Forget about Daryl Morey and what his analytics and stats say. Do the Houston Rockets look like championship contenders? It may be too soon to decide, so you won’t get any predictions here. But the Houston Rockets are an interesting study. As long as Houston doesn’t cling to a championship-or-bust mentality, there are plenty of cornerstones to continue building with. But for 2013-2014, the season has been bad and good, both sides of the coin. Let’s compare what the statistics say to what the pundits see as the necessities of winning a championship.
Defense wins championships (we’re looking at you, James Harden)
Most winning proponents point to the fact that ultimately, defense wins championships. No team in the NBA has ever won a championship with the attitude that they will simply outscore the other team on any given night. If this is the case, let me present the following video as Exhibit A, in the case of why the Rockets will ultimately fail in the play offs.
This is an atrocious example of a player who believes he needs to save his energy for the offensive end of the floor. Harden plays defense about 50 per cent of the time, which in the playoffs, is the difference between winning and losing a series. Some people may comment that this game had occurred earlier in the season. And to those people I say: exactly. The beginning of the season is when players usually put in the most effort, which begins to dwindle over time as the season progresses due to physical and mental fatigue. This was James Harden at his sharpest, and the seeds of bad habits he’s currently planting will manifest come April. When you watch stuff like this you have to wonder, can statistics ever measure the effort of a player?
Dwight Howard is back, and that’s good and bad
Dwight Howard, statistically, is still a monster. His individual rebounding statistics are still tops in the league, and he is shooting 63 per cent at the rim (including 45 per cent from outside of the paint). And although that’s where the excitement begins, that is also where it ends. It’s clear that the Houston Rockets, at times, force-feed the ball to Howard in the post in order to keep the center happy.
It was no secret in Orlando and Los Angeles that Dwight wanted more touches in order to “show off” his offensive game. But is breaking from an offense that gets the team involved, simply to placate one player’s desires, a recipe for success? Does a selfish “me first” attitude translate into winning a championship?
Lack of depth and team chemistry
This can very well change by the trade deadline, but the Houston Rockets are lacking depth at each position, especially if they continue to not play Omer Asik. Apart from the starting-five Omer Asik and Patrick Beverley, the Rockets have no substitutes for any of its wing positions. Factor in that Asik wants out of the Rockets organization, and you’re left with a six-man squad. This team, as is (especially with Asik so disengaged), cannot win the championship.
In order to improve its odds and improve chemistry, Asik needs to go for another defensive wing, and possibly another big man to back up Dwight Howard. There are reports however, that the Rockets have made the price for Asik too high, demanding a first-round pick as compensation for the poison pill contract (Asik’s last year of his contract pays him in the $15-mil range) they served Asik to lure him away from the Bulls only a year ago. If no other franchise bites, it may turn out that Asik turns the corner once the Rockets reach deep into the playoffs, but a grumbling player rarely, if ever, has turned into a happy one without a change of scenery. In fact, if anything, he might even be traded before today is out if the internet pundits have their way.
The issues are out there, but the ball is in Houston’s court. Let’s see what they do and how they improve as the season moves towards the fourth quarter.