The Houston Rockets have been a pleasant surprise this season, and they appear to have the capability of remaining one of the top teams in the league this year.
A big reason for the Rockets (38-17) success has been the play of James Harden. Harden has transformed his game from being strictly a scorer to an elite playmaker. As a result of Harden’s transformation, Houston ranks second in the league in scoring, third in offensive rating, second in assists, and first in three-point field goals made.
Harden is having a career year, producing 43 double-doubles and 14 triple-doubles. The 28-year-old is averaging 28.9 points along with 11.8 assists and 8.4 rebounds. He picked up his 30th game of at least 25 points and 10 assists in Wednesday’s 128-104 win over the Orlando Magic.
Harden is not the only Rocket seeing an uptick in offensive production under head coach Mike D’Antoni. Eric Gordon, who is finally healthy again, has knocked down a career-best 3.5 three-pointers a game. Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza, and Patrick Beverley are also draining triples at or above their personal bests. Houston, which is making 14.9 three-pointers a game, made 16 three-point shots on Wednesday to tie Golden State’s mark of 28 games of at least 15 triples.
As the stats indicate, the Rockets rely a lot on three-pointer — perhaps too much. Houston gets 38.0 percent of their points from beyond the arc, which is the most in the NBA. They are 11th in the league in three-point percentage despite shooting a league most 40 — which is six more than any other team.
Harden, Anderson, Ariza, and Beverley are all shooting at least half of their shots from long distance. However, Anderson and Gordon are the only players shooting over 38 percent from beyond the arc. Which is likely why the Rockets are looking to add another shooter, per Calvin Watkins of ESPN.
Watkins recently wrote that the Rockets were in serious discussions with Cleveland about acquiring Mike Dunleavy before he was traded to Atlanta. Watkins added that K.J. McDaniels would of been part of the deal had the Rockets not pulled out of the deal.
Watkins also has said the Rockets would like to add another ball-handler to take the pressure off Harden and perhaps allow Beverley to come off the bench, so he can run the second unit. He pointed out that the team has looked into signing Mario Chalmers and Jarrett Jack.
Ball-handling has also been an issue for the Rockets, who are tied for the 25th most turnovers with 15.4 a game. The Rockets are also 24th in turnover percentage. Their opponents are averaging nearly 18 points off of the Rockets’ turnovers. Harden leads the the league with 5.8 turnovers a game.
The Rockets also have been linked to Orlando Magic forward/center Serge Ibaka. Sean Deveney of The Sporting News reported that the Magic’s asking price is quite high. Orlando acquired Ibaka, who will be an unrestricted free agent, from Oklahoma City for Victor Oladipo, Ersan Ilyasova, and Domanas Sabonis.
Will the Rockets make a move?
Houston has the third best record in the NBA, although the Rockets are only 12-8 since the beginning of 2017 — the ninth best record over this period. The Rockets are 4-5 against teams with a winning record since the beginning of 2017, dropping their overall record to 11-13 against teams with at least a .500 record.
The Rockets, obviously, have some issues, with their biggest being the defensive end. Houston has surrendered 110 points or more points in 14 of their last 20 games, and ranks 24th in the league in scoring defense overall. The Rockets are giving up a league-high 48.1 points in the paint.
So, while the Rockets could use Ibaka, it is hard to imagine making that move, or any other major move would give them more of a chance to defeat Golden State or San Antonio in the playoffs. That is not to say that the Rockets won’t make any moves before the trade deadline, but those moves will likely be to add depth, as general manager Daryl Morey told Jonathan Feigan of the Houston Chronicle.
“It’s hard to judge because it takes two. It’s hard to know. I don’t know if it makes it more or less likely, but the kinds of things you do are different. We are more likely to shore up a spot in case we take an injury. Anything we would do is more likely for depth.”
If Houston does decide to go after a bigger name, the Rockets do have some assets to deal. McDaniels and Corey Brewer are among the players on the 15-man roster most likely to be dealt. They also have all their first round picks until 2024 available to be packaged in a deal, as well as several second round selections.
Juan Pablo Urrutia of Space City Hoops proposed several possible trades for the Rockets. Urrutia suggested that the Rockets should acquire small forward P.J. Tucker in exchange for a second round pick plus Brewer. A more intriguing trade proposal is the Rockets sending Brewer and a first round pick to Denver for Mike Miller and Jusuf Nurkic.
Miller could provide a little outside shooting though not much more. Nurkic could help on the interior with rebounding and rim protection. Nurkic is also good in pick-and-roll situations.
[Featured Image by Sue Ogrocki/AP Photo]