Why Rockets are heading for yet another ringless post-season

houston rockets

An old saying has it: don’t put your eggs in one basket. However, Mike D’Antoni disagrees with that wisdom and opts for his team to shoot as many threes as they can manage. As a result, Rockets leads the league in both 3 points made (15.7 per game) and 3 points attempted (46 per game).

However, percentage-wise they are 26th in the league with 34% conversion rate and yes, we all know that in the long run those misses are compensated by an extra point that shooter gets for making the bucket from beyond the arc, it is not the type of basketball philosophy that can result in Harden and company winning the rings. Let us figure out why.

Addition of Westbrook

Russell is one of the most athletic and physically gifted guards that the league has ever seen. During his last season with Thunder, he has averaged 22.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 10.7 assists. Although, his effectiveness on the Rockets team this year is not as impressive. His assists average per game so far is 7.1, mainly due to the fact he is not the main ball handler anymore.

Also, he does not collect as many defensive rebounds because it is Clint Capela’s job to do so. Furthermore, at the moment Russel’s plus-minus ratio is matching his career-low of 1.4 on average per game. Most importantly, Westbrook has a 2nd worst career field goal percentage from beyond the arc with 22.9%. For a team that lives and dies by 3-point line those kinds of numbers for a starting point guard are simply not acceptable.

Stagnant offense

Despite the fact that Houston leads the league in points made with 120.9 per game, they are 26th in assist category with 21.7 per game. Majority of their field goal attempts are generated by Harden (24.8) and Westbrook (19.7) who both prefer to create their own shots via isolation plays.

As a consequence, the rest of the team is expected to stretch the floor and patiently wait for the ball to be delivered to them by their star players on rare occasions.

A common phrase used by commentators when the team scores the basket after good team play is ‘when ball moves good things happen’ and this quote is not used very often when Houston plays.

Defensive issues

By playing small ball Mike D’Antoni exposes his team on the defensive end and numbers back up this statement. Rocket’s defensive anchor Clint Capella is having solid season (15.1 points, 15.1 rebounds, 2 blocks per game) but that is not enough as Houston is 27th in the league in opponent points in the paint. Furthermore, since Westbrook is expected to hustle for the offensive rebounds that leaves backcourt exposes for fast breaks and team is 30th in opponent points of fast breaks and 23rd in opponent points from turnovers.

Charity Stripe

During Playoffs referees allow defense to be more physical and are reluctant to blow their whistle on questionable occasions. What this means for the Houston is that Harden, who leads the league in free throws attempts with 14.9 per game, will not get as many calls in the post-season and will have to absorb more contact that will take its toll as the Playoffs progress.

Same Old Story

Mike D’Antoni first came into the spotlight with Phoenix Suns and Steve Nash in 2004-2005 season when he was named coach of the year with a record of 62 wins and 20 losses. Despite such successful regular season campaign, in the Playoffs Suns lost in the Conference finals.

In similar fashion team from Arizona lost in 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 in Conference finals as well. History repeated itself as Mike D’Antoni has won coach of the year award with Rockets in 2017 and lost in conference semifinals of three straight occasions (2016-2017, 2017-2018, 2018-2019).

As it stands, Rockets are as always performing well in regular season (13 wins and 7 losses) and Mike D’Antoni can potentially win yet another coach of the year award. Still, will it be the only accolades that this team is able to achieve? That is the question that worries the most every Houston fan around the globe.

For now, they are still 3rd in the odds of NBA experts’ predictions to make it into the playoffs from the West Conference, just below Clippers and Utah Jazz.

Author: Yuri Vasiljev