Lance Zierlein: But this time it’s different with the Rockets

With Chris Paul joining James Harden, these Rockets are worth believing in. Houston Rockets/Facebook

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. That’s the old saying and it basically means that at a point, you are responsible for buying into something you know to be wrong or fraudulent. Unfortunately for the Houston Rockets, many local fans view James Harden (and by proxy the Rockets) as a “fool me twice” entity they are having a hard time completely buying in on.

And you know what? That’s fair. The Rockets have been a very competitive regular season team for most of the time that James Harden has been with them and he was a well-deserved MVP runner-up for two of those seasons. However, reputations and memories aren’t built on the first 82 games, they are built upon the the games and playoff series thereafter. Harden’s reputation has spawned the nickname “Elimination Game James” which acknowledges his continued shortcomings in the biggest situations come playoff time.

Harden’s talent is undeniable, but his ability to lead the organization through adversity and into greatness is something that has eluded him. James is a scorer. James is an elite scorer. James is an elite scorer with a willingness to get other teammates involved. These are facts, not opinions. However, as we saw with Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in the playoffs, regular season greatness and postseason greatness can be mutually exclusive.

But this time, Rockets fans, it feels different.

The addition of Chris Paul has given the Rockets another player capable of scoring and creating for others, but it’s also shifted the potential dynamics of the team come playoff time. No longer is it a “Harden or Bust” scenario. If Harden is in the midst of one of his turnover sprees, Paul can not only take over the ball-handling duties, he can lead the team. I think we can all agree that leadership and overcoming adversity has been one of the areas where the Rockets have come up short in the playoffs.

This incarnation of the Rockets has three players in Harden, Paul and Eric Gordon who are capable of scoring thirty points per game. This Rockets team has better depth off the bench including better defenders. This team just looks and feels different. While they aren’t a great defensive team, they are better in the half-court and more capable of getting stops when needed.

I’m not here to tell you that the Rockets are the favorite to beat the Golden State Warriors, but I am here to tell you that they are built to match up with them better than they ever have been because it’s no longer James Harden vs. the world. Buy-in and enjoy the season, Rockets fans.

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It's easy to blame Bill O'Brien for the Texans woes. He is a lousy GM, a below average play caller and his offense is boring, predictable and ineffective. Not once has he had a top 10 offense in the league. So he does not get a pass here.

But Deshaun Watson shouldn't, either.

Last year, Watson was in the MVP conversation entering the game in Baltimore. Four of the nine games he played before that, Watson had an ESPN Total QBR over 85, which is playing at an elite level.

Since that 41-7 debacle (where his QBR was 13.6), Watson has played 10 games. He has topped 85 just once (and barely - 85.6) in the win over the Patriots. While QBR is not the be all end all, it shows a trend. And before you blame the talent around him or the ridiculously stupid DeAndre Hopkins trade, eight of those games were with Hopkins in the lineup.

Over his last 10 games, Patrick Mahomes has done it five times (and just missed last week at 84.7). Lamar Jackson has done it six times in his last 10. Russell Wilson is six for his last 10. Dak Prescott? Three. Aaron Rodgers? Three. Ryan Tannehill? Three. Josh Allen? Two. Lamar Jackson led the league last year with an 83 for the season. Watson was sixth at 71.3. To be a top 10 quarterback, you had to average 64.1. In two games this season, Watson sits 20th, about where he was over the last six regular season games and two playoff games last year.

In essence, Deshaun Watson - who often gets compared to those players - is not on their level. Yes, O'Brien has a lot to do with it, but it's also time to start looking at Watson's performance and regression as an NFL quarterback.

In 2018, Watson had four such games. In 2017, four in six starts. And now ONE since that Baltimore game. In fact, he has topped 80 just once in that stretch, and 60 just three times.

What it tells us is Watson has been an average quarterback over his last 10 starts. The Texans invested heavily in an offensive line to protect him. They have added depth at WR but a net loss without Hopkins. Elite quarterbacks turn in performances like that roughly half the time. Getting more consistent has always been an issue for Watson. But since that Baltimore game, he has not been close. And he is being paid to be elite.

In the end, O'Brien is still the main culprit. He has hand picked all the players around Watson, he designed the offense, and he controls everything.

But it's time to quit giving Watson a pass. Right now, he is part of the problem.

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