Few could have predicted that Houston would experience such success after an offseason marked by a major roster overhaul, but the Rockets have been and may continue to be a surprising team in the competitive Western Conference.
But which specific statistics make this run most surprising?
All stats accurate as of March 19, 2013.
While the Rockets have long been known as an aggressive offensive team, few would have expected them to be quite this deadly prior to the Harden trade.
Houston currently ranks second in the league in points per game (just a shade behind Oklahoma City), a substantial improvement over last season when they ranked at a respectable ninth. The Rockets have attained this offensive dominance through a deadly mixture of the transition game, three-point shooting and effective pick-and-roll offense. The presence of the league’s fifth leading scorer certainly hasn’t hurt either.
In short, we expected Houston’s offense to be good; just not this good.
While it no longer seems surprising to see James Harden drop 30-plus points on a regular basis, it wasn’t too long ago that Harden was viewed as a borderline star at best and still a player better suited to a bench role.
Well, suffice it to say that Harden has put those questions to rest with his dominant play in his fourth season. The Bearded One is currently averaging 26.3 points per game while also facilitating at an excellent clip.
It seemed like a guarantee that Harden would break out once given the reigns to his own NBA offense. However, he has exceeded any and all expectations in doing so, lifting his scoring average by nearly ten points per game while joining the league’s elite class.
Much as it’s surprising for Houston’s offense to be so good, it’s equally surprising for its defense to be so bad. The Rockets give up the second highest points of any team in the league, behind only the Charlotte Bobcats.
While Houston was never expected to emerge as an elite defensive team, it’s shocking to see a playoff contender perform so terribly on the defensive end. The Rockets’ defensive struggles are especially surprising considering the arrival of Omer Asik, who was expected to act as a defensive anchor for Houston and provide a major boost to the defense.
But while Asik has done his part, he has been one of very few players to do so and, as a result, has been unable to single-handedly keep the Rockets afloat as a defensive unit. Kevin McHale is lucky his squad is so adept in the scoring department; otherwise, there is no way a team could remain competitive with such paltry defense.
Through his incredible streak with the New York Knicks last season, Jeremy Lin quickly achieved iconic status and an uncontrollable reputation.
As a result, it seemed inevitable that the Harvard alumnus would face enormous expectations entering this season.
Unfortunately, Lin hasn’t quite lived up to those expectations with the Rockets. Though he has distributed the rock effectively and stepped up his game when facing elite opponents, the scoring ability that earned Linsanity his nickname has only sporadically been on display this season.
While it would have been highly unrealistic to expect Lin to maintain the 20.9 scoring average he posted in February last season, scoring numbers in the upper teens wouldn’t have seemed so far fetched early in the year. Instead, Lin’s highly inconsistent scoring has been a story throughout the year and often a source of frustration for Rockets fans.
While some of Lin’s struggles could be attributed to James Harden’s ball dominance, that alone cannot be the reason for such inconsistency from Houston’s supposed secondary star.
There’s a good reason for Houston’s fearsome scoring ability, and it goes beyond James Harden’s presence.
The Rockets as a whole are deadly from outside the arc and unafraid to fire up a three in almost any situation.
The Rockets lead the league in three-point attempts per game, with only the New York Knicks anywhere close to that number and the rest of the league trailing far behind.
While there is certainly danger in falling in love with the three-ball, Houston has had no reason to regret doing so. The Rockets connect on a solid 37 percent of those outside attempts, and in doing so are able to open up the paint for perimeter players like Harden, Lin and Parsons to attack.