It's early in the Rockets season...like really early. But they are 1-5, getting pummeled at home by an average of 17 points and looking completely overmatched in nearly every way possible. You may say it is too early to panic, but remember that the Rockets fired then coach Kevin McHale in 2015 after the team opened the season 4-7. They ended that season 41-41 and bowed out in the first round of the playoffs.
Like this current team, that 2015 team was high on promise and expectations, but low on defense and results. They ranked 25th in defense and struggled through a barely mediocre year before regrouping in the offseason.
This current team has far more talent than 2015-16, but in the Western Conference, you can't get too far behind or risk being resigned to an afterthought by December. Here are four things we are concerned about early on.
What happened to the shooting?
We all know that the Rockets are not good defensively (more on that in a second), but this team has been in the top five offensively for four or five seasons now. They were second only to Golden State last season. This year, they are 26th in offensive rating, 26th in scoring, 28th in point differential (they led that category last year) 29th in field goal percentage, 21st in three-point percentage and, of all things, 27th in free throw percentage. As Chris Paul, in reference to himself, said recently, this team "can't hit the ocean from the boat."
Remarkably, this team is only 12th in turnovers, so much of their problems stem from simply missing shots. You might want to skip these next stats if you are squeamish:
Chris Paul is shooting 39 percent from the field and 34 percent from three.
Gerald Green is shooting 38 percent from the field and 29 percent from three.
Carmelo Anthony is shooting 37 percent from the field and 34 percent from three.
Eric Gordon is shooting 30 percent from the field and 23 percent from three.
Simply put, that is a disaster. For all their problems on the other end of the floor, and there are plenty, if this team doesn't turn around some of their shooting woes, they aren't going to beat anyone.
Chemistry on the floor doesn't match off the floor.
An overplayed narrative in all team sports is the "these guys love each other" or "they are friends off the court." Fact is, there have been championship teams who fought regularly in the locker room. It's great if teammates hold hands and sing "Kumbaya" but only if that togetherness is reflected between the lines and at important moments.
There are certainly plenty of new moving parts on this team. With Marquese Chriss back on the floor and Brandon Knight eventually (we assume) returning from injury, more players will enter the rotation, especially since the current rotations aren't working. But, that doesn't explain how poorly organized they are on the floor and how often they are simply out of sync with one another.
Being buddies is great, but unless it translates to Ws, it wouldn't matter if they were mortal enemies off the floor.
Early injuries don't bode well.
Last year, Paul had a knee injury in the first game that cost him a month of the season. For the Rockets this year, the injuries appear to be more nuisance than season ending, but they have piled up. James Ennis has only played in three games and James Harden in four, the latter of those two injures being the biggest obvious concern. Chriss has returned, but Knight remains out. Michael Carter-Williams has been on a minutes restriction — not that he probably doesn't deserve this based simply for his play on the court — and Nene is still a ways from coming back.
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With the team struggling so badly, getting every player back that can play is critically important not only to develop a rhythm but just to give them options on nights when it seems like no one can make a basket even if they are standing directly underneath it and no defender within 30 feet.
Maybe Jeff Bzdelik was more important than we thought.
A lot continues to be made about the losses of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. It is reasonable at this point to assume that Ariza was a not insignificant amount of glue that held the team together, at least defensively. But, with the retiring of assistant head coach Jeff Bzdelik, the man behind the defensive schemes that launched the Rockets to one of the better teams at that end of the floor in the league last season, it is worth wondering if his daily reinforcement of how they need to play D was more important than we imagined.
More likely it is the cumulative impact of the losses of Bzdelik, Ariza and Mbah a Moute coupled with the addition of new players, a shorter training camp and numerous injures, never mind the real possibility that this is just not as good a team, chemistry wise, than last season. And when you consider that this team is now one of the worst defensive squads in the NBA, it doesn't really matter where the blame gets assigned, only that it is our new reality in Houston.