Another week, another installment of the Red94 Mailbag! Thanks again to everyone that submitted questions as the Rockets go through a very strange stretch of the season given their inconsistent play and the news regarding Carmelo Anthony. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s set of questions!
It’s no secret that a main culprit in this very slow start for the Rockets is Eric Gordon. Simply put, Gordon can’t put the ball through the net so far this season, as he is posting a 42.6 true shooting percentage and has hit just 23.5 percent of his 3-pointers, a far cry from his career average of 37.3 percent.
To make matters worse, Gordon is struggling on wide open shots, as he is 9-41 (22 percent) on wide-open 3-pointers (wide open is defined as no defender within 6 feet of the shooter). Just for reference, Gordon hit 43.3 percent of such shots last season, so the number has to come up moving forward. Unfortunately, it just seems that Gordon is going through one of, if not the worst shooting slump of his career right when the Rockets have been dealing with injuries, inconsistent play and a tough schedule.
With that being said, to address the question, I’m not sure what options the Rockets have when it comes to Gordon. The most recent reporting mentioned that the Rockets altered their final offer for Jimmy Butler to include Gordon, Nene and two first round picks. Perhaps the Timberwolves didn’t care about draft picks and preferred to receive to win-now players, but Gordon’s poor play so far certainly didn’t help his trade value.
The Rockets will likely continue to shop Gordon around, but he doesn’t have much value to non-contending/playoff teams as he is not capable of running an offense or being a true focal point of a team’s attack. In the long-run, this level of play from Gordon should concern the Rockets’ front office as Gordon enters the final year of his contract next season. At this moment, I wouldn’t have any plans to offer an extension before his deal is up or even try to re-sign him in 2020 free agency given the amount he will likely demand.
The Rockets sure seem enamored with Bazemore, after trying to make him their marquee free agency signing in 2016 and then looking to acquire him this past summer by using Ryan Anderson and draft assets. Now that Jimmy Butler is off the table, lowering their trade expectations to a player like Bazemore does make a lot of sense for Houston, as he is a three-&-D wing the Rockets could really use in the rotation.
This season, Bazemore is averaging 14.9 points, 4.1 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.8 steals and nearly 1 block per game, highlighting his ability to contribute in various facets of the game. Furthermore, Bazemore owns a positive DBPM and the Hawks’ defense is 16.9 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor (per Cleaning the Glass). Despite going through a cold shooting stretch to start the season (just 31.8 percent on 3-pointers compared to 39.4 percent last season), Bazemore is a more than willing and capable shooter to space the floor.
The question then becomes what would the Rockets have to give up to acquire Bazemore? Since the Hawks are in the early stages of their rebuild, they will be focused on young players and draft assets, which the Rockets don’t really have. Perhaps using Knight and Chriss along with a first round pick would be enough for Atlanta, especially with the Rockets’ 2019 first round pick looking like it could very well be in the late teens/early 20s if they are one of the lower playoff seeds.
Speaking of shooting slumps, Chris Paul also appears to be going through one of the worst of his career, as he is struggling from all over the floor this season. However, Paul has looked to regain his shooting touch in recent games, a good sign for the Rockets. A career 61 percent finisher around the rim, Paul has converted just 52.2 percent of such shots to start this season. On shots within 3 and 10 feet of the rim, Paul has hit just 34.5 percent, a steep drop-off from his 44.6 percent conversion rate last season. Heck, Paul can’t even hit his free throws, as he is down to just 77.1 percent so far, a far cry from the 91.9 percent rate he posted last season.
Furthermore, Paul is just 5-13 on wide open shots this season and has knocked down 34.8 percent of his 3-pointers. Paul has mentioned that he is bothered by an elbow injury, which is one that would certainly affect a shooter. With his shot not falling from pretty much anywhere on the floor, Paul has been a bit more hesitant to shoot at times, a recipe for disaster for the Rockets’ offense, especially when he is leading the second unit.
So far this season, the Rockets’ offense has actually been 1.4 points per 100 possessions worse when Paul is on the floor (though he is having a stronger defensive impact so far this season, with the team’s defense improving by 6 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court).
Right now, it’s still too early to simply chalk this up to age-related decline that is expected moving forward. Paul appears to simply be in a tough shooting slump (which has unfortunately coincided with another slump from Gordon). If the past two games (47 combined points on 60 percent shooting from the field) are any indication, everyone just needs to give him some more time to get over the elbow issue and start hitting some shots, as that would be a key remedy for the Rockets’ early season offensive woes.