Nearing the halfway point in the season, it would be hard for the Rockets to complain about the way the team has played so far. One recent trend that is becoming harder to ignore is of some concern, however: poor 3-point shooting.
This isn't to say it's just "bad for a team that shoots like the Rockets." The Rockets launch the third-most 3-pointers in the league, but their conversion rate has downright miserable.
Over the last 20 games, the Rockets have shot 31 percent from behind the arc, a mark that's good for last in the league (this stat, and all following figures for this piece, are from NBA.com's rich stats database). Over that time, they've shot 24.7 times from deep, fifth-most in the league.
Incredibly, the Rockets have gone 12-8 over this time span, that despite their defense being just so/so, just about in-line with their 101.9 points allowed per 100 possessions on the season, good for 11th in the league.
So who have been the main culprits in dropping the Rockets to a place, statistically speaking, where 3-pointers are no longer your desired shot in an efficient offense? Terrence Jones, Jeremy Lin and Francisco Garcia, pretty much.
Jones is shooting 1.7 3-pointers per game and hitting an absurdly low 18.7 percent of those shots. The Rockets' offense works better when he can space the floor a little like his bench companion Omri Casspi (who's only shooting 31.5 percent from long-distance in his last 20 games), but that space does not extend to 3-point range.
The only place Jones has really been effective is in the left corner, where he's hitting 44 percent of his threes. His shot chart reveals he's been well-coached: he's only taken 15 long two-pointers total this year, shooting 4-15 from those spots. Jones has been most effective inside.
Jones will need to develop this shot to have a future as a starting power forward for a contending team, but the time to do that should come in practice for the time being.
Jeremy Lin and Francisco Garcia are a little more worrying. Lin started out the season blazing hot from deep, once considered a major weakness in his game. He's come way back down to earth and he's shooting 25 percent from deep in January.
If this is just a regression to the mean (he's now at 35 percent for the season, which is decent enough to be a threat), then there's no need to panic. But if he loses confidence and this drags on, it will become a major hindrance to the Rockets' offense.
Garcia started the season almost as hot, providing much of the scoring the Rockets' dominant bench unit in the early season. Garcia now is shooting 29.4 percent on his 3-pointers in the Rockets' last 20 games, an unacceptable number considering 3-point shooting is Garcia's only tangible offensive "skill," other than glaring while holding a basketball.
The only two players on the Rockets shooting even slightly above average of late are Chandler Parsons and Aaron Brooks, both shooting a hair over 37 percent in the last 20. Even James Harden, playing better of late, is shooting 34.2 percent over the same span.
So what do the Rockets do? Right now, nothing. The team is still working out the kinks with Dwight Howard -- and that seems to be going better every day -- and just desperately trying to get everyone healthy at the same time.
However, if March rolls around and this team is still hovering near the bottom of the league in shooting percentage, the Rockets can kiss any hope of home-court advantage for a playoff series goodbye. And if it doesn't turn around for the playoffs, the Rockets won't be sticking around for very long.
The team has three known quantities in quality deep shooting: James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Aaron Brooks. No other player they're asking to play on the perimeter for them has any track record of prolonged efficiency from 3-point range.
Although the need for a backup power forward was the apparent guise under which the Omer Asik trade talks were held, the Rockets could soon be in the market for a shooter if things don't turn around close to the trade deadline.