The top 20 athletes in Houston for 2017: No surprise, the Astros dominate again

Where does Jose Altuve rank? Pretty darn high. Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

As 2017 wraps up, it has been an incredible year in Houston. This ranking of the top 20 athletes in the city for 2017 takes into account overall impact on their team, where they rank vs. their peers in their respective sports and quality of performance. This takes into account on the field or court impact only. As you might suspect, the list is Astros heavy thanks to the run to the World Series. Obviously, the criteria and ranking is subjective, but that is the point of these things. Feel free to switch these around in your own rankings. The final breakdown: Astros (10), Rockets (4), Texans (3), Dynamo (2), UH (1).

No. 20: Charlie Morton, Astros

While his regular season was not overwhelming (14-7, 3.62 ERA, 163 Ks in 146.2 IP), it was still pretty solid and consistent. The big reason he is here, however, is he came up big in the postseason other than one rough outing in Boston, where he was mostly unlucky. He closed out the Astros first-ever World Series with a phenomenal outing and deserves to make the list on that alone.

No. 19: Yuli Gurriel, Astros

The first baseman was a solid player all year for the champs, hitting .299 with 18 HRs and 75 RBIs. He was better in the postseason run, hitting .304 with 2 HRs and 8 RBIs.

No. 18: Juan David Cabezas, Dynamo

One of the most consistent players for the Dynamo all season, Cabezas solidified the midfield and helped the team make a deep playoff run. The Columbia native led the team with 1,052 passes attempted and had an 86.4 pass completion percentage. He also played strong defense, with 4.11 tackles per 90 minutes, which led the league. He also had the team lead in tackles (102), tackles won (77) and interceptions (52).

No. 17: Josh Reddick, Astros

Reddick brought veteran leadership to the locker room and turned in a terrific regular season, hitting .314 with 13 HRs and 82 RBIs and adding quality defense. He was awful in the postseason, hitting just .169, which dropped him several spots. But still a nice acquisition who helped the Astros win it all.

No. 16: Eric Gordon, Rockets

The reigning sixth man of the year is off to another good start, averaging over 18 points per game. He was especially effective while Chris Paul was sitting out with a knee injury. A key component in the Rockets’ explosive offense.

No. 15: Clint Capela, Rockets

Capela’s development is a huge reason for the Rockets’ success. He is averaging over 13 points and 11 rebounds a game and has improved his free-throw shooting to over 60 percent. He makes almost 2/3rds of his shots and his unselfish play is a perfect mix with the 3-point bombers on the Rockets.

No. 14: Dallas Keuchel, Astros

He was on his way to another Cy Young-type season when an injury derailed him. He still finished a solid 14-5 with a 2.90 ERA and followed it up in the playoffs by going 2-2 with a 3.58 ERA. Could easily make an argument he belongs higher up.

No. 13: Chris Paul, Rockets

Late to the party due to a knee injury, he has stepped in and instantly made the players around him better. Not enough of a body of work yet to crack the top 10, but he is averaging over 14 points and just under 10 assists and has helped the team reach a new level. Another who will be much higher on this list with a full year.

No. 12: Justin Verlander, Astros

He was not here long, but boy, what an impact. Verlander was 5-0 with a 1.06 ERA after being acquired shortly before the Aug. 1 deadline. He then went 4-1 in the playoffs with a 2.21 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 36.2 innings. With a full season he would be top 5 and the Astros do not win the World Series without him.

No. 11: Alex Bregman, Astros

Don’t expect him to miss the top 10 too many more times in his career. He got better as the season went on and came up with some clutch HRs in the playoffs, even though he only hit .208. The arrow is definitely pointing up.

No. 10: Marwin Gonzalez, Astros

On a team loaded with stars, Gonzalez was the glue that kept them together all year, leading the Astros in RBIs. His production fell off during the playoffs, or he might have been higher on this list. He was versatile, playing multiple positions, hit .303 with 23 HRs and 90 RBI in the regular season, consistently coming up with clutch hits. He hit just .180 in the playoffs, but deserves to be here.

