Double-teaming James Harden is exposing the Rockets’ shooting issues

Houston Rockets Ben McLemore (Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Ben McLemore (Photo by Cato Cataldo/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Few players in the Houston Rockets rotation have been knocking down long-range shots to their capability this year, and the losses to Denver and LA highlighted that.

The Houston Rockets 8-game winning streak came to an end in Denver on Wednesday. The Nuggets had a simple game plan coming in: make someone not wearing number 13 beat us. It worked.

The Nuggets repeatedly sent double-teams to force the ball out of James Harden‘s hands and it led to a season-high eight turnovers. His 16 field goal attempts were also his third-lowest mark of the season, meaning Denver’s plan worked to perfection. The Beard couldn’t get into his usual rhythm with extra Nugget defenders constantly taking his extra space.

Harden was able to do well with the shots he was able to get off, finishing with 27 points on 8-16 from the field and 4-8 from 3-point range, but his teammates struggled. The rest of the team shot 8-30 from long-range on the night, which highlights a problem Houston has continually faced through its first 15 games.

The LA Clippers did much of the same against Harden, but still, only Ben McLemore and Thabo Sefolosha shot a decent percentage for the Rockets from the outside when given a chance.

Coming into this season, it was expected that the Rockets would again see a slight uptick in 3-point attempts like they have every year since the 2015-16 season. Though they have never been elite in 3-point percentage, the team has finished between 12th and 15th each of the last three years. This season they are 24th, right above the struggling Chicago Bulls.

This is a very low mark for a team that’s offense centers around layups and 3-pointers so heavily. So far only P.J. Tucker (45.6), Danuel House (44.6) and Chris Clemons (42.4), in limited minutes, are clearing 35 percent. This makes the prognosis of House’s most recent injury even more important moving toward the finals stages of the calendar year.

Filling his minutes with struggling shooters in Austin Rivers (30.3), Ben McLemore (31.5), and Thabo Sefolosha (30.4) could lead to more nights like Wednesday and Friday. When you factor in Russell Westbrook‘s cringe-inducing 22 percent on 5.9 attempts per game (which happens to be the third-lowest mark in the league at that volume), the spacing could really become a problem.

The potential for players to move back toward their career numbers is always there though. The four players mentioned above, all have career numbers higher than where they currently sit. This, coupled with Harden pushing his shooting mark to the 36.8 percent from last season would change the outcome of games.

Next. Is Jonathon Simmons worth pursuing for the Houston Rockets?

The Rockets don’t have a rotation full of marksmen, but winning games doesn’t require lights-out shooting. It just requires you to look like you aren’t shooting with the lights out.