The Houston Rockets are one of the most successful organizations in the NBA. On top of their two titles, the Rockets have managed to remain a perennial playoff team in the competitive Western Conference. A good part of the franchise’s success is their diligence in scouting and luring in the best point guards to bolster their depth chart. Whether in the past or present era, the point guard spot has been a pivotal role in the game. The Rockets understood and accepted this as a fact.
Fans may be surprised that neither James Harden and Russell Westbrook are on the list. While Harden thrived in playing the point guard spot for Mike D’Antoni during their time in Houston, he’s a shooting guard by nature which inevitably disqualifies him from the list. Westbrook, meanwhile, only played one season in Houston. It would be unfair for the ones that came before him to include him in the ranks.
With that said, below are the best point guards in Houston Rockets history.
5.) Steve Francis
Steve Francis was the second overall pick in the 1999 NBA Draft. A 6-foot-3 guard equipped with hyper athleticism, Francis quickly made his mark in the league. With his sick handles and dunking ability, Francis became a fan favorite in Houston. Especially with Cuttino Mobley, the two formed a great backcourt tandem who filled several Rockets news with exciting in-game moments.
Today, fans and analysts constantly look at the stat sheets to gauge a player’s productivity. Francis, in his stint with the Rockets, stuffed the stat sheet almost every night. In six seasons in Houston, Franchise averaged 19.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 6.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per game.
4.) Sam Cassell
In just his first and second year in the league, Sam Cassell was already part of a contending team. At face value, one would consider him lucky to be in this position. But Cassell wasn’t just a young guy collecting dust on the bench. He was a backup to Rockets starting guard Kenny Smith. As part of the second unit, the task of the young Sam Cassell was to hold down the fort while the starters got their rest.
He averaged a good 20 minutes per night during the Rockets’ playoff run in 1994 and 1995 — a pretty significant amount of playing time which meant that coach Rudy Tomjanovich had complete trust in the young guard. In the 1994 NBA Finals against the Knicks, Cassell knocked down a clutch shot in Game 3 — the shot which put his name on basketball’s world map. In the 1995 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic, the sophomore put on another impressive performance, exploding for 31 points in Game 2.
3.) Kenny Smith
In the award-winning show Inside the NBA, Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley always nag Kenny Smith for being a mere role player in his stint with the Rockets. While this is absolutely true, it is also true that the Rockets wouldn’t have won two straight titles without key performances from their role players. The formula is relatively simple. Defenses always collapsed on Hakeem Olajuwon. And so the job for those around The Dream is to get to their spots and knock down the shot. Sounds easy on paper but not everyone succeeds in that task, especially in basketball’s biggest stage.
Smith was a marksman from downtown. In his six playoff campaigns with the Rockets, he only shot below 40 percent once. Perhaps the peak of his marksmanship came in Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic. He knocked down seven 3-pointers (the NBA record during that time) which included the game-tying shot that sent it to overtime.
2.) Calvin Murphy
Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy stands just 5-foot-9 but this did not limit him from being a potent scorer. At the peak of his career, he was an automatic 20-point per night type of player. He was a master of the midrange — equipped with a quick-release much like Stephen Curry. And if defenders decide to pressure him up, he had the innate quickness to get to the paint. Once covered by a bunch of big men, Murphy displayed his craftiness and comfortably lobbed it in for a lay-up.
Prior to Hakeem Olajuwon snagging most of the scoring records, Murphy was on top of the lists. In fact, his 57-point performance stood as the Rockets franchise record for 40 years before James Harden dropped 60 points in 2018. And in 1981, with the help of Moses Malone, Murphy guided the Rockets to its first-ever NBA Finals appearance.
1.) Chris Paul
Chris Paul spent just two seasons with the Rockets. But in that short stint, the Rockets were heavily favored to put an end to the Golden State Warriors dynasty. This certainly did not come easy. Paul, who had been a point guard all his career, was forced to take on a different role as James Harden orchestrated Mike D’Antoni’s system. It was a difficult chore. But Paul showcased a different aspect of his game — something that fans and critics had never seen before. Not all superstar players have displayed the ability to tweak their game in favor of another star. But Paul made the transition effortless. And in the process, the Rockets notched a franchise record of 65 wins in the regular season.
Once he hangs his jersey up for good, Paul will definitely be enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. And once we look back at his illustrious career, a good and long discussion should be allotted to his time in Houston.