Dec. 13, 2013 - Dec 12, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; James Harden (13) and Patrick Beverley (2) of the Houston Rockets during a game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena (Osports/Zumapress/Icon Sportswire)
Dec. 13, 2013 - Dec 12, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; James Harden (13) and Patrick Beverley (2) of the Houston Rockets during a game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena (Osports/Zumapress/Icon Sportswire)

Last season, the Houston Rockets were expected to challenge for a high playoff seed out West after an impressive 2014-15 campaign that saw a trip to the Western Conference Finals. However, they floundered, hard. And saw their win total drop by 14.

James Harden was extraordinary, though. Career-highs were set in scoring (29.0), assists (7.5), rebounding (6.1), and he finished ninth in MVP voting while not making an All-NBA team. Pretty amazing, right? As a token of appreciation from his contemporaries, he was voted the MVP in the 2015 NBPA Player Award.

Patrick Beverley, his backcourt mate who’s a hard-nosed defender and one of the NBA’s scrappiest guys, told Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders that Harden would be the driving force on their team, and he has huge expectations for the NBA’s most dominant shooting guard: “MVP and leading us to the Finals. Simple.”

Looking to move past their forgettable season, the team brought on Mike D’Antoni, and he’ll be instituting an offense that’s more tailored to Houston’s roster. They added a few solid players to their team as well, including Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon, knockdown shooters who will open up the floor and allow Harden to work.

Even with all their offseason work, Houston’s chance of making the Finals are, well, highly unlikely–no matter how MVP-like Harden is this year. Teams who don’t play defense don’t win late in the playoffs. It just doesn’t happen. D’Antoni’s system–the seven-seconds-or-less offense that was popularized by Phoenix–was entertaining and effective, but never got them to an NBA Final, and those squads were more talented than the present-day Rockets.

Moreover, you can’t forget about the superteam that’s in Golden State; the always successful San Antonio Spurs; the up-and-coming Portland Trail Blazers, or the stealthy Los Angeles Clippers.

As for Harden bringing home the MVP trophy, that’s always a possibility, but a commitment to improving his defense is a must before those talks can happen.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference

Follow me on Twitter