While the Houston Rockets have looked impressive this season, can James Harden and company really topple the Golden State Warriors?
If you’re a Houston Rockets fan then you’re probably happy of where James Harden has brought the team now. The team now is actually pretty similar to the one that lost a second round series a season ago. Perhaps the only notable change has been Chris Paul’s presence. And boy what a change that deal with the Clippers has made to the Rockets. At 47-13, Houston is poised to enter the playoffs as the top seed. With that said, can they really make noise in the playoffs with their lineup right now?
Wesley Johnson has to go into a witness protection program. And James Harden must be brought up on charges for snatching this man’s soul. pic.twitter.com/7pM82he8kC
— Jemele Hill (@jemelehill) March 1, 2018
James Harden is key
Never has James Harden been more crucial to the Houston Rockets than this season. Surprisingly, the Beard has seemingly played well with Chris Paul now in the fold. He’s averaging 31.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists in 35.7 minutes. Unlike last season, he doesn’t need to carry the offense 90% of the time. With CP3, he can play off the ball more and focus on what he does best: finishing. And he’s actually doing just that. Both his FG% (44.9%) and 3FG% (38.3%) are the highest they’ve ever been since he left OKC. Additionally, he’s also a fixture at the free throw line averaging 10.1 attempts while converting 8.7 (86.4% FT%).
— NBA (@NBA) March 1, 2018
The rest of the Rockets are seizing the opportunity
With defenses focused on James Harden, the rest of the Rockets have been thriving. While Chris Paul has taken the backseat in running the offense, he’s also benefiting from the open looks that the Beard creates. His 18.8 points average comes from 6.4/13.8 FG shooting (46.3% FG%) and a 38.2% 3FG%. In addition to this, he’s still dishing out 8.2 assists and collaring 5.7 rebounds per game. Talk about value! And it’s not just Paul who’s providing crucial contributions. Eric Gordon continues to shoot the lights out and provide complementary scoring for Harden. He’s averaging 18.5 points on 6.1/14.7 FG attempts with a respectable 33.5% 3FG%.
Second-half starts with a ⤵️
— Houston Rockets (@HoustonRockets) March 1, 2018
A team that lives and dies with the 3-point shot
There are three things that stand out with the Houston Rockets this season. The first of these would have to be their 3-point shooting. With James Harden leading the way, the Rockets are the first in the league in terms of 3-pointers made and attempted. More than half of their total 84.3 FGs per game are 3-point attempts. Of these, they regularly make 15.5 of their 3-pointers (~75 points per game). What’s also surprising is that every player on this team who averages 3 3-pointers per game has a 35% 3FG%.
— Reid Laymance (@ReidLaymance) February 26, 2018
Scoring efficiently in the paint and on the stripe
When they’re not shooting 3-pointers, the Rockets are looking for ways to finish near the rim. Again, James Harden leads the charge here for Houston thanks to the threat he represents. When he’s overplayed on the perimeter, he can easily break down the defense with his drives. And since this is a team stacked with shooters, he’ll more than likely find Clint Capela or Luc Mbah a Moute open down low. If not, he could just finish by himself. So even though they’re dead last in terms of 2PT FGs made/attempted, their 56.1% conversion is still good enough for 2nd in the league.
James Harden has 39 career games in which he's made at least five 3-pointers and 10 free throws, 23 more than any other player in NBA history. #Rockets
— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) February 26, 2018
And although they’re not attempting too many 2P FGs, the Rockets are very prolific in drawing fouls. In fact, they’re also second in the league in made and attempted free throws (20.4 out of 25.8). Unsurprisingly, James Harden again leads the team in this area with his 10.1 attempts per game.
A foil for the Warriors?
Pundits are hyping the Rockets as the team that has the best chance of beating the Warriors. Personally, I still feel like Houston isn’t ready to challenge Golden State’s dominance. There are two reasons for this. The first would have to be James Harden. The Rockets rely too much on their best player and that could result in a stagnant offense. He might be feasting on defenders in the regular season but that’s bound to change in the playoffs. I mean, just look at what happened to them last year against the Spurs? Yes, Chris Paul is there but he’s not the player he once was. CP3’s game has been predicated on his mid-range jumpers. Golden State would readily give him that than a three or a drive.
Other than James Harden, defense (or the lack thereof) is also going to play a factor in a matchup against the Warriors. A lot of pundits like to point out the Rockets length as an advantage. The team has long and lean guys like Gerald Green, Trevor Ariza, and Mbah a Moute as defenders. However, they can’t really stay on the court for long. This is because they would eat up minutes for Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon who aren’t really known for their defense. Houston might get a win or two but in the end, I believe that the Warriors’ defense will end up winning the series.