Remaining playoff teams expose issue Houston Rockets must address

Anthony Davis James Harden (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Anthony Davis James Harden (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The teams that are left in the playoffs all have something in common that the Houston Rockets were missing all season long.

Throughout the Mike D’Antoni era, the Houston Rockets have had an offensive scheme based on two things: 3-pointers and layups. The strategy has had positive results in the regular season but has never quite gotten it done in the postseason.

After another disappointing finish to a season in which they shot considerably more threes than anyone else, it’s time for a strategy change in Houston. When you look at all the teams left in the playoffs going into Tuesday’s games, there’s a noticeable trend when you look at their star players.

As Twitter user Joey Wilkinson shared, the best of the best have stars that have an effective midrange game in their arsenal.

Kawhi – midrange
AD – midrange
Tatum/Kemba – midrange
Lowry – midrange
Butler – midrange

Every team left in the playoffs has a player that shoots the middy. You need it in the Playoffs and I will die on this hill. It has been my favorite shot since I started playing at age 8.

— Joey Wilkinson ? (@AssassinateHate) September 11, 2020

While Kyle Lowry has since been eliminated from the playoffs, Jamal Murray can easily take his place to make Joey’s point still true. Murray shot 33.9 percent from midrange this season on 3.9 attempts per game.

Kawhi Leonard also had a dominant season from just inside the arc, shooting 37.2 percent while taking 5.7 attempts per game. Anthony Davis (4.1), Jayson Tatum (3.1), and Jimmy Butler (2.9) all also shot 2.9 attempts or more attempts from midrange and are still alive and kicking in the playoffs.

The Houston Rockets’ Midrange Game (or lack thereof)

Knowing what we know about how important it is to mix in some shots from a step inside, let’s examine the rate at which the Rockets attempted midrange shots this season.

1. Russell Westbrook – 5.2 attempts per game, 26.8 percent
2A. Danuel House – 0.3 attempts per game, 36.5 percent
2B. Eric Gordon – 0.3 attempts per game, 33 percent
2C. James Harden – 0.3 attempts per game, 35.5 percent
2D. P.J. Tucker – 0.3 attempts per game, 25.8 percent
2E. Robert Covington – 0.3 attempts per game, 33.4 percent

This data is jaw-dropping. You just can’t have a season in which Ivica Zubac takes more midrange field goal attempts than your entire team but one man. Making it even worse, Russell Westbrook‘s percentage from that area this season shows that he was taking way too many.

The Houston Rockets need variety over variance

We all know that mixing in short jumpers is against Daryl Morey’s analytics because, after all, three is more than two, but there comes a time where predictability is counterproductive to the cause.

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After Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, the Lakers clamped down on Houston’s 3-point shooting considerably, reducing them to a driving team that often turned the ball over or got blocked by guys like Alex Caruso.

The Rockets have plenty of guys that are capable of burying the midrange jumper, beginning with their superstar, James Harden.

With a new coach, they’ll also need to adapt their playing style to have more variety instead of relying so heavily on long-distance bombs.

They certainly can’t ignore the mid-range shot more than they did last season when they shot a dead-last 5.5 per game.

Will the Rockets ever win a title with Harden?. Next

We can all agree that the Houston Rockets need to flip the script going into the 2021-22 season. Updating how they get their shots is a huge step in that process.