O.T.T.T: The Rockets Will Be Just Fine
The Rockets are off to a rough start, losing four out of its first five games. Two of the losses were blow outs at home, once in the season opener against the Pelicans and then against the Clippers. Given the slow start and major changes to the roster and coaching staff, its easy to panic. This is what I have to say:
Relax. We’re going to be absolutely fine.
Yes, the Rockets have been quite awful on defense. They’ve allowed 118.8 points per game, which ranks them sixth worst in the entire league. But look at how many players have been out. The full squad has only played two games together, given the suspensions and injuries to Chris Paul, James Harden, James Ennis, Zhou Qi, Marquese Chriss, Brandon Knight, and Nene. That’s seven rotation players who have missed time, and there’s no way the team could game plan and build chemistry in their absences. The good news is that each of those guys should return soon, and the Rockets can get back to playing solid defense.
After the second loss to the Clippers, Coach D’Antoni initially said he would abandon the switch-everything defense in favor of something more traditional. Without specifically calling out Melo, there’s no doubt that he’s the primary target getting roasted by opponents after the switch. However, D’Antoni changed courses after reviewing the statistics. He noted that opponents only scored 0.96 points per possession on switches, which would actually rank the Rockets’ defense as second best in the league. The coaching staff has some work to do, but I’m confident they’ll figure things out alongside the analytics team.
The main offensive concern is of course how Melo fits in. There’s some good news to that end; Melo’s shooting has significantly improved. After starting the season shooting an ice cold 3 of 15 from three, Melo has connected on 9 of 18 in the last two games. His shooting selection has conformed to Rockets standards, meaning the bulk of his shots are either at the rim or from behind the arc. Check out the differences in the charts below that compare his shot selection year over year. 73% of his shots this year have been in the restricted area or a three-point attempt, which is a huge increase from last year’s mark of 56%.
Shot charts from NBA.com
In summary, the Rockets have 77 games to figure things out before the Playoffs. There is also a decent chance that they land Jimmy Butler (how the heck can Minnesota truly turn down four draft picks), which in my opinion would put them right beside the Warriors. For now, let’s just breathe, take in Aaron Rodgers’ advice, and RELAX.