By all accounts, the Houston Rockets had quite the incredible season. As it stands now, Houston will be among the NBA odds favorites heading into the 2015-16 season but what do they need to do to cash in?
Where The Rockets Fell Short
Before we look forward, let’s look back. The Rockets fell short for a couple of reasons. For starters, they weren’t playing with a full deck. Point guard Patrick Beverley was out and that’s crucial. He was their best on-the-ball defender and that sorely lacked in the conference final – as evidenced by Steph Curry scoring at will in all five games. Next, the Rockets were also missing Donatas Motiejunas. He had started 62 games this season, compiling 12.0 points per game with 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He was their most steady power forward and a better option than Terrence Jones or Josh Smith.
Aside from injuries, the main reason the Rockets fell short was their defense. They finished the postseason ranking 15th out of 16 teams in terms of points per game allowed (110.6) and that’s simply ridiculous. The truth is that they got lucky in their comeback of the Los Angeles Clippers and had they not managed that history upset, everyone would be pointing out just how bad their defense was.
So How Do The Rockets Fix Their Defense?
Well, isn’t that the million dollar question. Interestingly enough, Houston wasn’t that bad defensively to start the year, giving up just 100.5 points per game prior to the All-Star break. However, this doesn’t look like a team that’s capable of putting forth a strong brand of playoff ball at the defensive end. To change, they might need to swap out coaches. The way they are constructed right now, it just doesn’t look like it will work. James Harden is still a defensive liability and there are no real stoppers on this team other than maybe Dwight Howard.
The other issue is that the Rockets new-wave offense didn’t work in the playoffs…or at least they got away from it. Remember, in the regular season, they had one of the five most efficient offenses (107.0 rating and 103.9 points per game). They simply eliminated mid-range jumpers from the equation and shot threes or shot from inside the paint. They set a record for threes attempted (2,680) and made (933). 46% of their shots were in the paint and 39% were from three. However, in the playoffs, they completely got away from that as they settled for tons of jumpers.
So What Do The Rockets Do?
Well, that’s unclear. They have to improve but they have a solid rotation of eight-to-12 guys, so that means removing something to gain something. Jason Terry is coming off the books, Corey Brewer has a player option, K.J. McDaniels and Pat Beverley are restricted free agents, and Josh Smith is likely gone. But where does this team add to get better and influence the NBA odds?
The challenge is they need a third primetime guy. They have studs in Howard and Harden, but they need someone else who can show up on a nightly basis, create off the dribble and score consistently. We’ve seen Trevor Ariza, Brewer, Jones and Terry do it in spurts but no one consistently. They won’t have much cap space to work with either.
The truth is the Rockets hit their high watermark this season and are likely to roll back next season. They’ll be back in that range of being a potential second-round Western Conference team, depending on the matchups in the first round.