Five Ds that Must Define the Rockets' Development
It would be nearly impossible, just days after one of the most heartbreakingly awful losses in team history, to try and grade the Rockets season. At this point, all I remember when Damian Lillard hit that three pointer was an entire sports bar in Austin letting out a collective "NO" and my friend slamming his bar stool over and over to the floor while yelling at the top of his lungs. So, I'm going to set aside, for the moment, my feelings on the season and instead first focus on what is to come.
Photo by Still Burning via Flickr D-Fence...get it?
When thinking back to the shortcomings of the Rockets over the course of the regular season and playoffs, it was clear that those weaknesses were magnified when they reached the postseason. That is almost always the case. Things teams do well tend to take a hit and things they do poorly often become more pronounced, particularly if the opponent is savvy enough to exploit them. That was certainly the case with the Rockets when facing Portland.
To improve, it will take more than just Xs and Os. They will need to overhaul the way they think about the game. Hakeem Olajuwon led the Rockets to two titles after he learned to trust his teammates. It was his change of mind-set that reshaped the team and altered its fortunes. This squad needs a similar shift in thinking if it wants to get beyond the first round and deep into the playoffs.
GM Daryl Morey's philosophy that threes and points in the paint are the only shots worth taking the majority of the time is well known to basketball fans. But, in order to execute that concept on offense the team must have the players to do it. In Dwight Howard, they have a legitimate post up threat along with an offensive rebounder in Terrence Jones. They also have players who can get to the rim in James Harden and Chandler Parsons. What they lack are three-point shooters.
In the regular season, the Rockets ranked 16th in three-point percentage out of 30 teams hitting almost 36 percent from downtown. In the playoffs, they dropped to 13 out of 16 teams at under 32 percent. This, despite leading all teams in attempts from beyond the arc in the regular season, and trailing only teams that went to a game seven in the playoffs. Their best two three-point shooters were a D-League call up (Troy Daniels) and a guy they traded (Aaron Brooks) at the deadline. Their rotations players (Harden, Parsons and Patrick Beverley) all shot in the mid-30 percent range and only Francisco Garcia got above 35 percent -- barely -- for the season.
For Morey's three-happy philosophy to work, they must improve on their percentages, which likely means bringing in better shooters.
No one who watched the team all season would suggest the Rockets did not give good effort. They clearly were a hard working team, but like so many aspects of the game for them, it was inconsistent. Too often, opponents burned them defensively due to lackluster perimeter defense -- something that is defined by effort -- and they got down too easily when their own shots weren't falling.
This can be, to a degree, a result of inexperience. This was the youngest team in the playoffs and certainly the least experienced even with Howard. Bitter defeats like the one in Portland can have the effect of pushing players to be better. Good teams often get better because their will to win becomes as strong as their hatred of losing.
Howard said after game six that he told the other players you can never sit back on your heals or things like Lillard's three happen. He knows this is a problem in the locker room that must be corrected to avoid collapses like the ones so common to the Rockets this season.