Last night the Houston Rockets got ousted from the 2021-22 NBA Postseason following a 107-92 loss to the... oh wait it’s still the pre-season? Based on social media reactions it’s pretty damn hard to tell.
So, uh, let’s try this again, last night the Rockets took their lumps - in a game that doesn’t even count - from the Toronto Raptors, who won 107-92 in Scotia Bank Arena.
So remember when Houston traded James Harden to Brooklyn and everyone was excited about the rebuild? What happened to that?
Even if they got the top pick and drafted Cade Cunningham or used the second pick on Evan Mobley instead of Jalen Green, it’s been clear for under a year now that this team is not going to be ready to compete overnight, and with such a high draft pick, it’d seem like that was pretty obvious.
Why are they struggling?
When things aren’t going well, asking why is always a fair response.
There are tons of reasons, but the best way to start is by pointing out that this is the preseason, where key guys like Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr, and Green aren’t playing a heavy dosage of minutes in order to not only avoid injury but to give the coaching staff a look at who else can provide for this team.
Limiting minutes of your top dogs while also distributing them throughout each active player is a recipe for losing, and it’s one of the reasons why the Rockets have looked so dreary at times during the pre-season, with the most recent display of that coming against the Raptors.
On top of the wide open rotation, this is a team that went 17-55 last year, and despite the immense potential that resides in the locker room, they are still that work in progress from a year ago. So while the hope is that the Rockets’ young core develops sooner than later, it was never a case of today or tomorrow.
They say good things come to those who wait and having an incredible amount of patience is vital when watching your team go through the ups and downs of a rebuild.
Trying to win basketball games at any level is a whole lot easier when you have an elite shooter on your side, and this team has that in Armoni Brooks. His 5-10 shooting performance isn’t one worth spending time marveling at, but since becoming a Rocket last year, he’s consistently shown glimpses of a player that can spend many years in the league just by strictly being a specialist.
It’s not just the way he’s always lurking around the three -line while simultaneously looking for the ball by staying squared up, it’s also how pure his shot looks and how confident he is with letting it fly towards the rim; he’s quietly becoming a key piece for the Rockets and if given time, who knows how dangerous of a weapon he can become.
Another important piece to add when putting together a puzzle of wins is an interior presence, and Alperen Sengun has continued his audition for that role after a Summer League performance that had fans hoping for an encore.
While most rookies work at adjusting to the speed of the NBA game, Sengun has impressed by playing at his own pace, and while he’ll of course have to change that when playing against the league’s elite bigs, it’s still a huge positive for him and the organization. Against Toronto, the 6’10”, 243-pound center scored 10 points while going 3-6 from the field and also had 5 rebounds in just 18 minutes of action.
While Brooks and Sengun have shown promise, what’s been the most deterring is the free throw shooting by the Rockets. In the first game against Washington, they shot 22-37 from the line, then followed that up with a 22-33 against the Miami Heat before going 15-23 during their trip north of the border. It’s okay to be young and inexperienced, but missing free throws is where a lack focus and fatigue start to show, and that’s an issue that needs to be fixed immediately if Houston is going to be competitive in games.
Heading into the regular season tip-off against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Oct. 20, there is level of excitement that quite frankly can’t be described through words on a computer screen, and while that’s a great thing, that sometimes can lead to anxiousness, which ultimately leads to a failure to enjoy things.
No matter how many rough outings the young Rockets will have, it’s important to remember that these results are completely normal no matter how frustrating you may find them. Jalen Green is going to have these low scoring nights where he only scores around 5 points because he’s a 19-year old playing amongst guys that are just bigger, better, and stronger than him at this stage of his career. KPJ is going to have those 3-11 nights as he continues to navigate through his transition to point guard and what could eventually be stardom, it’s all normal.
There’s not a problem in Houston, there’s just a drastic need for patience.