The Current State of Affairs:
Perseverance might be the story of the Houston Rockets season by the time Dwight Howard returns. How much success they will have while waiting for superman is another story. So began the long uphill journey for the Rockets. James Harden has seemingly tied the Houston Rockets franchise to his waist and begun the uphill trek.
The team is now 4-3 without the services of Howard, who is widely regarded as one of the best bigs in basketball. Kevin McHale and his coaching staff will need to continue to plan to make adjustments in the front court, as the Rockets have seen some up and down moments without Howard since his injury.
James Harden and company have moved on without their main rim protector and impact player on the defensive end. Let’s look at the moving pieces for Houston, without the services of big daddy Dwight Howard:
[table id=23 /]
Already a quality shot blocker, Terrence Jones has continued to improve on the glass. The athletic forward was bitten by the injury bug earlier this season after a fairly strong start which showcased an improved 3 point shot. Since returning in 2015, Jones has only scored in double digits once. He has struggled to find his footing and doesn’t appear to be 100% just yet.
The Rockets need his versatility and defense in the absence of Howard. He should be a player that benefits from the all-star break, as Kevin McHale and his band of brothers wait for the 23year old who hasn’t returned to full form just yet.
Jones is a player that will be asked to help fill the void at the center position. The team is going to definitely need his rebounding and shot blocking.
He can also help fill in the 16 points per game void Howard contributed on a nightly basis. Whether this is an injury or a slump, the Rockets need this kid now more than ever.
[table id=24 /]
After a dismal 2013 season, Donatas Motiejunas has been a pleasant surprise for the Rockets in the front court. The 7 footer has had a bit of a breakout year for the team, seeing a career high in minutes (28), points (11.6) and rebounds (6.1). With his size, Donatas has helped fill some of the hole left in the paint without Howard. Another big change Demo has is adding a three point shot to his arsenal. Something that has proved to be extremely valuable in his game, is his offensive rebounding.
Two of his six boards he secures per contest, are on the offensive end. This is a huge considering the amount of three point shots the offense puts up. Between Motiejunas and Howard, the two combine for over five offensive rebounds per game, which is a potential points differential of +10 in a best case scenario. This is a chance for the big man to really prove himself in the NBA. In order for him to do this and help the team, he has got to stay out of foul trouble. Without Howard in the line up this has been a problem.
[table id=22 /]
Josh Smith has enjoyed a formal rebirth with the Houston Rockets. Smith came over dirt cheap, but with some baggage that included at times very questionable shot selection. Since Detroit waived him and Houston picked him up Smith has taken four less shot attempts per game. What has really shined for him in Houston has been the increase in efficiency. He started the season by shooting 39.1% from the field, but after coming over to Houston he’s now converting on a much more efficient 43.7% of his attempts.
J-Smooth has really stepped up, securing double digit rebounds in four of the seven games so far without Dwight’s help. He has also blocked at least one shot and kept his shooting above 50% from the field. Smith can also utilize his passing as a real weapon right now, contributing almost 4 assists per game in the his last seven appearances for the Rockets.
The key for Josh to ensure his contributions stay out of the red during this transition, is to commit to not returning to volume shooting when they aren’t falling. Especially from the land beyond the arc. The Rockets recently lost to the Clippers, Smith took seven 3-point attempts, only converting on two. He did however, score 21 points and haul in 13 boards. His versatility is of vital importance to a team playing without their starting big man. Smith may just be the x-factor for Houston. He will be needed to formally embrace his role.
[table id=21 /]
Joey Dorsey returned to the NBA in 2014 and joined the Houston Rockets franchise. The 6’9″ center played in very limited minutes for a majority of the season thus far. Dorsey has seen double digit minutes in five of the six games without Howard and has shown flashes of being a solid back-up player. The 31 year old is being used primarily as a reserve at this point, but is needed to do everything he can. Including putting a body on the leagues other big guns. The West is home to centers like Marc Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins. Dorsey will be expected to help contain these monsters and protect the castle in Dwight’s absence.
Keys to Survival:
Some are asking the question, will Harden have enough in the tank to carry the Rockets? Howard’s injury draws many parallels to last season, when Russell Westbrook went down for the Thunder. On route to his first ever MVP, Kevin Durant took the Oklahoma City Thunder to the top of the NBA. When a player is having a very special year, consistency becomes automatic. Harden has posted two 40+ point games for the Rockets without his co-pilot and doesn’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
The Rockets offense is built on the long ball, as they lead the league in 3-point baskets made. Howard does not have this shot in his tool box, but he is a very good rebounder, including on the offensive glass. They are currently 3rd in the NBA in offensive rebounds per game (11.8). Subtract Howard’s three per game and they plummet to the bottom five. For a team that takes over 33 three point attempts per game, this is huge. Howard was hauling in 11 defensive rebounds a night as well, that is with the team being in the middle of the pack on boards.
What is working in McHale’s favour is that the Rockets have a few stretch 4’s. He can plug and play Smith, Jones, and Motiejunas anywhere between the 4 and the 5. Much like the recent Miami Heat squads, the Rockets have the ability to play small ball. Harden can still get out on the break with some speedy big men that can also spot up on the perimeter.
It’s possible, that the offense may flow even better at times. Defense is another story. D-12 brings some intangibles to the table that aren’t easily replaced. In the interim Kevin McHale and his troops will look to persevere until their superman returns.
More from Space City Scoop
- Rockets: Time to return the slander towards Rachel Nichols
- What the Rockets must do with the second overall pick
- Houston Rockets: The case for, and against, trading Christian Wood
- NBA Rumors: Why the Houston Rockets shouldn’t trade up to no. 1 in NBA Draft
- 3 players that would be a perfect fit for the Houston Rockets at 23 or 24