Houston Rockets Odds
Odds to win NBA Championship: +1300
Odds to win Western Conference: +700
Houston Rockets Season Recap
The Rockets currently sit in the 6-seed of the Western Conference with a 40-24 record. However, with how stacked the Western Conference is this season, it’s still very much up-in-the-air what spot they finish in. They are only 2.5 games away from the Nuggets, the current 3-seed, and are tied in record with the Mavericks, the 7-seed. With eight games remaining in the resumed regular season, the Rockets could finish anywhere from the 2nd seed to the 7th seed realistically.
Last season, the Rockets finished with a 53-29 record as the 4-seed in the Western Conference. They were on pace to finish slightly worse this season, with around 51 wins, but the teams around them in the Western Conference all improved for the most part. The story of the season for the Rockets has been the switch from Chris Paul to Russell Westbrook at point guard. Westbrook has helped Houston develop an unpredictable, explosive quality that has made them an entirely different type of beast to gameplan for. Of course, James Harden’s elite scoring has been a huge factor for the Rockets this season as well.
The other big storyline for the Rockets has been their complete embracing of small-ball. Clint Capela was traded to the Atlanta Hawks at the deadline and P.J. Tucker became the smallest starting center in the NBA at 6’5″. Many NBA teams have been prioritizing spacing and athleticism over the traditional size-based approach toward rebounding and interior positioning. No team has gone full-tilt quite like Houston has this season. General manager Daryl Morey’s inventive approach to lineup construction will be put to the test as the Rockets make a playoff push.
Houston Rockets Depth Chart
PG: Russell Westbrook, Austin Rivers, Chris Clemons, David Nwaba
SG: James Harden, Eric Gordon, Michael Frazier, William Howard
SF: Danuel House, Ben McLemore, Thabo Sefalosha, Bruno Caboclo
PF: Robert Covington, Demarre Carroll, Jeff Green
C: P.J. Tucker, Tyson Chandler, Isaiah Hartenstein
Head Coach: Mike D’Antoni
Houston Rockets Statistical Leaders
Points per game: James Harden (34.4), Russell Westbrook (27.5), Eric Gordon (14.5)
Rebounds per game: Russell Westbrook (8.0), Robert Covington (7.9), P.J. Tucker (6.9)
Assists per game: James Harden (7.4), Russell Westbrook (7.0), P.J. Tucker (1.6)
Steals per game: James Harden (1.7), Russell Westbrook (1.7), P.J. Tucker (1.1)
Blocks per game: Robert Covington (2.5), James Harden (0.9), Danuel House (0.6)
3PT% (minimum 2.5 attempts per game): Jeff Green (41.2%), Ben McLemore (39.5%), P.J. Tucker (37%)
This is the third straight season that James Harden has averaged over 30 points per game and he continues to set the league on fire with his absurd stat lines. Four of the top-ten scoring games this season belong to Harden and he’s the only player with three games of 55+ points this season. Westbrook has also been a statistical marvel, ranking 4th in the NBA in triple-doubles and dominating in a variety of areas, although this is the first season in which he hasn’t averaged a triple-double since 2015. The team’s trade for Robert Covington has paid dividends as the wing has impacted Houston’s productivity in a variety of areas.
Houston Rockets Best 5-Man Lineups
* Minimum 30 total minutes played together (excluding lineups with Clint Capela, who is no longer on the team)
- James Harden, Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore, Danuel House, P.J. Tucker: minutes = 42, net rating = +33.4
- Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Ben McLemore, P.J. Tucker, Tyson Chandler: minutes = 31; net rating = +32.6
- Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Ben McLemore, Danuel House, P.J. Tucker: minutes = 47; net rating = +32.4
- Russell Westbrook, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, Danuel House, P.J. Tucker: minutes = 35; net rating = +27.0
- Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Danuel House, Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker: minutes = 164; net rating = +10.7
- Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker: minutes = 45; net rating = +7.1
- Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Danuel House, P.J. Tucker: minutes = 74; net rating = -7.5
- James Harden, Austin Rivers, Danuel House, Robert Covington, P.J. Tucker: minutes = 33; net rating = -27.2
It’s unsurprising to see James Harden appear in all of the Rockets’ top four lineups this season, as he leads the team in net rating at +5.6 points per 100 possessions. Not too far behind him in net rating is Russell Westbrook at +3.6 points per 100 possessions – he appears in four of the Rockets’ top five lineups. Perhaps the biggest unsung hero on the team this season has been P.J. Tucker. The do-it-all wing/forward/center ranks fourth on the team in net rating and appears in all eight of the lineups above. He ranks third on the roster in minutes played per game and while he doesn’t get the fanfare of Harden or Westbrook, Tucker enables the Rockets to play the way they do.
