The Houston Rockets were in a tough spot a few weeks ago. The face of the franchise, James Harden, was disgruntled and wanted out. They had lost more games than they had won and the season was headed in the wrong direction.
Now fast forward to today, James Harden is no longer a Rocket after being traded to the Brooklyn Nets, and the team is on a six-game winning streak. Since the trade, the Rockets have posted some eye-popping statistics and proved they were far more than just the James Harden show.
How Harden’s negativity was sinking the ship
Have you ever been in a relationship or friendship, and the person you were friends with or in a relationship said you weren’t good enough? Some people believe what the other person is saying and either move on or hang onto the criticism like an anvil on a ship.
The Rockets were part of a well-publicized breakup on January 13th when they traded James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets for a boatload of picks and Victor Oladipo. Harden infamously said, “we’re not good enough,” and “it can’t be fixed” of course, the good enough part was directed at his teammates and not in reference to his play.
The Rockets could have gone the route of feeding into that negative statement by folding and rebuilding the team, but that has not been the case. The Rockets have been thriving since the James Harden trade, and to prove it, here are three eye-opening statistics that the Rockets have posted since the infamous trade.
Next: Stat #3
Houston Rockets: Number one in defensive rating
Defense, like the old saying says, wins championships. This saying also means it is your best path to winning on a game by game basis. The Rockets were not living up to this at the beginning of the season.
A combination of injuries, Covid related games missed, a specific player who did not want to be on the team led the Rockets to one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Ten games later and the Rockets, since the trade, have had the league’s best defensive rating at 103.5 points per 100 possessions.
The Rockets’ new-found defensive aptitude has held opponents to 105.9 points per game since Harden’s departure. A mark that would be the third-best in the league this season behind the Los Angeles Lakers and New York Knicks.
What makes this even more remarkable is that the Rockets are also third in pace during the same time. Teams can appear to have a great defense because they play at a much slower pace, like the Knicks, which limits the number of scoring chances for both teams. The fact that the Rockets are have been able to do both makes this run even more impressive.
The Rockets do not switch nearly the amount of times they used to and have opted to fight over and under picks or have even dropped coverage in some instances. The defense improvements can be attributed to having five guys on the court who never quit on either side of the ball.
Next: Stat #2
Houston Rockets: Picking up the pace
The Houston Rockets have never been known as a team that pushes the ball up the court. The exception was last year when Russell Westbrook was traded to Houston and put his trademark one-man fastbreak to use.
At the beginning of this year, the Rockets were at best a middle of the pack team in terms of pace. This can be directly attributed to Harden, who normally likes to walk the ball up the court for isolation opportunities and does not like to run to generate fast break opportunities.
The Rockets’ lack of pace was even more evident to begin the season. The Rockets ranked 17th in pace before the trade. After the trade, the Rockets have jumped to third in the league at 102.6 possessions a game. Creating more opportunities for everyone makes a huge difference when you are not a heavy isolation team anymore.https://videos.nba.com/nba/pbp/media/2021/02/01/0022000318/279/c169ebdb-ef66-01db-822c-36c2edb27c25_1280x720.mp4
All five guys for the Rockets now push the ball up the court, including PJ Tucker, who rarely, if ever, has done that in his Rockets career. Before it was usually a pass back to Harden, who would walk it up the court, but now the Rockets are blazing up court looking for easy buckets.
Next: Stat #1
Houston Rockets: 3-point shooting explosion
The Rockets, even during the Harden days, were never a great 3-point shooting team when it came to percentage. Volume yes, but not in terms of efficiency from beyond the arc. During the Harden era, they were always a middle of the pack or near the bottom in 3-point percentage.
This year like most of the Rockets statistics, they were near the bottom to start the year. Before the trade, they were 24th in 3-point percentage at 34.3-percent and their lack of ball movement and fractured team chemistry had a lot to do with it.
Since the Harden trade, the numbers have improved dramatically, and they are seventh at 39.1-percent from deep. Of course, it’s not all because Harden left, some of it is because the Rockets are finally healthy, but there’s a lot to be said for chemistry and everyone being involved on the offensive end.
The Rockets’ player movement since the trade has been the best it has been in a long time. Harden might have been the best isolation scorer in the league but it doesn’t mean that it brought the best out of his teammates.
Like what was stated earlier, you cant put all of the Rocket’s early-season woes only on Harden. A new coach, new system, and player turnover played their part in their early-season struggles.
You can’t deny, though, that the chemistry, player involvement on offense and defense, and overall team cohesion have improved tenfold since James Harden was traded to the Brooklyn Nets. There’s another old saying that rings true here, the numbers don’t lie.