I was looking at the NBA standings yesterday and was surprised by quite a few things. I didn’t realize the Pacers were third in the eastern conference (which I think is awesome), and I also didn’t realize the Rockets were tenth in the western conference. That’s double digits, folks. Going from looking like the only team that could possibly beat the Warriors to tenth in the west is not a great look.
They’ve won 7 of their last 10 games after starting the season 1-6, so are things looking up? Or should we prepare ourselves for a lackluster western conference final where the Warriors play, I don’t know, the Grizzlies or something? Let’s take a look at what’s been going on.
The bust that is Carmelo Anthony
Look, I’m not going to say the Rockets’ rough start was Carmelo Anthony‘s fault. But I’m not going to say he didn’t add to it, okay? The addition of Carmelo Anthony to Houston’s lineup this summer didn’t make a ton of sense to me, and it looks like they’ve realized that it doesn’t make a ton of sense for the team. After only ten games, Anthony and the Rockets will be parting ways.
I feel bad for Melo. He didn’t play well in OKC last year and scoffed at the idea of coming off the bench. D’Antoni convinced him to come off the bench in Houston and be more of a role player. Even with a smaller role, Anthony didn’t fulfill the expectations Houston had of him. and the expectations he likely had for himself.
Taking a bet on Chris Paul
The addition of Chris Paul last season was major for the Rockets. The all-star point guard is truly one of the best and adding him to the roster was sure to boost the team’s playoff caliber. The Rockets clearly believe in Paul and his place on the team because they agreed on a $160 million four-year deal.
That’s a lot of money.
But can the 33 year-old Paul deliver the way the Rockets need him to in order to potentially win a championship? I think so. He’s looking a lot more like the all-star he is recently. He’s scored 20+ points in 3 of the last 4 games shooting an average of 59.4%. While those numbers aren’t necessarily sustainable, they’re certainly a good sign for things to come. He’s not as agile as he was in his younger years, but he’s still got an insane IQ for the game and is able to make plays and sink shots.
The Rockets lost two of their strongest defenders in the offseason – Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. Both Ariza and Mbah a Moute were extremely versatile, which worked particularly well with D’Antoni’s switch-heavy defense.
Clint Capela hasn’t been nearly as explosive and effective defensively as he was last season, though he’s been putting up good numbers offensively. Luckily, James Ennis is back from his hamstring injury and seems to be fitting in well with Houston’s defense. He has the ability to guard top scorers and shines offensively in transition. His actual shooting leaves something to be desired, but I think he fits in well with the Rockets’ system.
A pleasant surprise for the team has been rookie, Gary Clark. Who? I know, I didn’t really know much about him either, but he has impressed D’Antoni enough to make his way into the rotation quite a bit. He won American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year in his time at the University of Cincinnati and knows what he’s doing on the floor.
We can all agree that a major part of the Rockets’ game last season was their ability to shoot, especially from distance. Throughout the team’s first 11 games, they had the worst shooting percentage in the league. They were missing everything from wide open lay-ups to wide open 3’s – shots that they normally make with ease.
Eric Gordon, in particular, seems to be struggling quite a bit. He was the 3-point contest in 2017 at shot around 36% last season. This year, however, he’s shooting a measly 24.8% from beyond the arc. Ouch. His field goal percentage is lower than it’s ever been by a long shot, at 32.6%. For reference, his percentage last year was 42.8% and 35.9% from the 3-point line.
Is the Slump Over?
After their abysmal start, the Rockets are looking like the team I watched last season. Their offense has improved leaps and bounds – they look more alert and are able to knock down shots. They’ve also decided to play defense, which has been a game-changer. They’re knocking down shots, James Harden is still the reigning MVP and they’re figuring it out.
Look, D’Antoni is a fantastic coach, and he’s coaching James Harden, the reigning MVP, Chris Paul, an all-star pointguard, and a decent supporting cast. They’re going to get their shit together and it’s very likely they’re going to keep it together. I’d love to see a western conference rematch between Houston and Golden State, and I think I’m gonna get it.
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