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TDS Tuesday 5-on-5: A Rickety Rockets Start

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Jeremy, Colin, Darren, Xiane, and Conrad discuss the Rockets’ poor start.

NBA: Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

The Rockets have had a rocky and rickety start to say the least and the team looks like a shell of their true selves after their icky 1-4 start.

The team members at the Dream Shake each took a seat at the roundtable to discuss this poor start and how the Rockets can improve and work from here.

This week, Jeremy Brener (JB), Colin Connors (CC), Darren Yuvan (DY), Xian E (XE), and Conrad Garcia (CG) participated in the roundtable.

Chime off in the comments below and keep the conversation flowing.

1. Which injury outside of Harden is the most significant for the Rockets?

Jeremy Brener (@JeremyBrener): I’m going to go with James Ennis III. I think the defense would certainly improve if the Rockets had Ennis in the lineup, and that has ultimately been the team’s weakest aspect in this season so far. He can also help in the three-point game, where the Rockets are currently a Bottom-5 team.

Colin Connors (@colinconnors4): James Ennis. His integration as a key fixture in the Rockets defensive scheme makes him the most important of any of their additions. His absence will stunt the team’s defensive chemistry growth considerably.

Darren Yuvan (@DarrenYuvan): I actually think it’s a combination of Marquese Chriss and Nene. The Rockets have very little size right now outside of Clint Capela, and they’re getting trounced on the boards and have poor rim protection to this point. The Rockets are in dire need of some size inside, and one of these (or both) getting back healthy can help with two of Houston’s most deficient areas.

Xian E (@xiane1): James Ennis. It’s important he get sorted out as a primary rotation wing. So far, due to his foul issues and injury, that’s not happening. I’d also mention Knight. It’d be nice to know if the Rockets have a player who is competent offensively or something else.

Conrad Garcia (@ConradBuckets): It has to be James Ennis, although Brandon Knight would be nice right about now.. The Rockets are already light at the wing position, especially defensively, and they need as much help as they can get. Seeing as they’re still in pursuit of Jimmy Butler, the Rockets are donen’t shopping for another guy to fill that role, and it couldn’t possibly come soon enough.

2. What is one thing the Rockets are doing well in their otherwise abysmal start?

JB: I think this team is doing a good job not panicking. It is easy to go haywire when things do not go your way, and the Rockets have definitely had many things zig instead of zag to start this season. Keeping the morale loose is a big key when a team goes through some rough patches during the season. We just didn’t expect the rough patch to come right out of the gate.

CC: Defending the three-point line. Despite the rough start, their allowing the third fewest three’s per game thus far (although that has a lot to do with the paint being so wide open).

DY: It’s sad to say, that’s a tough one... but I’m going to go with the fact that Rockets are still running their offense, the’re just missing shots. They’re missing layups, they’re missing open threes, they’re missing almost everything. So take solace that the offense is still getting everyone looks at the rim and clean looks from beyond the arc, and eventually, they have to start falling, right?

XE: The Rockets have appeared at their games on time, and in uniform.

CG: Um, can “nothing” be an answer? Nothing and no one has been good for the Rockets so far, and it seems like they need a couple of guys back before they get good at anything. Oh! They’re good at not ditching the three, at least.

3. Is it time to hit the panic button? Why or why not?

JB: No, because we still have 77 games to go. The Rockets have plenty of time to right the ship and there is no reason to believe why this team cannot. They have a Top 5 offensive player in the league and one of the deepest benches around, so you have to think at some point the Rockets will hit their stride and find their way out of this hole.

CC: Not yet. Too many injuries, new faces, and extraneous circumstances (#Spitgate) to say we know who this Rockets team is yet.

DY: It’s not time yet due to the disjointed nature of a lineup that’s been decimated by injuries and suspension, but I’ve said several times that the schedule waits for no one and these teams will be more than happy to feed off of a Rockets squad showing weakness. So while it’s not yet quite time to panic, another week or two of this type of play will have me singing a different tune.

XE: No, perhaps there’s another, slightly less important button to push, though. Panicking with 6% of the season in the bag doesn’t seem worthwhile.

CG: No. Honestly, no. They’re are 3 other legitimate playoff teams that are just as bad as the Rockets. They’re 3.5 games back of the second seed. They’ve dealt with a lot of injuries. And, not to mention, it’s been FIVE games. That can not be emphasized enough.

4. How can the Rockets fix this mess that the season has started with?

JB: Get healthy. It’s going to take some time and they have to try and fix the things that the team can control as opposed to things the team cannot control. However, I think most of the issues stem from things the team cannot control, like injuries and making threes. The team is getting the right looks from beyond, they just aren’t falling.

The one thing this team can change is their defense, which has been flat out unwatchable. The team just needs to contest these shots. It’s amazing how flustered players can get when a defender is in their vicinity while shooting a three versus when the shooter is all alone.

CC: Teams have exploited the Rockets switch-everything scheme at will thus far. The new faces are a step late on seemingly every rotation. Tweaks in the frequency of that approach— based on on-court personnel— is the easiest fix.

DY: They’re going to have to make a move. So while this team is much better than what their record shows right now, it’s obvious they need another wing defender, and they might need another big man if Nene can’t get healthy and Chriss doesn’t show enough improvement when he returns from injury. You can bet Daryl Morey is ready to work the trade market, and even if the trade we all want (Jimmy Butler) doesn’t materialize, the Rockets appear to need a shot in the arm, similar to the Clyde Drexler deal that changed the team’s fortunes in 1995.

XE: The obvious answer is: win games. But to do that we need to see some organized defense, and better shooting. I don’t know how to make them shoot better, but fixing the defense seems possible. Of course it will all be difficult until the whole team or something like it appears.

CG: Get healthy. Please, for the love of god, get healthy. It’s hard to say what the Rockets can do or not do when there are guys on the roster unable to do anything. Also, when they are healthy, play some defense.

5. The Rockets play four games this upcoming week (Tues. vs. POR, Fri. @ BKN, Sat. @ CHI, Mon @ IND). What will their record be?

JB: A lot of this depends on the health of James Harden. Also, it amazes me how the Rockets have played five games in two weeks and then the team will play four games in the span of one week. It doesn’t make sense. That being said, I don’t see the Rockets getting a win against the Blazers without Harden. I think Indiana will be a tough one and Brooklyn won’t be a game this team can let go. Ultimately, I think the struggles continue and the team ends up 1-3 with a win over the Bulls.

CC: If James Harden returns for Tuesday’s tilt, I say 4-0. Otherwise, I say 3-1 with a loss to the Blazers. The Rockets’ shots are going to start falling at their normal rate. It’s time to right the ship.

DY: I have them at 2-2. Wins against Brooklyn and Chicago, losses to Portland and Indiana, which will put them a 3-6 after the week and still in a big hole.

XE: 3-1

CG: I hate this question because who’s to say when Harden or Ennis will be back. But, assuming the Nets and Bulls are somehow bad enough to be worse than a banged-up Rockets, they’ll go 2-2 this stretch, and they’ll be 3-6 overall. Why can’t they just play Cleveland until the entire roster is back?