While this success is certainly more than Rockets fans could have hoped for just a few months ago, there’s no guarantee it will last.
Houston has won just four of its last 10 games and has some major flaws it may need to address if it hopes to hold onto that final playoff spot. With the trade deadline just around the corner, the opportunity for improvement will be there. How can Houston seize it?
Houston fans should be grateful their team boasts such a potent offense, because this roster certainly isn’t going to win games off of defense. The Rockets currently rank fourth in the league in points allowed per game (102.71), only marginally better than the Bobcats.
Though this weak defensive stat can be partially attributed to the up-tempo style of play the Rockets adhere to, there are clearly other key factors as well, as similarly fast-paced teams like the Spurs and Clippers still manage to balance effective defense with high-octane offense.
Though the Rockets have a number of solid defenders, most notably Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Toney Douglas, the team defense has been mediocre, and Houston doesn’t appear to have the defensive intensity seen in the league’s elite teams.
If Houston wants to have any serious chance of A) securing a decent playoff seed and B) getting past the first round, some defensive upgrades will be needed.
Granted, much of this responsibility falls on the coaching staff, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a defensive stopper available off the bench (Carlos Delfino is solid, but he doesn’t quite qualify).
With plenty of teams around the league searching for ways to decrease payroll, the Rockets shouldn’t have too much trouble landing an elite defensive player if they choose to pursue one. And Houston could also look to improve its defense by addressing another position of need: power forward.
The Power Forward Position
The Rockets have a fairly strong starting lineup, but the power forward slot stands out as a clear weak link. Despite the surplus of talented young 4’s on the roster, Kevin McHale has yet to deem any of them worthy of a starring role in his offense.
Patrick Patterson, who currently occupies the starting spot, has boosted his scoring numbers this season but has proven to be an inconsistent performer at both ends of the court.
Though Patterson’s post defense isn’t terrible, his rebounding numbers are, and his inability to make any significant impact on the glass proves he is not yet prepared to be a starting power forward in the NBA.
Marcus Morris, Patterson’s primary backup, has also disappointed on the boards, though he has at least shown improvement in comparison to his abysmal rookie campaign.
Houston could have a number of opportunities to buy cheap at the power forward come the trade deadline, as several pricey but talented bigs have emerged as possible trade pieces this season.
Of the names being dangled around the league, the most intriguing options are Josh Smith, Paul Millsap, Kevin Garnett and Andrea Bargnani.
While Bargnani would only add to the Rockets’ defensive issues and Garnett is unlikely to be traded, Smith and Millsap both seem like viable options who could improve the team’s rebounding and defense while also offering efficient inside scoring.
Though Houston could opt to wait until the summer, when both players hit the free agency market, it could also attempt to land an upgrade now at a discounted price, enhancing the team’s chances of re-signing whoever they land while also bolstering this season’s playoff odds.
Houston’s fast-paced plan of attack certainly has its flaws. Most notably, the high volume of turnovers it results in. The Rockets currently lead the league in turnover ratio, with 15 percent of the team’s possessions ending in turnovers.
Such carelessness can seriously cost a team in the playoffs, and Houston should look to address this problem at the trade deadline.
Part of the problem is the Rockets’ lack of a seasoned backup floor general. While Douglas is an effective outside shooter and a pesky defender, he doesn’t know how to run a team, and he is better suited to playing as an undersized 2.
Daryl Morey would be wise to search the trade market for a veteran floor general by dangling one of his young big men. One intriguing option could be Will Bynum, a tough but undersized point who may soon be out of the rotation in Detroit due to the recent acquisition of Jose Calderon.
Though a bit of a defensive liability, Bynum could still be effective with the right group around him, and he at least averages over three assists per game, which is more than Douglas can say.