The new Rockets have a new look. Not only is Dwight Howard adding his face to the yearbook this season, but there’s something different about the way the games have played out. The wins are there, the three pointers are there and the offense is there. Unfortunately the turnovers are there, too. And even more than that, the fouls are there in huge amounts. Is this an ongoing condition or will the style and pace shift back as the season progresses?
Much of the Rockets gameplan is the same. Apart from some post moves from Dwight Howard, the team has a similar goal: shoot threes, hit layups and convert defense into fast break opportunities. It’s only been three games, which is center stage at small sample size theater, but some trends have emerged. The Rockets are shooting similarly to last year, but their other tendencies are a little different. The Rockets are scoring a few more points, giving up a few less, Grabbing a couple more rebounds, and dishing out a few less assists.The turnovers are also much increased, which is the greatest cause for concern. The biggest swing, however, has been in an unusual area; the Rockets are getting fouled significantly more often.
The Rockets are being fouled over 7 more times per game than last season, and those fouls have resulted in 14 more free throws per game. That’s a stark change, and it’s had a profound impact on the way the Rockets play basketball. The Ömer Aşık/Dwight Howard riddle may still need a long-term answer, but the answer other teams seem to have chosen is a combination of zone defense and hard fouls.given Howard and Aşık’s free throw percentages, teams seem willing to employ hacking tactics to slow the Rockets down and disrupt their rhythm. So far, the Rockets have been able to weather the storms with aplomb.
The disruption, however, is there. The Rockets have been shooting well in aggregate, but have experienced long droughts and poor halves. The offense looks sluggish and confused at times, resulting in turnovers. Additionally, teams seem willing to foul and therefore play physically even when fouls aren’t being whistled. This physical play has been a bane to the Rockets so far, but hasn’t cost them a game yet.
Will teams continue to foul Houston all season long? Will Smite-a-Dwight be the plan of action in the last half of every game this year? Will players like Lin, Harden and Parsons have to fight off minor injuries more than normal this year because they’re being collapsed on physically after they drive the lane? The answer to that question may hinge on the game against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers have a large frontcourt and are liable to get in on the fouling and body checking action. If Houston wants to be able to play a game without 27 fouls committed on them, they’ll have to prove that the fouls aren’t helping. Fouls and zone defenses helped the Jazz stay in the game, which won’t help Houston. Instead, the Rockets will need to beat a few elite teams to make their rivals question their choices.
If the Rockets can’t force teams to change their plan of attack, These alterations are unlikely to be a flash in the pan. Turnovers, fouls and endless free throws may just become part of the Rockets’ experience. The team has only slowed down a little bit from last year, but it feels like a different offense. The Rockets may look sloppy at the moment, but they’re getting the job done anyway. If they can keep it up, we may see some running and gunning back in Houston again.