Raise your hand if you can honestly say you saw this coming. A month into the NBA season and the Rockets are playing sub-.500 basketball and are next to last (fourth) in the Southwest Division. The team that last year had the NBA’s best record, won 65 games and was a game away from the NBA Finals is now floundering in mediocrity.
Strangely enough we have seen this from the Rockets before. The team advanced to the Western Conference Finals in the 2014-2015 season. Then with expectations running high in 2015, the team staggered out the gate 4-7 and coach Kevin McHale was fired 11 games into the season.
The Rockets in recent years have consistently gotten off to a fast start. This year, no such luck. So, what’s happening this year? Let’s take a look.
For starters, the Rockets did a total roster makeover for this season. The familiar faces are there, but eight of the 16 players on the roster are new. Clearly with that many new pieces to the puzzle it takes some time to put everything together and certainly it’s a work in progress.
Offensively, the Rockets have been simply horrible. The team that lives by the 3-point shot has all too often this season died by the 3-pointer. At this point in the season the Rockets are 25thamong 30 NBA teams in 3-point shooting.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni offered a blunt assessment of the Rockets’ offense.
“Our offense is anemic,” D’Antoni said. “I mean, it’s bad…I don’t know if we’re just sagging because we’re not believing in what we’re [doing]. I don’t know. We’ve got to find the answers. I can’t tell you today, ‘Oh yeah, it’s this,’ and we’ll solve it tomorrow. No, we’ve got to work through this and figure out what we need to do. But our offense right now is not very good.
“The first thing is, we’ve got to start imposing our will and get our swagger,” D’Antoni continued. “A lot of it is mental energy. We’ve got to find a happy spot and then go compete.”
Defense last season was a strength for the Rockets. They ranked seventh in defensive efficiency. This season the Rockets’ defense has been atrocious. So far, they rank 25th in defensive efficiency, allowing 114.7 points per 100 possessions.
The defense has been so bad this season that former associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik, who retired in September, has agreed to return to the team after Thanksgiving. Bzdelik designed the team’s defensive scheme that brought them success last year.
“We’ve got to make some adjustments,” D’Antoni said. “We were switching, and obviously this team is different than last year, and they were busting us. We don’t have any continuity. We’re not figuring it out, and then the dam breaks and everybody struggles.”
ANTHONY THE SCAPEGOAT?
If poor offense and defense was not enough to worry about, there is the saga of Carmelo Anthony. The Rockets acquired the 10-time All-Star in the offseason and all appeared to be well until the season started.
D’Antoni is playing Anthony has a backup power forward which seems odd since ‘Melo has always made his mark as a small forward. Is Anthony being played out of position? Have his skills deteriorated that much since preseason that there’s no place for him? Is he being made the scapegoat for the team’s slow start?
Dwyane Wade, a fellow member of the 2003 draft class that featured Anthony, feels the latter is the case. He recently tweeted as much.
“Trying to make my guy @carmeloanthonythe fall guy huh!? Man y’all need to stop. That’s the easy way out instead of addressing what the real problem,” Wade tweeted.
We’re all left to ponder what the real problem is. Chris Paul offered a suggestion.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board and figure out what’s going to be the best solution for this team,” Paul said. “Comparing last year and this year, you can’t do it. This is its own team and we’ve got to figure out its identity. But starting with me, we’ve just got to be better.”