It is the nature of sports fans to be concerned most of the time, particularly those of us who grew up in Houston and suffered the pain of brutal losses time and time again. For this year's Houston Rockets, there are good reasons not to trust their stellar record thus far, despite injury setbacks. Still, that record and new Rockets Corey Brewer and Josh Smith should leave fans rightfully hopeful.
As we get closer to the season's mid-point, it is worth taking a look at some of the legitimate reasons for worry and things that should make us all feel good about the 2014-15 season.
Reasons to Worry
The Rockets are at the bottom of the league in turnovers per game. That number won't improve as they work in their newest acquisitions, but even if they stabilize, it is cause for concern. It is understood that with their up-tempo style and desire to take long range jumpers, they expect to have turnovers. Kevin McHale said during training camp that they wanted to stay under 15 turnovers per game given their style of play. Right now, they are just south of 17. That number has to come down.
Free throw shooting
The philosophy of threes, layups and free throws is a statistically laudable goal, but when your team is one of the worst in one of those categories, it's a problem. They are currently 28th at 70 percent. It's tough enough when you are living by long range shooting, which can be notoriously streaky, but if you can't make a decent percentage when no one is guarding you? They have six rotation players shooting under 70 percent including Dwight Howard's 48 percent and Joey Dorsey's laughable 22 percent. This is not a stat likely to improve during the season, unfortunately.
The acquisition of Josh Smith is positive in many ways, but it presents some unique spacing issues we've already seen in the first few games. Smith likes to operate around the rim. He is a very good weak side shot blocker and a good rebounder. While he isn't a post up offensive player, he does like to get into the paint. Thing is, so does Howard and Donatas Montejunas, who has turned into a reliable post scorer. Figuring out how to space those three plus a back up center like Dorsey when none of them are reliable outside shots is going to be tricky.
It's remarkable that a team this good so often digs themselves holes to start games. They are talented enough to rally against most teams, but not against contenders as we saw against Washington. The team seems to get a bit down when shots aren't falling early and they don't always bring their A game defensively right out of the gate. That must change if they have any chance of going deep into the playoffs. Reasons for Optimism
If someone had said at the beginning of the season that this team would, arguably, be the best defensive squad in the NBA, we all would have laughed him out of Toyota Center. But here we are with a team that was already near the top of the league in most key defensive statistical categories even with Howard and Patrick Beverley missing multiple games with injuries. Since getting them back, they have added Corey Brewer, a tenacious perimeter defender and high energy guy, and Smith, a fantastic shot blocker and rebounder.
And speaking of those new players, they provide legit depth now at essentially every position, which will allow the team to rest guys like Harden and Trevor Ariza, who are near the top of the league in minutes played. And the injuries the team suffered early in the year gave valuable playing time to guys like Kostas Papanikolaou, Isaiah Canaan, Nick Johnson and Montenjunas, which should pay dividends down the stretch.
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That added depth also gives McHale a ton of options on both ends of the floor. Against Washington, we saw Brewer switch off on John Wall, something we could see the team do against other quick point guards. It gives the team the option of switching on everything and still getting a good defender on every shooter. Offensively, it puts more scoring options on the floor in nearly every set making it more difficult for teams to double team.
Most years, the team with the best player is, at the very least, in the finals. They don't always win, but they get deep into the postseason. So far this season, James Harden is the best player in the NBA. With all due respect to Stephon Curry and Anthony Davis, Harden has had to do more with less and carry this team on his shoulders much of the season. The team will go as far as he goes and that could be a long way.