On the early season returns

  • I didn’t think we would be 4-3 at this point. I actually thought that after the loss to the Bucks, we would run the table all the way up until the Clippers game. I went on my podcast and predicted that. That’s 9-1. We really did not take advantage of what turned out to look like the easiest opening schedule in NBA history.
  • It’s funny how quickly this season took a turn for the worst in terms of feel. After the loss to the Bucks, despite the collapse down the stretch and the baffling decisions from Mike D’Antoni, I felt pretty good and optimistic about how the team looked. A week later, the sky is falling and it becomes clear these guys aren’t interested in defending anyone.
  • As I’ve been saying, while I thought defense would slip, I never would have guessed that it would fall all the way down to 29th just from the addition of Westbrook and subtraction of Paul. (Though of course the loss of Bzdelik has a lot to do with it too.)
  • I think a big part of the defensive drop-off is psychological in that its correlated with the drastic increase in pace. When you’re playing at the breakneck speed at which the Rockets are playing, I feel like you’re more inclined to think, on any given possession, “eh, we can just get it back at the other end.” Whereas when you’re playing slower and more methodical, it would lend more towards focusing in on both sides because when scoring takes the time it does, you don’t want to just give it back up at the other end.
  • I love Danuel House and Ben McLemore. I’m sure I’ll be writing about this a lot.

Future hall of famer and NBA champion Richard Jefferson went on “The Jump” and made some pretty grand statements. While lamenting over the recent poor defensive performance of the Houston Rockets, he also indicated that they will not have a successful season this year.

“I hate to tell good people bad things but your team is not going to do much.”

As early season reactionary punditry goes, this is pretty mild. However, it’s worth diving into what the Rockets have actually brought to the table thus far into the season. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

THE GOOD

Russell Westbrook

Russell Westbrook has been incredible. He is currently averaging 23.4 points per game while shooting a career-high 48% from the floor. He is also averaging 9.8 assists per game and 11.0 rebounds per game. If he were to keep this up, it would be the second-most rebounds he has ever averaged in a season. Better yet, he is averaging 2.6 offensive rebounds per game, another career high. Additionally, he is averaging 3.6 turnovers per game, which would be his lowest mark in seven years.

According to inpredictable.com, he is also eighth in the entire NBA in winning percentage added (WPA). He has been sensational and his success is determined by his pace and urgency on the court.

There is no better representation of the yin and yang that James Harden and Russell Westbrook bring than the clip above. After Harden misses the dunk, Westbrook immediately finds a lane to finish with contact. This is a tremendous example of the athleticism and unilateral aggressiveness that Westbrook has.

Once again, here he is, sprinting up the floor to take advantage of a poorly set defense and find a cutting Harden.

Again, here he is taking a rebound and immediately looking for a cutting player.

This level of urgency is refreshing for a team that has relished playing with a slower pace. As of right now, the Rockets have the highest pace in the NBA. Just last year they had the fourth lowest pace in the NBA.

There was a lot of talk about Russell Westbrook going into this season regarding his horrendous three point shooting ability, especially by the writer of this article. While his perimeter shooting has not improved (he is currently shooting 27%), he is just taking 4.4 threes a game, more than one less per game than last year. He is actively making changes to the way he plays in order to provide a better outcome for the team.

THE BAD

The Defense

The Houston Rockets have a defensive rating of 115.9, which is second worst in the NBA, right above the Warriors. And all it really takes is a cursory watching of the game versus the Wizards to understand how dire the situation is.

The Rockets, as a team, allow the third highest FG percentage from the 25-29 feet distance and the third highest FG percentage from shots 10-14 feet away. Teams are just absolutely decimating them from deep.

For example, Kyrie Irving was able to take advantage of lazy half-court defense here and take easy, poorly contested perimeter shots during their last game.

Here, Joe Harris becomes wide open after Houston’s defense completely loses track of the sharp shooter.

THE UGLY

Eric Gordon

Eric Gordon has been atrocious to start this season. He is currently averaging 10.4 points per game on 28.6% shooting from the floor and 23.9% shooting from deep. His player efficiency rating is 3.3.

For everyone’s sake, let’s hope he trends dramatically upwards.

In the aftermath of the (second?) most crushing loss in Houston sports history

  • Most of my thoughts and initial reactions can be found on Twitter @redninetyfour.
  • I’m 34 years old so I wasn’t around when the Oilers blew the 35-3 lead. But even if I was, while a bigger collapse, that possibly could not have been a more crushing defeat than last night’s loss because it wasn’t in the final championship game. The 35-3 collapse would have had to have taken place in the Super Bowl to be on par with the Astros’ choke job last night.
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