SHOOTING BLANKS

Rockets offense stuggles becoming a serious issue

Mike D'Antoni and the Rockets are looking for answers. Harry How/Getty Images

Houston entered Thursday night’s contest against the Oklahoma City Thunder looking to even their record on the season and start fresh after a forgettable 1-5 start. A gutty effort on Monday against a Pacers team with a 7-3 record produced an impressive 98-94 win, and hinted that the Rockets had begun to recompose themselves after their rough start. Oklahoma City - sans their all-world guard Russell Westbrook - turned Houston away at the door, however, handed the Rockets a crushing defeat, 98-80, and left them with more questions than answers.

The loss against an undermanned Thunder team not only sets the Rockets back in the standings - something Houston can’t really afford to do much longer - it also casts serious doubt on the Rocket’s chances this season of returning to the Western Conference Finals. Patience was exercised to start the season as the Rockets dealt with health and suspension complications. Once the highly-touted Chris Paul/James Harden duo finally returned to the court together, the wins followed along and Houston strung together a three-game winning streak. Those expecting the high flying offense that was put on display last season, however, have been disappointed.

In a season punctuated by over-inflated point totals as a result of league-wide rule changes, the Rockets have failed to break the 100-point plateau in four of their past five matchups. After last night’s brick-fest, the Rockets’ offensive rating has dropped to 103.9, good for 26th in the league. Their true shooting percentage is 52.8, which is better than only the Pistons and the Magic. This is the offensive territory Houston currently resides in. Last season they finished No. 1 and 2 in those respective categories league-wide. The Rockets are reeling.

Houston has been known as the team that fires off more 3-pointers than any other team in the league. It’s a sound philosophy when it works and you have shooters knocking down their shots. So far this season, no one has consistently managed to do so. Chris Paul, who signed a four-year $160 million maximum contract in July, is shooting 27.1% from three-point range. Gerald Green, a career 35.9% sniper, has been even worse at 26.3%. You could argue that they’re missing Eric Gordon’s contributions while he recovers from injury, but that’s simply not the case. Before Gordon sat with a hip issue, he was even worse with 23.6% from three.  It’s not just one person slumping, it is a collective struggle.

If you’re looking for answers as to why the Rockets offense has become so lethargic, look no further than just beyond the arc. Houston is No. 1 in the league in 3-point attempts per game. They are 25th, however, in 3-point percentage. The Rockets have lost their shot at the moment, and that’s alarming.

I understand that it’s just one loss, but this isn’t about one game. It’s about the continuation of a season long inability to do the one thing the Rockets are known for, which is launch 3-pointers. Houston’s 11-of-42 night from beyond the arc last night showed that maybe the Rockets aren’t in fact back. Maybe this just isn’t a good enough team as built. If that’s the case, don’t be surprised if General Manager Daryl Morey starts finding new homes for players sooner than later. Houston is built to win, and win now. Right now nothing is going right, and the Rockets are running out of time to figure things out.




 

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Life after Correa may not be the worst thing. Composite image by Jack Brame.

Carlos Correa is having a damn good year. The Astros shortstop is hitting .285 with 24 homers, 87 RBI, 72 walks, .862 OPS, a 7.2 WAR, and a .981 fielding percentage. In any other year, those would be numbers worthy of being in the mix for AL MVP (if it weren't for that dastardly Shohei Otani). Correa is also in a contract year. He and the Astros were far enough apart that the season started and he's held true to not wanting to negotiate midseason.

The offers of six years for $120 million and five years for $125 million were both rejected by he and his camp. They're seeking something much longer and for more money on the annual average. With the team unwilling to meet those demands, it seems as if the team and the player are headed for a split.

Lots of Astros fans are not happy with the prospect of Correa leaving via free agency. Some think the team isn't doing enough and should pony up to bring him back. Some feel Correa should take what they're offering because it's a fair deal that'll allow the team to sign other players. Then, there's that small band of us that are totally okay with him leaving.

One of the main reasons I'm okay with him leaving is the players the team still has under control that are potential replacements. Aledmys Diaz and Pedro Leon are the first two guys that come to mind. Diaz is a 31-year-old vet who's stepped up when he's called upon. He can slide over to third and allow Alex Bregman to play shortstop. Leon is the team's 23-year-old hot prospect who signed as an outfielder that the team has been trying to turn into a shortstop. If Correa were to leave, he could instantly plug the hole Carlos would leave behind. Either of those options lead to my next point of being okay with Correa leaving which is to...

...allocate that money elsewhere. Whether it's signing a replacement (at short or third), or boosting the pitching staff, I'll be fine as long as it's money well spent. Signing a shortstop or third baseman would determine where Bregman would be playing. If said player takes significantly less than Correa and fills 70-80% of his offensive shoes, it'll be worth it. Others will have to step it up. If they find a deal on a top of the rotation starting pitcher, that would be ideal as well. As I stated a couple of weeks ago, this team has employed a six-man rotation, but doesn't have a true ace. Spending anywhere from $20-30 million a year on a top-notch pitcher to add to the staff would bolster this staff in more ways than one. It'll finally give them the ace they lack, plus it'll bump all the young talent (still under team control) down a peg creating depth and perhaps even creating bullpen depth.

The only way any of this works is if Correa isn't back. Zack Greinke and Justin Verlander's money comes off the books also. Freeing up that much payroll and not re-appropriating those resources to ensure this team stays in contention would be a first degree felony in sports court. I don't think Jim Crane wants that for this team. I for sure don't think James Click wants that as his legacy. Let's sit back and watch how the organization maneuvers this offseason and pray they get it right.


Editor's note: If you want to read the other side of the argument, check out Ken Hoffman's piece from Tuesday.

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