe Josh Reddick and Alex Bregman could make this list, but even they are just annoying, and it is hard to dislike someone who just delivered a world title. Bregman went after a fan on social media, but he is also young and has a lot to learn. Reddick is unlikeable simply for introducing the Woo. Harden's actions were well documented by Granato. 

In the end, even the unlikeable guys are pretty likeable. It's a golden age talent wise, but also in the quality of people playing the games. Houston fans have a lot to root for going forward.

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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