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Houston Rockets: 5 things I like from the past week of games

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - FEBRUARY 04: Danuel House Jr. #4 of the Houston Rockets reacts during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on February 04, 2021 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - FEBRUARY 04: Danuel House Jr. #4 of the Houston Rockets reacts during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on February 04, 2021 in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
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Danuel House Jr. #4 and John Wall #1 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Danuel House Jr. #4 and John Wall #1 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

Over the past week, the Houston Rockets have cooled off considerably. After rampaging to six straight victories the team has gone 1-2 with losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs.

The Rockets’ lone win after snapping their winning steak was an emphatic victory over the surprising Memphis Grizzlies. The Rockets’ defense has continued to impress but their inconsistent play on offense cost them a chance to extend their win streak to nine games.

However, going 2-2 in a week where you play four games is an impressive feat nonetheless. The Rockets are firmly in the playoff picture and have rebounded from the dark cloud that was the James Harden trade saga.

No matter their record, every NBA team is capable of the amazing and it’s the reason why we tune in 82 times a year to watch our team play. The Rockets season is far from over and if they’re able to keep it up they will extend their franchise record for playoff appearances to nine consecutive seasons.

Every night there is a player, a moment, or a series that captures the viewer’s imagination and makes them say, “I love basketball.” These are the five things I like about the Houston Rockets.

Next: Thing I like #5

Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
Eric Gordon #10 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets Thing I like #5: Eric Gordon is back

Last season was the worst of Eric Gordon’s career by just about every available metric. He posted career-low shooting from the field and from 3-point range and looked like a shell of the player he once was.

What a difference a year makes. If 2020 was one of the worst years of Gordon’s basketball life, 2021 is shaping up to be one of his finest.

Gordon is shooting a career-best 60.4-percent on 2-pointers and his 3-point shooting has rebounded to 36.3-percent which is just a hair beneath his career 36.9-percent mark. What’s fueling his reemergence has been his ability to get to the rim and finish once there.

Gordon is taking 26.3-percent of his shots at the rim and is hitting them at a 74.2-percent rate which would be the best full-season mark of his career. At 32-years-old it’s amazing that Gordon has been able to turn back the clock and thrive around the rim.

The late-career renaissance hasn’t gained national media attention but Gordon has a claim to the comeback player of the year. The Rockets have to be ecstatic with the turnaround for more than the production because this is the first year of a four-year $75.6 million contract extension that Gordon signed in September of 2019.

What once looked like one of the worst contracts in the NBA now looks to be a real asset. The Rockets are headed for a rebuild and it’s unlikely Gordon will see out the contract in Houston but because of his resurgence, the Rockets might be able to actually get some assets for him through trade.

Next: Thing I like #4

David Nwaba #2 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)
David Nwaba #2 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets Thing I like #4: David Nwaba’s shot selection

The most underrated part of a player’s offensive game is their shot selection. If you’re Kevin Durant or Stephen Curry there is no such thing as a bad shot. However, most players are not that lucky and have to pick and choose the right shots to maximize their offensive output.

David Nwaba has mastered the art of shot selection and when paired with his excellent defense it makes him a wonderful all-around player. Of the shots that Nwaba attempts 86.6-percent are either behind the arc or at the rim.

Nwaba rounds out his shot chart by taking 11.8-percent of his shots between three feet and ten feet from the rim. If you’re doing the quick arithmetic that means that 98.4-percent of Nwaba’s shots are worth three points or are ten feet and under from the rim.

For most players taking the right shots when you’re not a knock-down shooter is the difference between having a long NBA career or becoming a legend with Olympiacos in the Greek league. What’s even more promising is that Nwaba should see his 3-point shooting improve because he’s underperforming from the corners where he takes 51.2-percent of his threes.

Nwaba is only hitting 28.6-percent of his corner threes which is down from the 38.8-percent he posted on them over the previous two seasons. Nwaba is taking the right shots and if they start falling he could be set for a huge pay raise in the offseason.

Next: Thing I like #3

John Wall #1 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)
John Wall #1 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets Thing I like #3: John Wall finding the corners

The two most valuable shots are lay-ups and corner threes. Lay-ups are the easiest shot to convert and are worth the same as a mid-range jumper, while the corner three is worth three points and is closer to the basket than all of the other threes.

From a fairness standpoint, the corner 3-pointer is the NBA’s version of a cheat code. John Wall knows this and he has re-ingratiated the world to his elite ability to find shooters in the cheaters’ corner.

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Watch as Wall uses the pick to get into the lane and forces the defense to collapse on him. Wall has the option to attack the rim as three players converge but instead flings the ball to a wide-open David Nwaba in the corner for an easy three points.

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LeBron James might be the best in the history of the league with his ability to find shooters from impossible positions but John Wall should be in that conversation as well. Wall is able to find Danuel House wide open in the corner after the Grizzlies do a fantastic job shutting down the Rockets’ pick and roll attempt.

John Wall is still working his way back after not playing a regular-season basketball game for close to two years but his ability to find shooters in the corners remains elite. Few players have the combination of vision, body control, and passing precision that Wall does and he’ll continue to use it to set up wide-open looks in the cheater’s corner.

Next: Thing I like #2

Sterling Brown #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Sterling Brown #0 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets Thing I like #2: Sterling Brown making his minutes count

The Rockets roster is chock-full of players that have surprised the league with their production this season. Sterling Brown hasn’t received the same plaudits but that needs to change.

Brown is only averaging 20 minutes a game but when he’s in he’s making them count. For the season he’s hitting 47.1-percent of his shots, 42.9-percent of his threes, and has yet to miss from the free-throw line.

Brown’s stellar shooting has led his team-best offensive rating per 100 possessions of 120. While his offense has been efficient, another fantastic part of his game is his penchant for swiping steals.

Brown’s 2.5-percent steal percentage leads the Rockets for players who have played more than 100 minutes. That doesn’t sound like a lot but that mark, if he qualified, would be tied with Ben Simmons and Kawhi Leonard as the twelfth best mark in the entire league.

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Watch as Brown recognizes the handoff and pounces into action to swipe the ball away from Jakob Poeltl to start a fastbreak. Brown played under eight minutes and missed all three of his shots but his ability to have a nose for the ball means he can contribute even if his shot isn’t falling.

Brown is never going to be a star but he’s thriving in his role off the bench. A free agent in the offseason the 25-year-old could be in line for a big pay raise if he keeps this up.

Next: Thing I like #1

Rodions Kurucs #00 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Rodions Kurucs #00 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Houston Rockets Thing I like #1: Rodions Kurucs hitting his first three for the Rockets

When history looks back at the James Harden trade it’s unlikely much time if any at all will be spent on Rodions Kurucs. The young Latvian just celebrated his 23rd birthday on February 5th but two nights before he hit his first 3-pointer for his new team.

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The shot came late in the game with the Rockets down big but it doesn’t change the fact that the shot went in. Kurucs started his Rockets’ career by missing his first five 3-pointers and the make appears to have sparked a new level of confidence.

The next night he went one for two from distance to bring his 3-point shooting percentage to 25-percent for his Rockets’ career. Kurucs likely won’t play much outside of garbage time but at 6’9 and a career 41-percent shooter on corner threes he could help fill the void if P.J. Tucker is traded.

3 pros and cons to trading Victor Oladipo. Next

The James Harden trade will be judged by how well the Rockets draft as the decade creeps ever closer to 2030. However, Kurucs has a team option for next season and is young enough that giving him an extended look should be something the Rockets explore.

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