Updated: Oct. 27, 2006, 12:09 PM ET

SPECIAL PREVIEW EDITION
T-Mac's back to carry Rockets

Rockets

Team Page | Schedule | Roster | Hollinger Stats

Where will the Houston Rockets finish in the Southwest Division and the Western Conference? Get 10 takes from ESPN's NBA experts.

ANALYST COMMENT
Marc
Stein
ESPN.com
Houston spruced up the cast around T-Mac and Yao with Battier, Bonzi and a few legit shooters. But everyone thought Stro Swift was a landscape-changing addition, too, so the Rockets know they're not back in the elite until they prove it.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 6
Chris
Sheridan

ESPN.com
If Jeff Van Gundy stumbles out of the gate, he'll be calling playoff games on TNT rather than coaching them in Houston. If Yao Ming starts taking shots at him publicly, it'll be a telling sign.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 7
Jim
O'Brien

ESPN.com
The Rockets will make this division a donnybrook. The addition of Bonzi Wells and Shane Battier along with some better shooters will put them in the class of the Spurs and the Mavs.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 6
Tim
Legler

ESPN.com
How can a team with McGrady and Yao finish last? Because they can't stay on the court together. If they can stay healthy, the additions of Battier and Wells should be enough to get the Rockets into the postseason.
DIVISION RANK: 5 | CONFERENCE RANK: 12
Scoop
Jackson

ESPN.com
It's the Bonzi Effect. If T-Mac plays 60 games at 90 percent and Shane plays close to how he did this summer, the Rockets could shake up the basketball world this season. But everything has to go Yao perfect.
DIVISION RANK: 1 | CONFERENCE RANK: 1
John
Hollinger

ESPN.com
Rockets look like one of the four best teams in the West but will come in third in their own division. T-Mac's back is key, but great offseason (Bonzi Wells, Shane Battier, Kirk Snyder, Vassilis Spanoulis) will be a big help.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 5
Chad
Ford

ESPN.com
The formula is simple. If McGrady and Yao stay healthy, Battier and Bonzi could make Houston a serious contender. If T-Mac or Yao goes down, the Rockets might be bouncing lottery balls in May.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 6
Ric
Bucher

ESPN Mag
Can Yao be as dominant without getting the ball as much? Can Van Gundy blend Alston's up-tempo talent with the T-Mac/Yao two-man game? Do they have enough shooters? Answers: Probably not, probably so and not really. Getting beyond the first round would be an achievement.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 6
Chris
Broussard

ESPN Mag
If healthy, Rockets will be the team nobody wants to face in the postseason. Still, this unfamiliar group needs one year at full health together before being a real threat to get to June.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 5
Greg
Anthony

ESPN.com
A healthy T-Mac and Yao is a guarantee for the playoffs. And Shane was a huge pickup. Now if they can get Bonzi healthy and focused and get better point guard play, expect some success come playoff time.
DIVISION RANK: 3 | CONFERENCE RANK: 7
 
Average ranks

DIVISION: 3.0 | Standings
CONFERENCE: 6.1 | Standings


High Heat In Houston
Ming
Dusan Vranic/AP Photo
At 7-6, Yao Ming looks down on the competition. With good health, his team could be looking down at more teams in the standings.


Lineup Breakdown

STARTERS ANALYSIS
Rafer Alston
Point Guard
6-2 | 175
McGrady likes to handle, so where does that leave Skip?
Tracy McGrady
Small Forward
6-8 | 223
Back is killing him slowly; scoring has declined three straight years.
Shane Battier
Small Forward
6-8 | 220
Guards everyone, hits 3s and can finish as small-ball PF. Nice fit.
Juwan Howard
Power Forward
6-9 | 253
Starts because of seniority. Won't finish because he's old.
Yao Ming
Center
7-6 | 310
Averaged 25.7 ppg and 11.6 rpg after break -- when T-Mac was MIA.
Bench: Bonzi Wells wants to start but has to settle for 30-plus as a "power guard." Luther Head, Kirk Snyder and Chuck Hayes don't exactly awe.

ESPN The Magazine's NBA Preview hit newsstands Oct. 25.



Hollinger's Player Spotlight
Kirk Snyder
Player efficiency rating
projection: 13.25
vs. NBA avg.: -1.75
Rockets profiles

Scouting report: The Hornets didn't seem altogether pleased with Snyder's defense, but they played better with him on the court, giving up 3.1 points per 100 possessions less. At 6-6 and 225 pounds, Snyder has the size and quickness to be very good in this area, and if he bulks up some more, he should be able to shut down small forwards too. He's mostly a stay-at-home guy with low rates of blocks and steals.

