The Houston Rockets are in a noticeable slump over the last six games by losing six of ten, but how are they performing compared to this point last season?
After their recent slump, are the Houston Rockets worse off than last year’s team? Last year’s struggles were for other reasons — namely injuries. Chris Paul was in and out of the lineup, Clint Capela suffered a major injury and unlike this year, James Harden was playing at an MVP level at this time last year. Sometimes it is best to take a breath and step back to see if the situation is really bad as it seems. To get some perspective, let’s examine how the current Rockets stack up against the 2018-19 Rockets.
Comparing the Offense
At times this year, the Rockets have looked confused and out of sorts. At other times, they ‘ve looked like an offensive juggernaut. This month has been a mixed bag of great offensive performances and downright horrible performances.
Going into Friday’s game against Dallas, the Rockets are averaging 118.5 points per game, which is number two in the league. Last year, the pre-All-Star Game Rockets were averaging 113.1 points per game. The Rockets are also playing at a much faster pace than last year at 104.2 which is second in the league. Prior to this year, the Rockets were actually one of the slowest teams in the league. Of course, this can be linked directly to Russell Westbrook and what he’s brought to the team.
The Rockets’ offense could definitely still use improvement, though. Teams have made it a point to double team Harden from the jump ball to the end of the game, which is freeing up open threes. The Rockets 3-point shooting, however, has been inconsistent during the recent slump and stagnant at times. But going by the numbers, the Rockets offense is actually better so far this year than at the same point last year.
Westbrook has been an MVP candidate since the calendar flipped to 2020 and Eric Gordon is finally healthy for the first time in over a year. When teams slump, especially teams expected to challenge for a championship, the situation seems worse than it actually might be. If Harden gets back to anywhere near the level of play he was in December, the Rockets might have the best offense they have ever had.
Comparing the Defense
Defense has easily been the biggest issue for the Rockets this season. For a team with championship aspirations, they simply aren’t getting enough stops. This year, the Rockets are giving up 114.6 points per game.
At times, the Rockets have seemed confused about switch assignments or just flat out haven’t given the effort needed on the defensive end. Last year, the Rockets gave up 108.7 per game, but the league as a whole was playing at a much slower pace. The Rockets actually have a better defensive rating than last year at this same point at 109.5. Last year at this time it was 112.2.
The Rockets’ defense definitely needs work and needs to improve its intensity and overall communication, but compared to last year at this time are actually in a better place overall.
Overall State of the Team
Much like last season, last year’s Rockets were struggling with health issues in January. There have been several injury concerns this year, with Harden missing some recent games and Capela missing games with a bruised heel. Regarding Harden, he doesn’t have a history of injuries so you have to believe this is just temporary.
Capela is a concern, but a bruised heel can get better with rest, which he should get during the week-long All-Star break. Eric Gordon was also hurt for a good chunk of last year and is just now playing at full health. After his game against Utah, that’s certainly a welcome sight.
Last year, Chris Paul was out for at least half the year and that forced Harden to go supernova for the Rockets to even survive. The injuries this year are definitely more manageable than Paul’s injuries since he’s had a long history of missing games, as Rockets fans know too well.
Lets not sugar coat it: the Rockets have played like an average team at best for the last month. The silver lining, though, is Russell Westbrook has regained his MVP form and Gordon’s play has improved two-fold from how his season started. Overall, the numbers show that the Rockets are actually at a better spot than last year.
MVP-form Harden needs to resurface for the Rockets to get back into contention, and James knows it. With a fully-loaded team like the Golden State Warriors finally out of the picture, it’s not time to abandon ship. The Rockets still have time to turn this around.