Rockets Firing on All Cylinders
Currently, the Houston Rockets are in 1st place in the Western Conference. This puts them ahead of the Avengers like superhero lineup of the Golden State Warriors who were expected to challenge their own record of 73 wins. The Rockets have done this even with Chris Paul missing most of this early regular season due to his balky left knee. They are near the top of every offensive category and even playing top 5 defense. Most importantly, they are having fun playing basketball and running like a finely tuned Mike D’Antoni designed Italian sports car.
James Harden has been the clear-cut early season MVP. He is playing better than LeBron James, the Greek Freak(Giannis Antetokounmpo), the Kristaps Porzingis experience and the Warriors two-headed fire breathers Kevin Durant & Stephen Curry. Harden is leading the league in scoring (31.4) and assists (9.8) while going for the hallowed Tiny Archibald record of leading the NBA in both categories. Tiny’s team didn’t win like these Rockets, though. Harden’s PER is 3rd right now at 30.5.
The role players are all doing their part as well. Eric Gordon is running away with 6th Man of the Year again with 19.2 points/game. Clint Capela should be an All-Star as he racks up consistent double-doubles (13.7 pts and 11.3 boards) and sending back 1.7 shots a game. Heck, he is even leading the league in offensive rating.
Is Chris Paul a role player on this team? He gets to do exactly what he is best at on this team: setting up others with assists. Recently, he had a game against the Brooklyn Nets where he recorded only 4 points but 14 assists. This man has built a Hall of Fame resume on racking up assists and this season is no different. In his 7 games as a Rockets, he is chipping in 11 pts and 10 assists while shooting nearly 40% from 3. When CP3 was acquired this summer we wondered if he could play at the Rockets pace...he has been exceptional!
Averaging almost 114 points a game, the freewheeling Rockets are winning by more than 10 points per game. They have the second highest offensive rating (114.7) in the NBA and are the 5th ranked defense (103.8). The are firing at will from 3 with a league leading 44.4 attempts per game and making 36% of their long distance shots. For those of us who aren’t math majors (myself included), the Rockets are scoring 47 points per game on three point shots.
That number is eye opening to fans and demoralizing to opponents. For fans in love with the game of basketball, there are two types of shots that are the most dramatic: a breakaway slam dunk and a shot from 3 point land. Watching a picture perfect jump shooter pull up from behind the line, tracing the trajectory of parabolic descent, and resulting in a silken splash is exhilarating for the crowd. Three pointers are especially devastating to opponents because they just gave up 3 on one end and need to earn at least 2 back on offense. Against a team like the Rockets who are hoisting 3’s at an historic clip, those defense bending, back breaking extra point shots come in rapid succession and can build up that 10 point margin of victory in a few possessions.
The Rockets are really both the most exciting and boringest team in basketball. Nearly every game is a 10 point blowout win and they are scoring effortlessly. Clint Capela blocked shots are fun but his parade of alley-oops has become so routine as to be meh. They do everything on offense with speed and precision. Harden and Paul are the maestros that make everything go and, so far, they are the best team in the West.