26 games into last season the Rockets were 22-4, after finishing that season out at 67-15 and a game away from The Finals, things looked promising. They had the League MVP in James Harden and literally the best offense the league has ever seen last year, as they looked like the eventual heir to Golden State in the West. In the offseason they notably lost Trevor Ariza, locked Clint Capela up with a team friendly 5 years 90-million-dollar deal, and then they handed a 33-year-old Chris Paul 4 years and 160 million dollars. Ever since they missed 27 straight threes in that Game 7 last season, everything has gone terribly wrong. 26 games into this season, they stand at 12-14 and have been one of the most disappointing and fascinating stories the NBA has thus far.
The ironic thing is, most thought their defense would be a bigger concern as they were second in the league last year in scoring (112.4 ppg). They were also a top 15 team in terms of shooting splits and they took a league high 42.3 threes per night. This year, their offense is the problem, they can’t shoot anymore (22nd in the league in FG%, 24th in 3FG%, and 20th in FT%). Last year, it didn’t matter if they were a middle of the road shooting team, they’d be in games if they were average based on the amount of attempts they had. The fact of the matter is that the gap between them in other teams in terms of 3-point attempts is dwindling. It’s a copycat league and teams are trying to emulate the Rocket’s style of chucking up a billion threes per night. Therefore, their deficiency in terms of shooting is even more glaring.
They haven’t been able to put the ball in the basket as a unit and this shooting drought is specifically effecting their best players.
Look at those year-to-year progressions. The only player to make any sort of real strides is P.J. Tucker who takes a mere 6.4 shots per night. While James Harden has taken a minor dip, the two most jarring regressions are courtesy of CP3 and Eric Gordon.
Yes, the 33-year-old point guard that the Rockets paid a boatload of guaranteed money to is regressing. I don’t know about you, but with CP3’s mileage, this could become the norm rather than a cold shooting month. His advanced ratings don’t bode well for him either as they’ve also regressed heavily from last season.
He went from being an overwhelmingly productive player on both ends to just squeaking out a positive net rating this season. He seems slow on the defensive end and on offense he’s been more of a liability than a positive. If Chris Paul is not the player he was, even just last year anymore, then this team is in trouble now and in the long run. In the next three years Paul’s contract balloons to 38 million next season, then 41 million, and then the last year is 44 million. If they aren’t a real contender, then what is the point of paying CP3 all of that money? More importantly, who’s going to want him if the Rockets do eventually want to cut ties? Go ask the Wizards how hard it is to trade a point guard at that salary at 28, let alone 33+.
Gordon hasn’t helped their cause either and he’s also on the books next season. The lift he provided off of the bench last season has been relatively nonexistent and this has hurt them as they don’t have much depth beyond their top guys.
The departure of Trevor Ariza is another thing I want to address here because I think they handled it poorly. Sure, I get not wanting to pay him 15 million dollars per year but it was a one-year deal. If they wanted to go all in on this group (they clearly did, that CP3 contract is ridiculous) why not just pay Ariza and go year-to-year with him. Instead, they decided to bring in Melo and James Ennis to make up for it (yuck). They disposed of Melo for good 16 games ago and James Ennis is starting every game and playing 25 minutes per game. For a team who has been lauded for their moves the past few years this whole situation was botched, terribly. They thought, if they brought their big 3 back and Eric Gordon, that everything would just naturally fall into place and they’d be fine. Look at all of the different small forwards they could’ve replaced Ariza with, they were available, the Rockets just picked the wrong one(s).
I look at guys like Jerami Grant, Rudy Gay and Kyle Anderson and can’t help but believe they could’ve been better fits at team friendly prices. They cheaped their way out of it and now they’re paying for it when it really matters. Since they paid CP3 so much money I think this made them reluctant to pay for Ariza or a viable replacement. With the Western Conference improving top to bottom, they stayed stagnant. Last year’s gone, the mojo’s gone, and some of those players are gone. Things can definitely turn around in Houston, it’s a long year, but what I’m not sold on is how drastically they can turn around and if this roster actually can turn it around.
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