The Houston Rockets have been the NBA’s big mover and shaker each of the last two offseasons, getting James Harden prior to the 2013 season, and then adding Dwight Howard for this year. The results are showing up on the floor. Houston brings a 36-17 record into the All-Star break, good enough for #3 in the Western Conference.
Now the gap from 3-5 in the West is separated by percentage points, so the Rockets could slip quickly, but on the flip side they are only two games back of the San Antonio Spurs for #2. Here’s a look at how they’re winning and where they need to get better.
Houston plays at a fast pace, and still ranks 5th in the league in offensive efficiency, which does not give fast-paced teams credit for artificially high point totals. Efficiency is what you get when the offense can generate easy baskets and with Howard averaging 19 points/13 rebounds per game, easy baskets are what Houston can get.
Harden has continued his emergence as one of the league’s top scorers since leaving the long shadows of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in Oklahoma City. Harden knocks down 24 ppg from the two-guard spot and Chandler Parsons kicks in 17 a night from his small forward role.
What the Rockets don’t do well is shoot the three-ball. They rank 20th in three-point percentage, and what’s more, their selection in this regard leaves something to be desired. Harden only hits 32 percent from behind the arc, which does not justify shooting an average of six treys a night. Point guards Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin get in the act, combining for eight attempts a night from long range, and at 35 percent or below.
The only player who can shoot the three with efficiency is Parsons, who hits 40 percent. The rest of the team needs to rein it in, or they need to acquire a three-point specialist. On top of this, the free throw shooting is atrocious, with 69 percent being the second-worst in the NBA. Clanging your threes and frees is a good way to lose playoff games.
For now though, life is good in Houston. The Rockets are a great rebounding team, as you would expect with Howard. They also get underrated help from power forward Terrance Jones (12 points/7 rebounds) and if Beverley and Lin can resist the urge to jack up threes, they make a good tandem running the offense.
There are still issues to work on, and even winning one playoff series is going to be a battle in the brutal Western Conference. But the progress in Houston continues to roll on.