Before the season started, most fans and people who cover the NBA didn't expect the Houston Rockets to be in the running for a play-in spot or even close as the season progressed. Most people, however, did assume the Rockets would improve on their league-worst record last year.
Jalen Green had finished the 2021-22 season strong, tallying a career-high vs. the Atlanta Hawks. In addition, Alperen Sengun was coming off a strong rookie season, and the Rockets had drafted Jabari Smith, who for most of the offseason was considered the top prospect in the entire draft before falling to the Rockets at the number three spot.
The Rockets started the season slowly, as expected. In the first 12 games, they were 2-10 but were in most of those games. After 23 games, the Rockets were 10-23 but had improved in a few areas. Notably, they had improved in free throw shooting, three-point shooting, and points allowed per game. Were Rockets fans ready to buy playoff tickets? Of course not, but the play on the court was at least passable.
Well, that was over 10 games ago because any progress the Rockets had made prior has left the building. The Rockets have lost 10 in a row and have been blown out in 90 percent of those games. The stats, as you would imagine, are horrendous. Here are some stats showing how the Rockets have fallen off a cliff during this 10-game losing streak.
Rockets stats before and after the 10-game losing streak
Free throw shooting
Before the Rockets 10-game losing streak, the team had improved from the free-throw line. Last season, the Rockets were the worst free-throw shooting team in the league at 71.3 percent. Before their 10-game losing streak, the Rockets were shooting 76.2 percent from the line. To some, that is still a below-average percentage, but for the Rockets, that was a vast improvement.
During the 10-game losing streak, that percentage has plummeted to 71.6, tied for last in the NBA during that time. Outside of Garrison Mathews (who has only attempted five free throws in the previous ten games) and Kevin Porter Jr., everyone else's free throw numbers have plummeted. For example, Jabari Smith was shooting 83.3 percent before the losing streak and only 70.8 percent during the losing streak.
Eric Gordon was shooting 84.5 percent, and now he is shooting only 75 percent. The bad free throw shooting goes on and on, leading to barely over 71 percent as a team.
No one will ever mistake the Rockets for the Warriors regarding three-point shooting, but the Rockets were at least making progress earlier in the season from beyond the arc. Before this dreadful losing streak, the Rockets were shooting 34.9 from deep, ranked 21st in the league. Nothing earth-shattering, but at least respectable for the number of three-pointers the Rockets shoot a game. However, like their free throw shooting, this number has hit rock bottom.
The last 10 games have the Rockets at the bottom of the league, only shooting 32.2 percent from beyond the arc. As you would expect, some players have mirrored the team's bad shooting. The worst culprits have been Smith, who went from 33.9 percent all the way down to 24.1 percent, Green from 34.6 percent to 31.9 percent, and Gordon from 38.6 percent to 34.7 percent. The Rockets are getting plenty of threes up, but if you are missing as many as the Rockets are missing, that puts your transition defense behind the eight ball. Long misses on three-pointers give your opponents a huge advantage because they are usually long rebounds and easy, fast break opportunities.
Points allowed per game
The Rockets were doing a better job in the first 33 games regarding points allowed per game. They were nowhere near where they needed to be, but they were at least giving an effort and had a few good defensive games. However, the last 10 have seen the Rockets go backward. The Rockets are giving up 122 points a game and six 120-point or more games in the last 10. The previous three games have been even worse, as they are giving up an average of 132 per game.
The offense comes and goes, but your defense should never take a night off. Bad communication, sometimes no communication, and lack of effort have all been part of the issue. The Rockets are not talented enough to play in high-scoring games every night, which has shown during this losing streak.
As I mentioned earlier, no one expects the Rockets to fight for a playoff spot this season, but everyone expected some progress. There have been small victories here and there, but for the most part, the Rockets have not shown the improvement you want to see in a rebuilding team. There is still time this season to turn it around, but as each day passes, it is less likely to happen.