Allowing James Harden to command the ball may not be such a bad idea for opposing defenses.
The Houston Rockets seem playoff bound for the first time since 2008-09, but their obvious flaws should give opponents a clear blueprint of how to defeat them.
Houston possesses nearly the most potent offense in the NBA. They average 106.46 points per game, just .20 points less than the NBA-leading Oklahoma City Thunder. This offense is led by sixth man-turned-superstar James Harden, and he's a major reason why the Rockets are back to legitimacy.
For all their offensive strengths (which are many), there are serious pitfalls in their game. Turnovers are a major issue for the Rockets. With 16.42 turnovers per game, no team takes less care of the ball than Houston. Harden is the team's leading culprit, coughing up the ball 3.7 times per contest—a number that's entirely too high for a player of his magnitude.
Jeremy Lin doesn't take great care of the ball either. Lin is approaching 3.0 (2.9), and the Rockets simply can't have two key contributors averaging that many turnovers. Omer Asik (2.2) and Chandler Parsons (2.0) are others who turn it over more than once per game.
Opposing teams can easily exploit this. The Rockets will give teams many "freebie" turnovers on bad passes and poor ball control, but strong perimeter defense and collapsing in the lanes could force even more turnovers. Harden and Lin will turn the ball over a few times each no matter what, but double-teaming Asik inside could yield even more.
Asik is not the greatest ball-handler—even for a big man—and flustering him with an extra defender could lead to bad passes back out to his guards or simply steals by the defenders.
For the sake of argument, we'll take a look at the team the Rockets are scheduled to play if the season ended today—the Thunder. Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka, a whiz on defense, would provide enough defense to force a few extra turnovers from Asik.
The high number of turnovers that the Rockets have compiled have given their opponents easy fast-break and transition points. This has been a major reason why Houston has allowed 103.28 points per game, second-highest in the NBA.
Another way to beat the Rockets is to allow the ball to be in Harden's hands as much as possible. Sounds crazy, right? Trust me on this one.
Harden does have a very high offensive rating. His rating of 107.6 is above last season's league average of 101.8—though his rating has declined from 114 back in early February. Harden currently boasts a player efficiency rating (PER) of 24.8, fourth-highest in the NBA behind LeBron James (31.8), Kevin Durant (30.4) and Anderson Varejao (25.2).
Those numbers don't mean much when considering his win shares (WS). Win shares are the number of wins out of a team's total that the player is directly responsible for. Harden does rank third with 11.3, but his impact is not the same as James' (16.1) or Durant's (15.7).
Are you disappointed with Harden's win shares?
Given the fact that the Rockets put the ball in his hands 28.7 percent of the time that he is on the floor, Harden should be producing at a bit of a higher clip. The more the ball is in his hands, the less that other players have the opportunity to knock down open shots. Harden loves one-on-one situations, and he'll look to force it inside more often than he'll look to give it up.
The Rockets are a playoff team. They have earned the right to play in the postseason against the league's best competition. That being said, their flaws are obvious and can be exploited by opponents.
There are several blueprints for beating the Rockets, but focusing on forcing turnovers and allowing Harden to demand the ball are two options that could lead to victory.