No. 9: Alberth Ellis, Dynamo

The “Panther” brought excitement, pace and goals to a team that made it to the Western Conference Finals. Ellis scored 10 goals with 4 assists and was second on the team with 28 shots on goal. He also tied Cubo Torres for the team lead in game-winning goals with 3. The Honduran has a bright future. (A tip of the cap to soccer expert Glenn Davis for his input on this one).

No. 8: Ed Oliver, University of Houston football

The highest regarded recruit to ever come to UH, Oliver has lived up to the billing, even in a year when he battled injuries and a disappointing effort as a team in general. He has a chance to be the best defensive player to ever suit up in the city at the college level with presumably one more year before he goes off to the NFL as a potential top 10 pick.

No. 7: George Springer, Astros

He started off the season on a ridiculous home run pace and emerged as a star in what became a career year. He faded in the second half, but still finished with a .283 average, 34 HRs and 85 RBIs. After a slow start to the postseason where some speculated he should be taken out of the leadoff spot, Springer exploded in the World Series, hitting .375 with five HRs, 7 RBIs and taking home the World Series MVP trophy.

No 6: Deshaun Watson, Texans

You might think this is too high for a guy who played six and one half games, but you could make a case he belongs as far up as No. 3. Consider this: Only Matt Schaub threw more TD passes in a season than Watson’s 19 that came in those six and a half games. (Brian Hoyer also had 19 in 11 games). Not just that, but after putting up just 13 points in his first start on a short week, the Texans scored 33, 57, 34, 33 and 38 points in his next five starts. Three of those came against the Patriots, Seahawks and Chiefs, who were playing better than anyone at that point of the season. He also rushed for 289 yards and two touchdowns. And talk about impact, the Texans were 3-3 in games he started. In games he did not? 1-6. They scored over 30 points just once in that span (31-21 win over Arizona). In no other game did they manage more than 16. Was playing at an MVP level when got hurt. If he stays healthy next year, expect him to be much higher.

No. 5: Carlos Correa, Astros

Injuries robbed him of a special year, but he was still dynamic, hitting .315 with 24 HRs and 84 RBIs and playing slick shortstop. He was well on his way to a 30 HR 100-RBI season at one of the most demanding positions in the sport. He followed that up with a solid .288, 5 HR, 14 RBI postseason in the run to the World Series. It was obvious the offense was not as good with him out of the lineup. Could easily be near the top of this list with a full season.

No. 4: Jadeveon Clowney, Texans

His numbers might not blow you away -- 34 tackles, 12 assists, (46 combined) 9 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries including a touchdown -- but that is only over 12 games and he has a constant impact. He is often double or triple teamed, yet still makes plays in the backfield (his 20 tackles for loss are second in the league) and gets constant pressure on quarterbacks. He has little to no help on the defensive side of the ball, yet he continues to make plays. A truly special player.

No. 3: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans

It might seem odd that the Texans have three players in the top six considering they are having a lousy season. But it also tells you how top-heavy they are: No one else on the team even came close to making this list. Hopkins is a no-doubter. After a down year last year, Hopkins responded big time in 2017. He has over 1,200 yards receiving and barring an injury will have over 100 catches. His 11 TD receptions are the most in a single season in team history. And he has done much of it with Tom Savage playing quarterback. One of the few remaining reasons to tune in to Texans games, he is a joy to watch and a master at making dynamic sideline catches. He is a likely All-Pro at one of the toughest positions to make that list in all of football. 

No. 2: James Harden, Rockets

Just missed the MVP last season and is off to another terrific start, leading the league in scoring and teaming with Paul to make the Rockets one of the most dynamic teams in the league. There are very few cities where Harden would not be No. 1 on a list like this. He is simply one of the best in basketball.

No. 1: Jose Altuve, Astros

The diminutive second baseman was incredible all year, adding a third batting title with his .346 average and chipped in 24 HRs, 81 RBIs and 32 steals. In the playoffs he hit .310 with 7 HRs and 14 RBIs and was one of the key cogs in winning the World Series. A future Hall of Famer at the top of his game, he was AL MVP, was voted by the players as the best in baseball and well deserves the No. 1 spot on this list.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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