As I noted earlier in the morning, the Rockets are now trending in the right direction. While offense has dropped to third, defense is now up to 16th. This time last week, defense was 23rd. As you know, the goal is to have both a top-10 offense and defense. The offense was never in question.
You can also see that DREB% seems to have settled in and has been roughly 15th all season. That’s the biggest improvement from last season where the team finished 29th and was abysmal even during their stellar second half following the All-Star break. I would surmise that you can contribute the majority of this to the addition of Russell Westbrook, as was expected.
Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but I think you’re going to see the Rockets settle in to around 8th or 9th in defensive rating before its all done. They were 29th two weeks ago. I’m attributing this to the fact that not only has Clint Capela rounded into form after a disappointing start, but the team is still incorporating some new pieces in Ben McLemore and Tyson Chandler, with new coaching after the departure of Jeff Bzdelik. Of course, it all hinges on the effort level and focus of James Harden and Westbrook.
James Harden put the Rockets on his back to the tune of 47 points and it didn’t even feel like that big of a deal because the point total wasn’t anything beyond the norm. There’s really nothing left to say about this guy, from an offensive perspective. Harden was clearly the best player on the floor while sharing the court with a guy who hilariously has been compared to Michael Jordan recently by some media members after beating a crippled Warriors team in the Finals. Don’t get me started on this.
I felt really good after the win but also extremely uneasy given the completely expected trend we’re seeing now with regularity of teams leaving Russell Westbrook completely wide open at the three point line when James Harden has the basketball. Last night Russ went 2-8. This is something we talked about last summer and its not going to get any better because Russ is just a very poor shooter. It was funny because on one of his two makes, he caught the ball and dribbled it once, almost to simulate the off-the-dribble rhythm he is clearly so much more comfortable with. Having Danuel House and Eric Gordon back will help mitigate against this but Russ will clearly always be the open man. He’s so explosively quick that on several questions, he was able to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket even when a defender wasn’t necessarily closing out. As of right now, as great a hindrance as his poor shooting is, I think his greatest value is just giving James Harden a break every few possessions to where Harden can loaf around on the perimeter while Russ plays 4 on 4. As strange as this sounds, as magnificent as Harden is and has been, maybe just a break every now and then is all he really needs to finally get over the hump? This is very much a developing story.
Clint has come back with a vengeance after my slander, which is good to see. He is safe for now from my wrath.
Ben McLemore is making me look very bad right now. Seize the opportunity young man. Distinguish yourself from Hasheem Thabeet and become the first former lottery bust to break through in red!
8-3. Wow. The Rockets will win 60 games most likely. And this time last week it felt like the world was ending.
Let’s not get it twisted. Despite how bad Eric Gordon has looked to start the season, and despite how many times he trolls me on Twitter by liking one of my critical tweets, this team absolutely needs Gordon to win the championship. He was their second best player in last season’s playoffs. And I’ve remarked in the past that Eric Gordon being ‘on’ is what transforms the Rockets’ offense from merely historically great to video game level.
He defends, has range out to three feet beyond the arc, and can put the ball on the deck – a combination of skills typically found in All-Star level players and why he is slated to earn $20 million a year after this season. Get well, soon.
There’s a silver lining. I think the Rockets should be able to navigate the regular season without Gordon on the strength of their two ironman A-listers. It’s the postseason when they’d really need Gordon. This gives more of a chance to Ben McLemore and Chris Clemons, two youngsters who I’ve latched onto in the Red94 annual tradition of overhyping any prospect under 30 with a pulse. Seriously, I think McLemore can be Daryl’s first successful lottery bust reclamation and the last rookie guard I can remember being able to heat it up as quickly as Clemons was Aaron Brooks. And Brooks was looking like he was on pace to have a fringe All-Star career before an ankle sprain sent him to China.
Other silver lining is that this obviates D’Antoni’s impulse to f*** around with that Harden/Westbrook/Gordon starting lineup that he so desperately wants to roll with for some reason. Because not starting House at this point is malpractice.
Grand master plan for today: Clemons goes nuts and proves himself to be a viable NBA player, averaging like 11 points per game off the bench on 43% shooting from ‘3’ with a couple of 20 point nights mixed in. Gordon comes back before the trade deadline. The Rockets then use Clemons as the sweetener in a trade to acquire the 6’9 defensive wing they’ve been missing. Oh wait, that can’t happen because they don’t have any salary filler to use in a trade because Tilman already made Morey dump all of it. Never mind.