Earlier this week, Coty told us about a few under-the-radar strengths of the Houston Rockets heading into the NBA restart, so as our heroes in red return to the court tonight for their first scrimmage against the Toronto Raptors, we thought it appropriate to look at some of their potential weaknesses as well.
This is an obvious one, which is why I included them all together. It’s all related to the small ball approach the Rockets adopted after trading Clint Capela for Robert Covington. The #PocketRockets are now one of the smallest teams in the league, starting 6’5” P.J. Tucker at center and 6’7” Covington at power forward in an attempt to open up floor spacing for Russell Westbrook. The strategy worked in unleashing Russ at full potential, but Houston is just 8-6 in the 14 games since the RoCo deal.
As expected, the Rockets have been abused on the boards. Houston is 26th in the league in rebounding since the trade, averaging less then 40 per game (39.8). Before the trade, they were 13th, averaging 45.6 per game.
The Rockets also have an issue with rim protection. Now they’ve been pretty good in raw blocks since Covington came over, actually averaging the third most in the league over that time frame, mostly thanks to RoCo’s 2.5 swats per game, but despite that high number, Houston has no one that’s going to scare teams from trying to take it inside. And despite Tucker’s stoutness, you can expect opposing teams to try to attack the Rockets with their bigs. And there’s a lot of them out West. Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard, Rudy Gobert, Nikola Jokic, Jonas Valanciunas, and Steven Adams are all in the Western Conference. Tucker and Convington better be ready to battle with true big men, while Houston’s offense will rely on spacing and the three-point shot to overcome their deficit in size.
Hot and cold shooting
This has been an issue for a while, and it’s going to probably always be an issue for a team that relies so much on the three-point shot, while not having an army of elite shooters like the Golden State Warriors dynasty did. The Rockets rank 23rd in the league on the year in three-point shooting percentage with 34.8 percent, and they haven’t been any better since the full small ball embrace, still sitting in 23rd over that frame. What they lack in accuracy, they make up for in volume, leading the league in both attempts and makes over the course of the season and in the 14 games since the RoCo trade. Three will always be more than two, and that’s Houston’s philosophy, but the Rockets are going to need some tighter shooting overall if they’re going to come out of the West.
Playmaking outside of Harden/Russ
This has been another issue for a while for the Rockets — having someone outside of their superstars who can make plays for their teammates (anyone remember Trevor Ariza with the ball in his hands versus Golden State? Oof) — and it’s an issue again this season. Houston is next to last in the league on the year with 21.5 assists per game, and 14.5 of those come from Harden and Russ. Their assist numbers since the trade have actually gotten worse at 21 per game, and that has them ranked 27th over the last 14 games, but the point remains: who else on the Rockets is going to make plays? After their two stars, Houston’s third-leading assist man is... (checks basketball reference)... P.J. Tucker at 1.6 per game.
Houston mitigates the lack of ancillary playmakers somewhat with an iso approach, and there aren’t two better players for that philosophy than Harden and Westbrook, but the West is loaded, and particularly in potential matchups against either of the two L.A. teams who both have significant depth to throw at Harden and Russ, at some point, the Rockets are going to need someone else to step up and make a play. Who is it going to be? Eric Gordon? Austin Rivers? Tucker? RoCo? Jeff Green?
Which of these three weaknesses is the biggest issue for the Rockets?
This poll is closed
Hot and Cold Shooting
Playmaking Outside of Harden/Russ