Ranking the best

The top 10 Houston athletes of 2018

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Last year, when the Astros won the World Series, we did the top 20 Houston athletes. The Astros World Series championship truly expanded the field. With no titles but some strong performances, this year we offer the top 10 (rankings are based on 2018 performance in the calendar year against their level of competition. Make sure you keep that in mind before you complain):

10) Chris Paul

Rockets Chris Paul

Chris Paul just sneaks in.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Injuries have kept him from moving up on the list, but Chris Paul has been a force when healthy. The sad part is he might be best known for an injury; the hamstring that kept the Rockets from beating the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals. Just edges out another injury-riddled player, Ed Oliver of UH.

9) Jadeveon Clowney

Texans Jadeveon Clowney

Jadeveon Clowney is a force on defense.

Houston Texans/Facebook

His stats don't jump off the page, but they don't really do Jadeveon Clowney justice. He disrupts games and wreaks havoc on defenses. He also has a negative impact with penalties, which keeps him from being higher on the list.

8) Jose Altuve

Joe Altuve of the Astros

Jose Altuve is still one of the best in the city.

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Last year's No. 1 battled injuries, but Jose Altuve was still one of the best in the game despite a slightly down year. Hard to ever envision a list where he is not on it, and this is about as low as you would ever expect to see him.

7) Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson

Deshaun Watson is an emerging star.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

After a slow start recovering from last year's knee injury, Deshaun Watson has become the franchise quarterback the Texans hoped he would be when they drafted him No. 12 overall. He has willed the team to victories several times, and the Texans are always a threat when he is in the game.

6) D'Eriq King

D'Eriq King

D'Eriq King was terrific as a runner and passer.

Photo via Houston Cougar Football/Facebook

Unless you watched UH football this year, you might have no idea just how great D'Eriq King was. He threw for 36 touchdowns and just six interceptions in 10 games and rushed for another 14 touchdowns and 674 yards to go with his almost 3,000 passing yards. King's 50 total TDs was off the charts, and the team collapsed when he was injured late in the year. A dynamic player at a school known for dynamic quarterbacks.

5) J.J. Watt

J.J. Watt is back.

Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Unlike Clowney, J.J. Watt's impact does show up in the stats. With one game left, he has 14.5 sacks, 18 tackles for loss and SIX forced fumbles. After not playing for most of the last two seasons, dominating J.J. has returned. It's odd that the Texans defense has two players on this list and is not very good.

4) Justin Verlander

Astros pitcher Justin Verlander

Justin Verlander was superb.

Bob Levey/Getty Images

In his first full season as an Astro, Justin Verlander was everything you expect a future Hall of Famer to be. He went just 16-9, but had 290 strikeouts and a 2.52 ERA and remains one of the most dominant starting pitchers in baseball.

3) Alex Bregman

Astros Alex Bregman

Alex Bregman was a monster in 2018.

Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Building on his 2017 late season and postseason success, Alex Bregman was the Astros best position player in 2018. He hit 31 HRs with 103 RBIs and batted .286, but more importantly came up clutch all season long. The scary thing is he can get much better.

2) DeAndre Hopkins

DeAndre Hopkins

DeAndre Hopkins is one of the best in the business.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Watching DeAndre Hopkins this season has been a pure joy. He has been the best player in the NFL at one of the glamour positions and makes incredible play after incredible play. With a game still to play (and the playoffs), he has 103 catches for 1,425 yards and 11 touchdowns. A truly elite player.

1) James Harden

Rockets James Harden

James Harden is the MVP.

Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Hard to argue with a league MVP at the top of the list. Harden led the Rockets to a remarkable season last year. While the team has struggled early this season, lately he has carried them. Might not hold on to this spot next year with some of the players behind him knocking on the door but hard to beat him in 2018.

Kevin C. Cox

If the Rockets' finger wasn't making contact the panic button last week, it was at the very least hovering just above. After losing star center Clint Capela Sunday night to a thumb injury that looks to keep the pick-and-roll maestro out for at least a month, Houston was tasked with filling an almost unfillable hole on both ends of the court. Luck continued to eschew the Rockets later in the week, as contract negotiations with G-League gem Danuel House failed to reach a resolution in time. House returned to the G-league as a result, only playing in one game this past week. At this point most teams missing their starting point guard, starting center, and spark plug sixth man would likely be headed for trouble.

Most teams don't have a James Harden.

The Beard continued adding brushstrokes to what is becoming a generationally unique masterpiece of a season, as he posted 57, 58, and 48-point games consecutively, en route to a 2-1 record for the week. The Rockets are now 26-19, first in the Southwest Division, and fifth in the Western Conference

Two wins, one loss

Houston had very little turnaround time to formulate a new offensive game plan before taking on the Memphis Grizzlies hours after learning that Capela would not be available for the next 4-6 weeks. Harden did everything he could to give Coach Mike D'Antoni time to think, as he exploded for a franchise record 36 points in the first half. Houston would once again ride a brilliant Harden performance to an easy victory.

Wednesday the Rockets took on the Brooklyn Nets for the second time this season. Houston fell to the Nets in their previous meeting, and their win prospects were only further dimmed after learning that House would not be suiting up that evening. Harden was once again carrying the team to what looked to be a victory when Nets point guard Spencer Dinwiddie exploded for 25 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime. Despite a season high 58 points from Harden, Houston was unable to curtail Brooklyn's momentum and the Rockets fell 145-142.

After an extended rest, Houston was back at it Saturday night against the Los Angeles Lakers. The matchup lived up to its nationally televised billing despite both teams missing key players. The LeBron-less Lakers fired out of the gate behind forward Kyle Kuzma's 20-point first quarter and seemed to put the game out of reach early. Trailing by as much as 21 points, Harden and guard Eric Gordon went to work chipping away at the lead. In a last second desperation attempt, Gordon caught the final in bounds pass of regulation and sent an improbable, off balanced, 3-pointer through the net to force overtime. This time it would be the Rockets that succeeded in extra time as a clutch offensive rebound from Harden would seal the win. Harden extended his streak of 30+ point games to 19.

Reinforcements Incoming

The Rockets are expected to sign center Kenneth Faried after he clears waivers Monday afternoon. Faried began the season with the Brooklyn Nets, but failed to find a productive role in their scheme. If you're looking for a hustle guy, look no further than the guy nicknamed "Manimal." Despite being undersized, Faried excels in rebounding, defense, and pick and roll offense. That description sounds oddly familiar to a certain injured center already on the roster. Faried should provide an instant upgrade to a practically unstaffed position for the Rockets.

Looking ahead

The Rockets will start a four game week Monday night at Philadelphia, followed by a Wednesday match up against the New York Knicks. The Rockets will return to Houston to host the Toronto Raptors Friday night before finishing the week with a Sunday home game against the Orlando Magic.

Chris Paul has shown progress but still looks to be about a week out from a return. Clint Capela remains 4-6 weeks out.

Harden has shown zero signs of slowing down, and Faried should slow down the amount of easy buckets around the rim once he suits up. If the Rockets can reliably count on repeat performances from Eric Gordon like the version we saw Saturday night and Faried performs as predicted, Houston should continue to remain a playoff contender.

I see the Rockets splitting the week, with wins against New York and Orlando and losses against Philadelphia and Toronto.

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