2014-2015 NBA Season Analysis- Houston Rockets
The Houston Rockets are a pretty good team with probably the best shooting guard in the League, a dominant center in Dwight Howard and some additional pieces that can really help them be successful (if Josh Smith stays focused and doesn’t settle for outside shots, he can be an outstanding addition to this team), but I believe the Rockets are going to miss the all-around player in Chandler Parsons and they still need more consistency to be able to fight for the top spots in the Western Conference.
Coach: Kevin McHale
PG: Patrick Beverley; Isaiah Canaan; Nick Johnson (Rookie)
SG: James Harden; Jason Terry; Alexey Shved
SF: Trevor Ariza; Kostas Papanikolau (Rookie); Corey Brewer
PF: Terrence Jones; Josh Smith; Donatas Motiejunas; Clint Capela (Rookie)
C: Dwight Howard; Joey Dorsey
Let’s start analyzing the Houston Rockets’ talented offense:
Obviously, James Harden is their best guy offensively. Not only is he the league’s leading scorer, but also the guy the Rockets run most of their offense through, due to his great ball handling skills and ability to create plays, as well as the fact that Patrick Beverley is not a true point guard. He can really get to the 10-assist mark whenever his team needs him to, but he’s just a tremendous scorer who can beat you off the dribble (arguably the best player in the league in 1-on-1 situations), from downtown, mid-range jump shots, lay-ups, from the free throw line and so on. Also the fact that he’s such a gifted passer from the shooting guard spot makes defenders have to think twice about double teaming him, what allows him to have isolation plays in which he’s just deadly for the opposing team.
The Houston Rockets are a team that tries to set a fast pace, they love to shoot threes (#1 in the League in 3p attempts per game), get out in transition scoring some easy buckets and shoot early in the shot clock when possible not to allow the defence to set up. When you double team James Harden or players rotate over to help out when his defender gets beat off the dribble, the ball will eventually end up in the hands of the open man in the perimeter and they have some great shooters in Ariza and Jason Terry (3rd All Time in 3-point field goals made), the much improved Beverley and Corey Brewer, and stretch power forwards in Motiejunas, Terrence Jones and Josh Smith (although I believe this is not the best way for him to contribute to his team’s success).
Howard’s dominant presence in the paint also helps create open shots for perimeter players because of how much attention he grabs in the low post (we saw how the Orlando Magic surrounded him with three point shooters successfully when they got all the way to the Finals in 2009). However, for whatever reason, I haven’t seen that dominant Dwight Howard consistently since he left Central Florida, and I do believe that’s one of the main reasons they haven’t been able to get to the next level and become a championship contender.
Having three versatile, mobile power forwards is another of the main strengths. They have three players in that spot that can really run the court, benefit from their style of play and become a hard cover for the opposing big men. They all can benefit from Howard’s presence in the paint to get easy points at the rim as well, but this is especially important for Josh Smith. He needs to get to the painted area, where he’s proven to be a great finisher (lay-ups, hooks, floaters, dunks, put-backs…). He’ll benefit from Dwight’s presence and will get to score over smaller defenders. This will get Josh Smith going, and he’ll then become a threat in the paint, making defenders have to be concerned about him, what will eventually open up plenty of passing lanes as well as lob passes to Dwight Howard, and he’s a great passer from the power forward spot. The Rockets will need him to spread the floor every now and again to give Howard room to operate, but I believe he has to avoid settling for jump shots and live in the painted area, where he’s at his best and can be a huge help for this basketball team.
Also, the Rockets need role players like Brewer, Ariza, Beverley or even Papanikolau when he gets some minutes, to be aggressive and attack the painted area as opposed to just settling for perimeter shots, again benefiting from how much attention Harden and Howard grab and becoming a much tougher cover for the opposing defenders. This is the area though where I think they will miss Parsons the most, because of his ability to put the ball on the deck and attack the rim, as well as to become an extra ball handler to create plays for others.
Finally, the Rocket’s bigs (and not only them, we’ve seen Beverley do this remarkably well) need to stay aggressive and get second shots opportunities by crashing the offensive glass due to the defenders’ concern about Howard in this regard.
Let’s now talk about the defensive end of the floor:
This is again the key for the Rockets’ success, because as I said on the Warriors, we all know the fire power they’ve got offensively, but this is the end of the floor they really need to improve to be able to make a difference and become a championship contender.
They’ve got two really great individual defenders in Patrick Beverley and Dwight Howard. The former is clearly one of the best, if not the best, defenders in the league from the point guard spot, who always does a great job both 1-on-1 and fighting his way through multiple screens, and this is really important due to the number of outstanding point guards we’ve got in this league (and especially in the Western Conference); and the latter’s been always a great individual defender on the post, great rim protector and an outstanding rebounder. Then, I consider the perimeter defence as well as on the power forward spot where they really need to get better. They’ve got several players who are among the league’s best in steals (Harden and Ariza this year, and Brewer’s been several times on that list), but I believe they try to gamble a little bit too much. I understand this is a way for them to get some easy points but this always puts your teammates in a hard place when you don’t actually get the steal. This is especially costly against the better teams and even more as the season moves along and we get into the Playoffs (if you gamble on a team like the Spurs, the ball will end up in a more than capable open man and that means trouble), so I believe they need to try to be solid in defence, stay with your man and avoid gambling that much in order to become a better defensive team.
As for the power forwards, they can do a better job on stretch bigs like Aldridge, Nowitzki, Love… who could really give Howard a hard time, and allow him to defend low post players, help out on guards’ penetrations and really make a difference by becoming a dominant presence (due to the lack of skilled centers in the league he will be able to step up in the paint and become a much needed rim protector because in many games he’ll just have to be concerned about lob attempts and defensive rebounding when guarding his man). On the other hand, they could have some trouble against old-school frontcourts like the Bulls or the Grizzlies, becoming then a battle of who imposes his will (they should try to force those teams to go small ball as well by attacking their bigs on the other end of the floor, as opposed to what they’re used to doing).
Finally, and as in every other basketball team, perimeter guys need to contribute on defensive rebounding by getting those long rebounds and boxing out dangerous perimeter rebounders.
Likely Starting Line-up
Beverley – Harden – Ariza – Jones – Howard
As I said, even though they got two good players in that spot in Ariza and Brewer, the Houston Rockets will really miss that important piece in Chandler Parsons, and I don’t see them consistent enough to be able to get to the top spots in the amazingly competitive Western Conference, so my prediction is they’ll finally end up in the 5th spot.
Will the Rockets be able to get to the next level and become a championship contender?
Finally, here are some of the best plays from the Houston Rockets in the previous seasons: