The Houston Rockets are a top five team heading into the All-Star break this season. This time last year, it was a completely different story.
Everybody knows that the Houston Rockets are way better this year than they were last year. Even the most casual NBA fans have heard the talk of James Harden for MVP and are aware that the narrative in Houston is much different than it was a year ago. What most fans probably haven’t looked into, though, is exactly how much better the Rockets are in 2016-2017 than they were previously. Hint: they’re a lot better.
Today, we’ll look at the difference in the pre-All-Star statistics from this season and last. First of all, the win-loss record of the two teams is drastically different. The current iteration of the Rockets is 40-18, good enough for the 4th-best record in the league. Last season, on the other hand, Houston sat at 18th overall at 27-28: a losing record!
There were many reasons why things have changed so much over the course of a year. The Beard doesn’t have Dwight Howard on the roster begging for touches, and the team’s head coach actually has an idea of what he’s doing are two big ones. Now that Mike D’Antoni has unlocked Harden’s potential, the Rockets are reaping the benefits.
As far as basic stats are concerned, the new Rockets are shooting a better percentage than the old from the field and from beyond the arc. They’re grabbing more rebounds, totaling more assists, and not turning the ball over as often. The result of all of these improvements is that the current roster is putting up nearly 10 more points per game than last season’s squad.
One of the most drastic differences between the two seasons is the number of three pointers. The Rockets led the league in long range attempts both seasons, but are taking over 8 more shots from distance this year. Under D’Antoni’s leadership, the Rox are launching a record-setting number of long bombs. The evidence that the strategy is effective is there, which is why the NBA as a whole is taking more threes than ever before.
The other huge differentiator between the two versions of the Rockets is defense. We’ll start with last year. Before the All-Star break, Houston’s defense was in the bottom five in the league. Despite leading the league in steals per game and having an elite rebounder on the roster in Dwight, the Rockets were 29th in opponents’ second chance points per game.
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Night after night, the effort wasn’t there. Harden regressed significantly from the previous season and the rest of the group followed suit.
After last season, it only makes sense that no pundits expected Houston to play well on the defensive end of the floor. They haven’t been bad, though; the 2016-2017 Rockets are in the top half in defensive rating.
They sit at 14th right now, with a defensive rating of 105.5. It won’t take much for them to move up in the ranking, either. The Charlotte Hornets, who have the 7th best defense, have a defensive rating of 104.6, less than one point better than Houston’s.
It is completely realistic for the Rockets to finish the season with the second-best offense and a top-10 defense. That is nothing to sneeze at, considering last year’s total lack of coherence on that side of the court.
Undoubtedly, there are more stats out there that prove just how far the Houston Rockets have come since last summer. They’ve gone from not having a player on an All-NBA team (don’t even get me started on that) to having a roster that consists of the MVP-race leader, the Coach of the Year in many opinions, and a worthy Sixth Man of the Year candidate.
The All-Star break should treat the Rockets well, due to the fact that they’ve played one of the toughest schedules so far. After a few days’ rest, they’ll be ready to continue to prove that things are different this go round in Houston.
Houston’s next game isn’t until February 23rd, when they take on the New Orleans Pelicans. Stay tuned to Space City Scoop for trade deadline updates and anything else that’s notable in the Houston Rockets world.
Stats courtesy of nba.com.