NBA – Houston, We Have a Problem

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That’s one small step for James Harden, one giant leap backwards for the Houston Rockets.

A year after catapulting to MVP status, Harden appears to be steering the Rockets and their rudderless ship on a one-way course to heartbreak.

At 11-12, Houston occupy the basement of the Western Conference alongside the hapless Phoenix Suns, leaving many fans wondering if last year’s team, one that fell a game short of the Finals, was nothing but a fluke.

The Rockets weren’t supposed to be this bad. Offseason acquisitions, albeit controversial ones, had them team ripe to challenge the Warriors again in the West. But after a start that can only be described as disappointing, suddenly the Rockets have to dig themselves out of a hole.

With the 2018/19 NBA season two-months old, there’s still time for the Rockets to get things right. There’s some problems, solutions, and optimism about this team – so before you give up on them entirely, make you consider the following next time you throw Houston into your multi.

The Problem: Chris Paul

You’d rather have Chris Paul on the court than off, because hey, the Rockets are 0-5 this season when he doesn’t play.

You’d certainly rather have last year’s version of Chris Paul compared to this years though, because so far, he’s been a shell of his former self.

Leaning on a 33-year-old small point-guard is never wise, so the Rockets only have themselves to blame for Paul’s slight decline. On the plus side, Paul recorded his first triple-double of the season on Wednesday in a win over Portland, but considering it took him only 15-games to achieve those numbers last year, something is definitely off.

Paul’s numbers have increased in all the wrong categories. He’s averaging a career high in turnover percentage, while points-per-game, rebounds and field-goal numbers have plummeted drastically.

The Rockets need Paul to contribute on a nightly basis, not just on the scoreboard, but on the defensive end – where he’s known for being a serial pest. There’s still time to turn this around, but Houston’s playoff hopes rest firmly on the shoulders of Paul’s contributions.

The Headache: Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony is reportedly a player of interest to LeBron James and the Lakers.

How long does it take a one-year, $2.4 million deal to turn sour? Easy, ten games.

That’s all the Rockets saw out of Carmelo Anthony to start the season. By no stretch of the imagination was he brought in to solve all of Houston’s problems, but the plan was for Melo to come in, spread the floor, and hopefully add some points off the bench.

Recruited by former New York Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni, it was no surprise to see the Rockets so high on Melo’s services (if you can call them that). By November though, it became painfully clear the Rockets, like the Thunder a year ago, had been hustled by Melo and his outdated ‘shoot even if you aren’t open’ style.

General Manager Daryl Morey announced last month that the Rockets would indeed be parting ways with Anthony. That hasn’t happened yet, but interesting enough, the Rockets have been no better-off without Melo on the court.

The plan now is to organise a trade before the February 7 deadline, which by all reports, could come with the Lakers.

There’s no denying the stats though – Houston’s net rating, which is calculated per 100 possessions when a given player is on the floor – was -11.4 with Melo on the floor and +1.4 without him. Safe to say, this is a contract the Rockets sorely need to unload on someone else.

The Solution: Trevor Ariza

 The Rockets broke it off with Trevor Ariza in June – now they want him back.

At age 33, the 14-year vet has looked a little disinterested in the 25-games he’s played in for the Suns. Currently averaging 9.8 points-per-game in Phoenix on just 37% shooting from the field, Ariza is in the midst of his worst statistical season over the last six-years.

As of December 15, Ariza can be traded, and it already feels like a foregone conclusion that he’s headed to Houston or the rival Lakers.

If the Rockets snag him, he’ll add some much needed depth on the bench as well as a reliable shooting ability from close range and the perimeter.

The Letdown: Covering the Line

If you’ve had money on the Rockets this season, you’ll know their woes go beyond a losing record and a few silly turnovers.

When it comes time to covering the line, Houston have been a disaster. In their 26-games so far, the Rockets have covered in just 38.5% of their match-ups, which is good for the second-lowest percentage ahead of the Phoenix Suns.

Team/Rank

Record at the Line

Cover %

26. Los Angeles Lakers

12-15-0

44.4%

27. Washington Wizards

11-16-0

40.7%

28. Atlanta Hawks

10-16-0

38.5%

29. Houston Rockets

10-16-0

38.5%

30. Phoenix Suns

9-19-0

32.1%

To make things even more difficult the Rockets have been a tough read when it comes to the Points market. So far 53.8% of their games have resulted in the Over, compared to the 46.2% that have resulted in the Under.

A 6-11 Conference record doesn’t help matters, and neither do double losses to teams like the Clippers and the Mavericks, games last year’s Rockets side easily would have won.

The Hope: Points and Percentages

The only sign that could potentially turn Houston’s tail-spin around is their shooting.

We’re told time and time again that the NBA is fast becoming a three-point paradise, and since James Harden leads the league in three-pointers made, it’s no surprise to see Houston rank second as a whole in the same category.

Team

Record

Three-Pointers Made (Per-Game)

1. Milwaukee Bucks

18-8

14.3

2. Houston Rockets

11-12

14.0

3. Boston Celtics

16-10

13.3

4. Miami Heat

11-15

12.2

5. Golden State Warriors

19-9

12.1

Success from beyond the arc has worked wonders for many teams so far – just ask the Milwaukee Bucks. Spreading the floor, quickly transitioning and finding an open shooter for a pull-up three is today’s NBA – it’s just that first part the Rockets can’t seem to get right.

If Paul bounces back and the Rockets land an experienced veteran via trade, they should be able to not only spread the floor better, but also limit the turnovers – an area they rank sixth in.

The numbers are encouraging for Houston: Clint Capela leads the league in percentage of points scored in the paint, Harden leads all guards in points-per-game, and despite his struggles, Paul still ranks among the leaders in assists and steals.

With a tough Christmas stretch ahead against teams like the Thunder, Celtics and Pelicans still to come, we’re about to learn if the Rockets are a serious contender, or a serious pretender in the West.

The Odds: 

  • To Win Southwest Division: $1.60
  • To Win Western Conference: $6.50
  • To Win NBA Championship: $11.00
  • James Harden to Win MVP: $17.00
Tips, recommendations and commentary are for entertainment only. We provide no warranty about accuracy or completeness. You should make your own assessment before placing a bet.