Offensively, he's not great in one area but can do a little bit of everything. He's a decent spot-up shooter but also has the ballhandling skill to beat his man off the dribble. Snyder has the size to post up smaller guards and should look to expand this part of his game. He needs to work on his foul shooting (70.4 percent career) too, and with his size, he should draw more fouls than he does. Instead, he gets into ruts where he falls in love with his jumper.

2006-07 outlook: The Hornets traded -- check that, gave -- Snyder to Houston over the summer, getting only cash and a conditional second-round draft pick in 2008 in return. The coaching staff was upset with Snyder's lethargic summer-league play, but that doesn't mean the team had to exile him at the first opportunity. Snyder is 23 and coming off a productive season in his first year of regular action, and because he's on a rookie contract for two more years, he's a huge bargain. Houston stands to gain in a big way, and so does Snyder. The Rockets' guards were terrible last year, so there should be a rotation slot waiting for him on a silver platter.


Bruised And Battier'd
Battier
Bill Baptist/Getty Images
Shane Battier's appetite for taking a charge is strong. Now Houston hopes his willingness to get run over helps it run over some tough Western Conference foes.


SportsNation Speaks
Houston fans are fired up in Rocketland.

How will the Rockets' acquisitions and the return of Tracy McGrady affect Yao Ming on offense?
56.7% He'll be better.
37.8% He'll adjust and be fine.
5.5% He'll be stifled somewhat.

Vote: Rockets in 2006-07



Ask A Blogger
Rockets

What would it take for you to get a tattoo of the Rockets' logo on your chest?

I have nothing against Bobby Sura. You've got to respect a man who has competed in both the Dunk Contest and the Three-Point Shootout. And don't get me started on the unlikely run of triple-doubles he had a few years back.

But it's only because of injury woes and a lack of depth that the decrepit Sura has remained a topic of conversation among the Rockets faithful.

If T-Mac and Yao can stay intact, and new additions Bonzi and Battier come through, I'll get a tattoo of the team logo -- flying through the skull of a finally-unnecessary Bobby Sura.

Bethlehem Shoals | freedarko.com



Coach's Corner

JEFF VAN GUNDY COACHING FILE
Experience: 10 years
Record: 378-288
Playoffs: 41-40
NBA titles: 0
Coach's profile

Jeff Van Gundy will have to help his team deal with high expectations.

Adding super-role-players Shane Battier and Bonzi Wells to superstars Yao and T-Mac has this team loaded for a deep playoff run, but Van Gundy still needs to come up with an offensive formula that keeps his superstars happy without relying on them too much.

Rafer Alston has never been the starting lead guard for a playoff-bound team, so Van Gundy will work to keep Rafer balanced and poised.

He also needs to find minutes for sharpshooting rookie Steve Novak -- the Rockets finished 27th in 3-point shooting percentage last season.

David Thorpe, ESPN.com NBA analyst



Hollinger's Team Strength
Star power. When healthy, what team boasts a better inside-outside combo than Houston's dynamic duo of McGrady and Yao? Wade and Shaq in Miami present a strong case, as do Tony Parker and Tim Duncan in San Antonio, but beyond them, these two are the best.

Even with a miserable supporting cast, the Rockets won two-thirds of their games when both played, so one only can imagine how much damage they might do if they both play all 82 games with this year's improved help.

One tricky hurdle for 2006-07 is that the pecking order has changed.

In the past two years, McGrady has been Plan A and Yao has been Plan B, but there's no way it will continue that way after Yao totally dominated the league in the second half of the season. As a result, McGrady will have to adjust to a reduced role.

More Hollinger Rockets analysis Insider



Fantasy Fix
Wells
Wells

Sleeper: Bonzi Wells was the final impact free agent to sign this offseason. Although he'll likely serve as the Rockets' sixth man, he still might be worth a roster spot after having his best scoring season in three years and easily setting a career high in rebounds per game. If Tracy McGrady's injury woes crop up again, Wells could see big minutes.

Bust: As recently as three years ago, Juwan Howard was one of those few players whose final numbers you could write in on opening night. Those days sure did disappear fast. Howard isn't even one of the top three options on the team; he doesn't rebound like he used to; and he's almost invisible defensively in fantasy terms.

Keith Lipscomb | Fantasy Hoops Index

 

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