5. Perimeter Defense
The Rockets may score 106 points per game, but they give up 102.
That may have been acceptable last year, but this season is different. If they want to get past the first round, let alone contend for a championship, it starts with defense. They can’t sacrifice their coverage and leave a man open just for a chance at a steal and fast break opportunity.
Teams like the Warriors, Suns and Thunder would love to see Houston in the playoffs if it meant a run ‘n gun shootout. Look at the difference in the Rockets opposing field-goal percentage versus that of the Thunder:
Rockets Opposing Field-Goal Percentage
Thunder Opposing Field-Goal Percentage
According to NBA.com, opposing teams attempt 9.7 field goals at the rim against Howard, the fifth most in the league. What does that mean exactly?
Dwight Howard would get into a lot less foul trouble if opposing guards weren’t penetrating at will.
Lin has trouble staying in front of his man, as does Chandler Parsons at times. Harden is actually a capable defender but was scrutinized for his subpar defensive effort earlier this season.
“Their defense is going to have to be more consistent. That’s where Harden has to make sure he sets a good tone every night,” added Van Gundy.
Not only must Houston’s starters improve their defense, but also its bench.
Griz 9-0 run all at rim or off double-team of Randolph. Griz still own glass. As always lately, Rockets fall off a cliff when go to bench.
— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) December 27, 2013
Francisco Garcia is a capable defender who gives Harden and Parsons help with his ability to guard an opposing team’s best perimeter player. Ronnie Brewer is also an above-average defender but has logged less than five minutes per game through 15 contests. Aaron Brooks can guard smaller point guards, but has trouble with the stronger guards like Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. The injured Patrick Beverley has defensive abilities, but likes to gamble for steals and save his energy for offense.
The Houston Rockets have their work cut out for them if they want to get past adversity-tested, veteran-filled, and Finals-experienced teams like the Spurs and Thunder.
Omer Asik’s future remains up in the air; James Harden must improve his leadership and effort, and Houston’s defense should progress game-by-game, all while the West continues to improve.
Team chemistry, more consistent play and other intangibles will develop as the Rockets gain more experience as a unit.
They may not win the West in 2014, but the sky is certainly the limit for them.
Bill Simpson is a Staff Writer for Space City Scoop. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained first-hand via interview with Jeff Van Gundy 12/16/13.
*All statistics are from NBA.com updated December 29, 2013