The Houston Rockets are coming off their worst season in almost 20 years. They finished last year with the league’s worst record and a franchise-worst 20-game losing streak. So it comes as no surprise that the Rockets, in many experts’, bookmakers’, and some fan's eyes, have virtually no shot at making the playoffs.
There is light at the end of the tunnel (no, not a train), and that is in the form of the NBA play-in game that was instituted last year and was approved again for this upcoming season. That means that you don't have to be a top-eight team to make the playoffs. Instead, you have a shot at the playoffs by finishing no worse than the 10th.
If you consider last year's standings, the teams that finished 10-14th were the San Antonio Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves, and Oklahoma City Thunder. Of course, year to year, it is hard to determine what team will be a bottom feeder and what team will contend for a playoff spot, but for the most part, these same teams will be at the bottom.
It is not out of the realm of possibility that the Rockets can be better than every team on this list and contend for the 10th seed. However, they will need to improve on these three statistics from last year for this to happen.
The Rockets, for years, was the best three-point shooting team in terms of shots made beyond the arc. They weren't the best shooting team as far as a percentage, but they were not at the bottom either. Last year, that changed, as the Rockets finished 28th from three-point range at 33.9 percent.
It was a major problem because they still were top three in attempts, but more often than not, the shot wasn't going in, which led to a fast break for their opponents, which is another statistic the Rockets were at the bottom of the league in.
The Rockets won't have to be at the top of the league in percentage because of the volume they shoot at, but they have to improve on their 28th ranking from last year. Players like Kevin Porter Jr. and John Wall both had over six attempts a game, and both shot under 32 percent from deep.
Fast break points per game
For a team that has several players who are either rookies or only in their first or second year, you have to be able to push the pace on every miss. The Rockets last year actually were a top-10 team in pace but only 23rd in fast-break points (11.1 per game).
When you don't have much experience on your team, constantly running half-court sets is not the answer. You have to get easy baskets, and you do that in the open court. What the Rockets lack in experience they make up for in athleticism.
Even the “older” players on the team, like John Wall, Eric Gordon, and yes, the other two (insert timeline joke) elders of the team Christian Wood and Jae’Sesan Tate, are excellent in the open court. So if the Rockets can get out and run like Coach Silas wants them to, they can cut down on the need to execute against half-court defenses on every play.
Opponent points in the paint
This stat may not get talked about much, but it is a huge factor in any team's defense. It almost makes up half the points a team gives up per game and more than half in the Rockets’ case. The Rockets finished bottom five in points in the paint allowed last year.
Out of the top 10 teams in fewest points in the paint allowed per game, only one DIDNT make the playoffs. It is a huge factor because it allows your opponent easy shots and quickly gets your team in foul trouble. With the Rockets already being thin in the frontcourt as far as depth, having any big man in foul trouble can cause issues throughout the game.
This also goes to playing together as a team on the defensive end. A lot of times last year, players were not watching their man. They were ball watching, which led to back door cuts and easy points at the rim. The Rockets have to pack the paint and make their opponent score over the top.
The Rockets are a long shot at making the playoffs. It isn't really about talent but the experience, and they need more time to come together as a team. However, it is not out of the realm of possibility, because the invention of the play-in game gives teams like the Rockets a fighting chance. However, they have to improve in several areas for this to happen, and a little luck wouldn't hurt.