Only two games into the season, media and fans are already forming negative opinions and observations about the Houston Rockets that need to be addressed.
The Houston Rockets got their first win of the year on Saturday, defeating the New Orleans Pelicans 126-123. There were plenty of positive takeaways from the game: Russell Westbrook took over again in the fourth quarter, Danuel House shot well from deep and the offense overall continued to score at a high rate.
Still, though, there are some areas of concern so far after two games, namely team defense, James Harden‘s shooting and the Rockets’ 3-point shooting percentage. Are these legitimate concerns or just early-season overreactions?
The Houston Rockets’ deficient defense
When you think of the Rockets over the years, a few things come to mind: James Harden, 3-point shooting and minimal mid-range shots being taken. Something that is not often mentioned is Houston’s defense.
Two years ago, the Rockets were a top-five defensive team, which led to a franchise-record 65 games won and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals that had them one win away from the NBA Finals. Last year, the Rockets were middle-of-the-road overall but at times were simply a bad defensive team. This, paired with injuries, led to an uneven season.
So far through two games this season, the defense has been missing in action. The Rockets have given up 118 points and 123 points to their first two opponents, including a Pelicans team without two of their best players.
The Rockets are still switching on most picks except for Clint Capela, who, for the most part, is dropping down into the paint. The issues seem to come when there is miscommunication between players and they’re not getting back on defense.
This burned them several times on Saturday as the Pelicans pushed the pace and got wide-open 3-pointers off misses and even made baskets. Also, the team’s rotations to help out defenders that are beaten to the basket have been slow.
It’s a small sample size, but the Rockets’ opponents have put up 50 and 46 3-point attempts through two games. Of course, attempts are not as important as makes, but the Rockets pride themselves on limiting 3-point attempts and forcing mid-range shots.
The reason not to worry about the Rocket’s defense is that its two games into the year and the Rockets have a new defensive coordinator in Elston Turner. With the departure of Jeff Bzdelik and the hire of Turner, the Rockets are still learning as they go.
On top of that, there are four new players that are being incorporated into the Rockets’ regular rotation. With more time and practice, the Rockets should be able to correct what ails them on defense as the season goes on.
Houston Rockets’ 3-point shooting
Shooting from downtown has been a staple of the Rockets since Mike D’Antoni took over as head coach. They set the league record for attempted and made 3-pointers last year and could very well break that mark again this year. The Rockets so far this season are shooting only 31.2 percent from deep, which is toward the bottom of the league. The normally reliable Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and James Harden have all had two bad games in a row from deep.
This is another case of a small sample size that should even itself out. When you shoot as many 3-pointers as the Rockets, you are bound to have cold streaks as a team, just as you are bound to have hot streaks. The reason it sticks out more this year is that it is the beginning of the year and not mid-January. The Rockets should get their percentage back near last year’s mark of 35.6 percent as they find their form in-game rather than on the practice court.
James Harden’s struggles from the field
The reigning scoring champ has been anything but his normal self so far this year. Harden is shooting 23.8 percent from the field and only 11.5 percent from the 3-point line. His first performance could easily be chalked up to a very long and athletic Bucks team that employs the strategy of playing Harden exclusively on his left side, forcing him to the basket. The Pelicans game was more of the same, however, and Harden never got into a groove from the field, shooting just 8-for-29.
The reason no one should worry about James Harden is that, well, he is James Harden. Over his career, Harden has had bad shooting streaks like the current one he is in. Just like the team’s overall shooting woes, this streak is magnified because of the hype around Westbrook joining the Rockets and doubts about whether that will work.
No matter what his shooting percentage is, Harden never lacks confidence, which is half the battle when trying to get out of a slump. Harden is getting the shots he wants and normally knocks down with regularity, so it’s only a matter of time before he gets it going.
James Harden on his shooting struggles: "I'm going to take as many shots as they give me. I was here yesterday working on that same shot and this morning working on that same shot. Tonight it just didn't fall. The most important thing is we got a win."
— Salman Ali (@SalmanAliNBA) October 27, 2019
In this day and age of social media, instant reactions and overreactions are a part of everyday life. The LA Clippers won their first two games and were already being proclaimed the best team in the league. After a loss to the Phoenix Suns, they are now already being doubted while the Suns are suddenly being seen as contenders to make the playoffs.
This is the NBA. There are 82 games in a season and the majority of the time, one game or two should not lead to definitive statements. These overreactions are more than likely premature, but only time will tell if they are a blip on the radar or an actual trend.