Best power forwards in Houston Rockets history, ranked
It’s safe to say that the Houston Rockets currently have the most unconventional lineup in the NBA today. They have a 6-foot-7 Robert Covington at the five and a 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker at the four — or is it the other way around? It’s confusing at this point. Nonetheless, it is looking like another successful revolutionary ploy by the great Mike D’Antoni, so it won’t be surprising if other teams also pursue this type of center-less lineup in the near future.
Before the days of D’Antoni’s unorthodox ways, however, the Rockets usually sent out more conventional lineups to the floor. This resulted in some of the greatest power forwards this league has ever seen. We will be discussing three of them today, and delve into their respective contributions to the Rockets franchise.
3. Ralph Sampson
The Rockets used their first overall pick on Ralph Sampson during the 1983 NBA Draft, and it instantly paid dividends. The 7-foot-4 power forward/center won Rookie of the Year honors in his debut campaign, as well as making it to the All-Star squad in his first out of four straight appearances in the team.
The following season, Houston had the first pick yet again, and they drafted the great Hakeem Olajuwon, to form one of the most fearsome frontcourt partnerships this league has ever seen. With Olajuwon and Sampson at the helm, the Rockets made three consecutive playoff appearances, including a memorable trip to the Finals in 1986, which they lost to Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.
In the middle of the 1987-88 campaign, Houston decided to trade away Sampson, sending him over to the Golden State Warriors. In four and a half seasons with the Rockets, Sampson averaged 19.7 points (on 49.9 percent shooting), 10.5 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.0 steals, and 1.9 blocks.
Sampson is the latest Hall of Fame inductee in our list, having been enshrined in 2012.
2. Charles Barkley
There are few bigger names from the late 80’s/90’s era of NBA basketball than the legendary Charles Barkley. The 6-foot-6 power forward had already established himself as one of the best in the league in the 12 years prior to joining the Rockets in 1996. At that point, Houston had already won back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, and they brought in Barkley to pair him with Olajuwon, who was also nearing his twilight years.
The team were convinced that they could still build on the unprecedented success of their back-to-back titles, and they believed that an Olajuwon-Barkley pairing would be the answer. So much so, that they sent Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, Mark Bryant, and Chucky Brown to the Phoenix Suns in exchange for a 33-year-old Barkley.
Unfortunately for them, things just didn’t pan out. Nevertheless, despite this already being the tail end of his career, Barkley still had a memorable run with the Rockets. The former MVP winner was even named to the All-Star squad in his first year with the Rockets — his 11th and final call-up to the team.
Barkley spent the final four years of his career in Houston, averaging 16.5 points (on 48.2 percent shooting), 12.2 rebounds, 3.9 assists, 11. and steals. The 11-time All-NBA team member retired in 2000 at 36. He was subsequently dubbed into the Hall of Fame in 2006, and is currently one of the colorful hosts of TNT’s Inside the NBA program.
1. Elvin Hayes
Throughout the team’s history, the Rockets have had exactly five first overall picks, and with the exception of John Lucas in 1976, their other four selections were faultless. We earlier covered Sampson and Olajuwon in 1983 and 1984, respectively. Houston hit it big once again — literally — when they selected Yao Ming first overall in 2002.
However, the first time the Rockets had the No. 1 pick was in 1968 (then the San Diego Rockets), and they used it on the great Elvin Hayes. The 6-foot-9 power forward/center was a stud from the get-go averaging 28.4 points and 17.1 rebounds as a rookie, earning him that season’s scoring title.
Hayes went on to have four productive seasons with the Rockets, during which he put up 27.4 points, 16.3 rebounds, and 2.2 assists. Needless to say, he was an absolute dominant force during his time.
The Rockets traded Hayes in 1972 to the Baltimore Bullets, where he would carry on with his Hall of Fame career. Aside from being named to the All-Star squad on 12 separate occasions, the Rayville, Louisiana native also won a chip Bullets in 1978.
In 1981, Hayes made his glorious return to Houston, with the Bullets trading him back to the team that drafted him over a decade earlier. He spent three more years with the Rockets before finally calling it a career in 1984. In 1990, Hayes was given the ultimate honor of being enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
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