Four Takeaways from the Rockets Disjointed Start

James Harden is carrying the scoring load for the Rockets, but like most of the team, he is mired in a shooting slump.
James Harden is carrying the scoring load for the Rockets, but like most of the team, he is mired in a shooting slump. Photo by Eric Sauseda
The beginning of the 2019-20 season for the Houston Rockets hasn't exactly started how they would have liked. At 4-3, they have been wildly inconsistent and played the type of defense you typically only see on a playground. Still, they began last season far worse and still managed to be in position for the second best record in the Western Conference until the last day of the season.

There is a LOT of time left in the season, but here are some early-season takeaways.

Scoring has not been an issue.

The Rockets can still score with anyone, as evidenced by the 159-point outburst against the Wizards. This may be a league that prizes scoring and creates rules to make it as easy as possible, but the Rockets take advantage as well as any team in the Association. If anyone was worrying about the Rockets not being able to put points on the board, they needn't concern themselves with that.

But, shooting has.

While they have been scoring like crazy, they have been shooting abysmally. The Rockets are 25th in field goal percentage, 27th in three-point percentage, yet are sixth in offensive rating thanks primarily to pace (they are second in the NBA in that category and fifth in field goal attempts per game) and to free throw shooting. They lead the league in attempts from the charity stripe. If they ever get their outside shooting together, they might score 200.

The James Harden-Russell Westbrook chemistry shows promise.

Despite the struggles, it is becoming clear that the concerns over who would get the ball when was overblown. Both guards have shown a propensity for sharing the ball, almost to a fault. Harden remains a scoring monster and Westbrook is still a triple-double machine. The chemistry is still a bit iffy with the team trying to figure out when to run and where certain guys want the ball on the floor. But, offensively at least, Harden and Westbrook are as dynamic as imagined.

Somebody needs to play some defense.

The biggest issue facing the Rockets, however, is defense. It is hard to overlook allowing more than 110 points to every team they have faced save one or the fact that they have given up more than 120 points four times including 158 in a win at Washington. Run outs and poor rotations on defense have been the main culprits, which should be able to be fixed, but the overall chemistry of this team defensively is odd. It remains to be seen if they can become even a top 15 team on defense as guys like Harden and Westbrook aren't really wired for defense first. And no matter how many points they score, getting stops must become this team's priority going forward.
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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