I didn’t include Capela lineups in the rankings above as the center is no longer on the roster. However, it’s promising for the team that lineups with Tucker at the five have performed as well as they have. Even extending to allow Capela lineups in the net rating analysis, Tucker is featured at the center in three of the team’s top five lineups this season. Tucker’s defensive versatility is incredibly important for the way the Rockets play as he can body up against physical big men in the post just as well as he can extend to the three-point line and close out on shooters.
The Rockets’ starting lineup heading into the playoffs will likely be the five-man group which ranks fifth in the rankings above. Robert Covington has only played 14 games with Houston this season, but he figures to start alongside Danuel House and P.J. Tucker in the frontcourt down the stretch. Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers will be important guards off the bench and Tyson Chandler will likely play spot minutes in some series when the Rockets need more of a traditional big man presence inside the paint.
Houston Rockets Strengths and Weaknesses
The Rockets rank 7th in the NBA in net rating this season, behind only the Bucks, Lakers, Clippers, Raptors, Celtics, and Mavericks. However, Houston ranks second in offensive rating thanks primarily to the dynamic duo of James Harden and Russell Westbrook. The Rockets make 15.4 3-point shots per game, more than any other team, and typically have five players on the court who can capably knock down open looks from long range. Houston only ranks 23rd in the NBA in 3-point percentage, but they make up for this by shooting more than any other team by a significant margin – 48.8% of their shots come from 3-point land.
Part of the Rockets’ elite offensive production this season has been their pace – they play at the 4th highest pace in the NBA and score the 6th-most points off turnovers. This was not the case for Houston last season – they ranked just 27th in pace during the 2018-19 campaign. It’s hard to argue that there’s anyone who plays the game faster than Russell Westbrook, though. His unique brand of explosiveness and competitive fire have completely transformed the Houston offense this season. With his physicality, Harden’s obscene dribble-drive ability, and the entire team’s 3-point excellence, there may not be a harder team to gameplan for this season.
As good as the Rockets have been offensively this season, their defense has really struggled at times. They rank just 15th in the NBA in net rating and have particularly struggled in the open floor, allowing the 10th most opponent points off turnovers per game this season. Houston also allows the 5th-most second-chance points per game, and that’s with having Clint Capela in the lineup for part of the season. Unsurprisingly, the Rockets also allow the 6th-most points in the paint per game in the NBA this season. They are by far the worst interior defensive team among the playoff field and it will be interesting to see how much this impacts their success.
The Rockets’ lack of size has extended to their poor rebounding this season. They rank 14th in rebounds per game and just 26th in defensive rebound percentage. It’s hard to find many statistics suggesting the Rockets are anything more than average when it comes to rebounding the basketball, which isn’t particularly surprising given the tallest member of their starting lineup is 6’7″. The team’s lack of ability to create additional possessions and limit offensive rebounds is surely going to be a factor in the playoffs and will force the offense to maintain elite levels of efficiency if they are to compete.
Houston Rockets Predictions
It’s hard to know what to make of the Rockets this season. On one hand, the combination of James Harden and Russell Westbrook should give them the ability to compete with just about any team. Their offensive production has been insane this season, and with P.J. Tucker moving to the center spot, they have an absurd amount of spacing. Westbrook has never played with this level of spacing in his career, and when he has room to power downhill and kick to open shooters, he can be very dangerous. That’s before you factor in Harden being statistically one of the best isolation scorers in NBA history.
However, I’m not at all sold on the Rockets’ approach being sustainable throughout a whole playoff run. Houston basically has to outshoot their opponent on any given night to win, and while this lineup gives them a great chance to do so, I’m not a fan of backing any teams who don’t have multiple ways to win games. Playoff games can get scrappy and physical at times, far more than regular-season games, and I’m not convinced the Rockets can shoot their way out of a matchup with say, Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Their lack of rebounding and interior defense is going to hurt them at some point – this gimmicky approach can’t deliver a championship.
If the playoffs started today, the Rockets would be facing the Nuggets in the first round. I can’t decide whether Nikola Jokic would get exposed due to his lack of athleticism to guard out to the 3-point line or if his physical interior play and playmaking would expose the Rockets’ lack of size. That would be a fascinating test for this unique Rockets’ lineup. They’re probably better-equipped to play the Thunder or Mavericks in the first round, so Houston will be pushing hard for a top-four seed. Even if they escape the first round, I don’t anticipate Houston being able to beat the Lakers or Clippers in the second round. Both of those teams are elite rebounding and defensive squads who could keep the Rockets from getting enough open 3-point looks to keep them afloat. I believe the Rockets’ ceiling this season is a Western Conference Semi-Finals appearance.
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