Sports

Five Areas of Growth to Look for From the Rockets This Season

Jalen Green throws down an emphatic dunk against Detroit.
Jalen Green throws down an emphatic dunk against Detroit. Screenshot
"Growth." It was the one thing coach Stephen Silas said he was most looking for from his young roster of players that includes four rookies and a guy starting at point guard for the first time in his career. As we've seen from the 1-9 start, it's been messy and no one should expect growth to equal wins this season. Any team this loaded with youth will experience a lot of heartache on the scoreboard.

What we should expect, however, are some noticeable improvements throughout the season on the floor, particularly from the rookies. The biggest leap (not from dunks which we are going to see a lot of this year) is likely to come in the offseason when players can increase their strength and work on individual components of their games, but the experience on the floor for the next 70-plus games will be invaluable.

Here's where we should look for those improvements.

Handling Officiating

Most players complain about officials. Hell, most fans complain about officials. But young players, particularly those not used to the speed and physical nature of the NBA, are going to get frustrated when they don't get calls they are used to getting. In truth, they shouldn't expect them. The Association has always favored veterans when it comes to making calls and, more critically, veterans know how to get away with things. That comes with experience these young guys don't have yet. Keeping their composure when it feels like the refs are calling things unfairly will be something they must grasp in order to take the next step in their development.


Shot Selection

If you have noticed the rather paltry shooting percentages from many of the Rockets players, particularly guys like Jalen Green, who will eventually shoot much better from three than the sub-30 percent mark he is currently sporting, don't be. Shot selection has often been atrocious early this season. Some of it comes from making poor decisions on offense — rushing shots, taking ill-advised step backs, driving into traffic with acrobatic athleticism. Some is the result of when the adrenaline wears off and fatigue sets in. But, it's also a case of not fully understanding how to take advantage of NBA defenses. Teams are going to pressure the Rockets because they know so far it has rattled them, leading to a lot of misfires. When they are open, they make shots. But, they haven't had a lot of open shots to take so far.

Defensive Rotations

Perhaps one of the most difficult things for any player to learn is where to be on defense. It is the most critical component of good team defensive strategies and requires loads of communication and a knack for understanding the game. Right now, the Rockets are relying mainly on hustle to account for their defense. That youthful energy can result in fast breaks generated by steals and spectacular blocks. But, it can also lead to cheating, giving up uncontested threes and open layups. This is particularly true in transition where teams have already successfully run out on the Rockets repeatedly when the man who was supposed to get back on defense doesn't. This will be a long, slow work in progress for this team, but we should be able to see some improvement, especially in transition where the combination of speed and athleticism the Rockets possess gives them an advantage.

Matching Physicality

To a player, the rookies have all said the physical play of the NBA has most surprised them. As Green put it early in the season, these aren't kids out there, they are grown men. As much as the league has restricted overly physical play to help speed up the game, running into a guy whose living for the last decade is to build muscle has got to be an eye opener. The Rockets rookies aren't suddenly going to get radically stronger during the season. That will have to wait for the hours and hours of daily training next summer. But, for now, they can adjust their games to adapt to how they are being played and get used to the nightly pounding they have to endure to be in the NBA.

Turnovers

The Rockets are dead last in turnovers. They give it up nearly 20 times per game. For perspective, good teams are around 12-13. Most teams that like to play fast as the Rockets do would settle for 15-16. And even among those, you can live with turnovers that come out of aggressive play. What you don't want are loose handles from your guards, errant passes in traffic and bad decision making. The Rockets have had it all so far. As the team gradually develops a solid rotation and begins to learn each others strengths and weaknesses, they will improve. Against Detroit, Theis and Kevin Porter, Jr. had a turnover when Porter tried to throw a bounce pass in traffic. Theis pointed up indicating he'd rather get a pass towards the basket than at his knees. Next possession, Porter threw a perfect alley oop to Theis who slammed it down. We will need to see a lot more of that as they slog through a season of learning.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke