As I said this morning, I’m pretty okay with it. I wrote last week as to why I would have been willing to part with assets in an Ibaka trade. As I outlined, also in that piece, Ibaka has declined significantly from the production upon which his reputation was originally built. Still, I would have done it, if for no other reason than that his outside shooting would have lifted the theoretical ceiling on this team. But I get why the asking price might have been too rich for Daryl Morey’s liking, particularly for a rental. Because for the Rockets, unlike the case with the Raptors, this move almost definitely would have been a rental.
I still do strongly expect Morey to make a move ahead of the deadline. However, Ibaka was the last big name in play.
Right now, the Rockets are sixth in overall field goal percentage at 46.6%. They are now down to twelfth in three point percentage at 36.5%. (On November 23, they were fifth). They still lead the league in three point attempts by a wide margin over the Cleveland Cavaliers, at 39.8 attempts per game. And they also lead the league in threes made.
The Rockets have now fallen to twelfth in total rebounding percentage. On November 23, they were at third. In offensive rebounding percentage, they are tenth in the league, and in defensive rebounding percentage, they are seventeenth. (They were fourth and tenth, respectively on November 23. With Dwight Howard last year, they were sixth and last). So the rebounding has gotten worse over the course of the season, but I don’t know how much of that is a factor of Clint Capela’s absence and Nene just wearing down over the course of the year.
The turnover problem seems to have improved. The Rockets now have the seventh highest percentage, after having the third highest on November 23. Last year, they had the fourth highest.
And lastly, pace is up to fourth, behind Brooklyn, Golden State, and Phoenix. On November 23, the Rockets were fourteenth in pace. (Seventh last season). So it does seem they’ve started playing faster as everyone expected. Recall that upon the revelation on November 23rd (after a relatively healthy fourteen game sample size) that the team was meddling at the fourteenth fastest pace in the league, contrary to all expectations, we as a group theorized that Harden was inherently dissimilar to Steve Nash due to his tendency to walk the ball up the court. He’s either sped things up in gaining familiarity with the system, or, this is the effect of a different significant factor: replacing Tyler Ennis with Patrick Beverley. The November 23 statistics did not reflect Beverley’s presence in the lineup, and the second unit spearheaded by Pat almost always pushes the pace at a frantic rate.
We’re a few days now away from the break, and the Rockets sit tied with the Toronto Raptors at second in offensive rating at 111.5 points per 100 possessions, behind the league-leading Warriors. They’ve climbed up to eleventh in defensive rating, just a mere tenth of a percentage point behind the ninth ranked New Orleans Pelicans and tenth ranked Detroit Pistons. (Pelicans/Pistons = 105.1; Rockets = 105.2). The seventh ranked Oklahoma City Thunder give up 104.8 points per possession, and the eighth ranked Charlotte Hornets give up 104.9. Thus, Houston is basically knocking on the door of cracking the top 10 in defense, while having the second best offense in the league. Add in that they are third in net rating at 6.2, behind the Warriors and San Antonio Spurs, and there really shouldn’t remain any doubt regarding whether this team is a contender.
The defensive rating in particular is a surprising revelation. After their struggles in January, I would have guessed that the team would have hovered back towards the middle of the pack. Instead, they’re basically right at the all-important “top 10 in both offense and defense.” We said in the preseason that if the Rockets could have one of the league’s best offenses, and a defense around 15-20, they’d have a chance to win 50 games. With a defense just inches out of the top 7, one can see why 60 wins was very realistically in play.
Just one game this week, and it isn’t even until Wednesday when Houston hosts the Miami Heat at Toyota Center. After the emotional rollercoaster of having their 13-game winning streak snapped the other night, I think the Heat come out flat and play true to their 24-31 record. Prediction: Rockets by 70.
After a perfect week, Houston has widened its lead over the 4-seed Jazz, now comfortably entrenched in third. The Rockets are now back on pace to win 58 games. Unless Kawhi Leonard goes down for any extended period of time, I don’t see Houston passing San Antonio. And I don’t even know what to make of the Jazz, Clippers, and Grizzlies. With as poorly as Houston was playing before this week, I would’ve thought one of those teams would have made up ground. But the Rockets now seem to be getting back to their early-season selves, and this extended break will only help.
And consider this: sitting at 40-17, Houston will have a chance on Wednesday to match Vegas’ 41 win odds, just before heading into the break. Alright then.
from the editor
My favorite darkhorse is Houston. Can you even imagine Hakeem Olajuwon running the pick-and-roll with James Harden in Mike D’Antoni’s offense? Hakeem dominated the ’80s, but a wide-open game would make him even more unfair, and that’s before you factor in Harden. That pick-and-roll alone, and that tandem, would be so unstoppable that it puts the Rockets in the conference finals almost by default. Apologies to Karl Malone on the Jazz, Bob McAdoo on the Clippers, and even Duncan and Kawhi. Nobody is touching Hakeem and Harden.
This was a fun thought experiment by Andrew Sharp in adding the best player in franchise history to each current NBA team. Aside from adding Wilt to the Warriors, Sharp seems to think Hakeem and Harden would be the team to beat in this alternate universe. But how exactly would it work? The defense of course would vault into the top 10 as Olajuwon would expand upon Clint Capela’s shot blocking without suffering from the same problems plaguing Houston’s current crop of bigs. I don’t really need to elaborate much upon the potential impact on this team defensively of possibly the greatest big man defender in league history.
But would James willingly defer to Olajuwon in the post during critical moments? We know from Hakeem’s statements these past few years in mentoring Dwight Howard how he feels about the importance of post play. I do not think he would willingly defer to Harden. And thus, I’m not sure either player would blossom into what each eventually became or has become. This duo would face the same theoretical conundrum which would have been faced by the theoretical Jordan-Drexler-Olajuwon trio had Houston and Portland agreed to terms on the now-fantasized Portland-Houston ’85 draft night swap of Ralph Sampson to the Blazers. Hell, maybe they would have made it work. Hakeem’s post-game was OF COURSE respect-worthy, something you couldn’t say about Dwight Howard, and Harden blows away any guard Olajuwon ever played with. Sometimes game recognize game.