Although on paper the Rockets look like a team poised to make a deep run in the 2014 NBA playoffs, there exist a few problems that the team must solve before they can mount a challenge in the Western Conference.
Omer Asik’s Future in Houston
When news broke that Superman would be leaving the Los Angeles Lakers for H-Town, everyone knew that that would result in Omer Asik being relegated to the bench.
Soon after, ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst reported that Asik asked to be traded and that the team denied his wish.
While things have been quiet regarding that situation since then, one cannot help but believe that the situation will inevitably show its face again.
That fact of the matter is that no one likes playing second fiddle to somebody. And when you look at what Asik did as a starter last season—10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game—it’s clear that he does deserve to be a starter.
However, placing Asik alongside Howard in the starting lineup could create problems in regards to spacing on the floor, something in which the Rockets rely upon heavily in their high-octane inside-out attack.
The bottom line is that Asik deserves to get starter’s minutes. Although he is slotted to make a total of $20 million over the next two years, it might not be such a bad idea to open up trade discussions.
Over-Reliance on Pick-and-Roll Plays
Without question, the Rockets love them some pick-and-roll action.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), 1,198 of the Rockets’ 9,579 offensive possessions (12.5 percent) last season ended with a ball handler coming off a pick, ranking first in the NBA in that regard.
Certainly, with Howard now in the fold, James Harden, Jeremy Lin and everyone else will definitely be operating in pick-and-roll situations even more.
However, the Rockets have to avoid becoming over-reliant with the pick-and-roll.
Per Synergy Sports, only 4.2 percent of the Rockets’ offensive possessions ended with someone operating in the post areas.
That has to change.
We know Howard isn’t the greatest threat in the post, seeing as he scored just 0.74 points per possession and shot 44.5 percent in post-up situations.
Nonetheless, the Rockets should consider featuring him and other players in the post more often during the coming season.
Howard has the ability to go to work when needed in the low-post.
Likewise, Harden’s strength and length should give him an advantage over opposing shooting guards when matched up down on the block.
Plus, having arguably one of the smoothest operators in the post that the game of basketball has ever seen in coach Kevin McHale, the big men have a mentor that can help mold them into big-time threats on the block.
Now, let it be clear that I am by no means saying the Rockets need to abandon the pick-and-roll, for doing so would simply be stupid.
However, adding a different dimension to the attack will create for a more versatile arsenal that would be much harder to combat.
Lackluster Perimeter Defense
The Rockets were woeful on defense last season, giving up 102.5 points per game.
Sure, bringing in Howard will certainly curtail that number. Nevertheless, those on the perimeter will still have to up their game defensively.
According to Synergy Sports, the Rockets allowed teams to make 39.1 percent of their attempts when spotting up from behind the arc.
When going up against sharpshooting teams like the San Antonio Spurs, the Golden State Warriors and the new-and-improved Los Angeles Clippers, they will have to lock down the perimeter. It’s as simple as 1-2-3. They have to do it.
Certainly, the Rockets are a squad that has the potential to shock the world during the coming season.
Addressing areas of concern prior to the start of the season will make the road toward playing in June all the more easier.