The Houston Rockets have been a team of ambiguity. After losing in the 1st round of the playoffs last year out went former coach Kevin McHale and in came Mike D’Antoni. His coaching philosophies are the perfect fit with this roster. James Harden is the leader and has been on a tear this season averaging 29 points, 11 assists, and eight rebounds. D’Antoni had the genius idea of placing Harden into his system as a point guard and the results have intrigued. While he’s the leading candidate for MVP via basketball-reference, is that enough to make it out of the Western Conference?
The Anatomy of the Rockets
Houston is a team built by general manager Daryl Morey using analytics. They use advanced statistical metrics to determine what players to get and what offense to run. Three-point shots and drives to the basket are their focal points on offense while mid-range shots have been virtually disabled. During the win against Cleveland Sunday night, the Rockets only shot one mid-range shot in the first half and that was a buzzer beater. While this style has achieved wins, it’s playoff effectiveness is yet to be tested. That’s why Morey and D’Antoni made moves before the trade deadline.
Adding Lou Williams to an already deep roster was a brilliant move. A guard that can shoot from anywhere, create plays for himself and others while having the ability to get to the foul line. With LWilliams and Eric Gordon off the bench, the Rockets have the deepest roster of quality in the league. Their only fault, maybe, is they don’t have a inside star that can get easy points so they have to rely on outside shooting to get them there. Look for Nene, Ryan Anderson, and Clint Capela to pick up the slack on the interior.
The Future for James Harden’s Rockets
James Harden is under the most pressure of his career since making it to the NBA Finals in 2012. And even then he had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook to lean on. But on this team, he is the star and the ship floats or sinks with him. To his credit though, Harden has gotten better with knowing when to shoot and when to set up a teammate. But what should worry him more than his team is the fierce competition in the Western Conference.
In order for Houston to make the NBA Finals, they’ll have to get through a gauntlet of top-tier teams. Golden State, San Antonio, LA Clippers and even Memphis are having great seasons. All four of these teams are slightly more battle-tested than this current Rockets team. Only Harden and Trevor Ariza have started in a NBA Finals prior to this season. D’Antoni has to prove that his spread system can work in the playoffs when teams start to buckle down. Furthermore, Harden will be on notice for the world to see. Can he be the star that everyone knows him to be when it matters most?