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.




 

Friday on First Take, Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman discuss James Harden responding to Giannis Antetokounmpo's joke about Harden's reluctance to pass the basketball. Stephen A. supports Harden's retort, but Max doesn't think it's a good look.

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