5 Things We Learned About Houston Rockets After Week 1
While the Rockets have been dominant at times early on, the jury is still out on where they stack up among the NBA's elite. All four wins come against teams that didn't make the playoffs last year and their lone defeat was a 137-118 trouncing by the Los Angeles Clippers.
The next 10 days will be a little more telling. They'll host the Los Angeles Lakers in Dwight Howard's first game against his old team on Nov. 7. After that, they get a rematch against the Clippers in Houston two days later.
While the competition hasn't been fierce for Houston early on, the Rockets have still been impressive. James Harden continues to be one of the game's most dangerous scorers, while the Dwight Howard/Omer Asik tandem has given the team a new wrinkle on both ends of the court.
We will know more about the team as the season progresses, but here are five things we have learned about the Houston Rockets so far.
They Are Slow Starters
With the exception of the Dallas game on Nov. 1, the Houston Rockets have trailed after the first quarter in every game they've played so far this season. This is how they've entered the second quarter in those games:
- Down by two to the Charlotte Bobcats on opening night
- Down by eight to the Utah Jazz on Nov. 2
- Down 17 to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 4
- Down by one to the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 5
Falling behind an elite team like the Clippers is understandable, but a team with this much talent and offensive firepower shouldn't have early struggles against lottery teams. The Rockets needed a strong second half just to finish off the Jazz and were down by 19 at one point in that game.
“We should never start sleepy," said center Omer Asik after the Utah game (according to The Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen). "We know that. I’m sure, that will never happen again. In the second half, we just played the way we have to play.”
While they have the scoring to hang with practically anybody, the Rockets can't afford to keep playing catch-up with opponents every night. Waiting until the second half to kick it into gear will come back to haunt them, especially on the tail end of back-to-backs.
Whether the team is still working on finding a rhythm or simply playing down to their opponents, they have to start fast if they want to avoid taking the kind of beatings like the one the Clippers gave them.
They Own the Glass
The Houston Rockets wasted little time in unveiling their twin towers. Omer Asik and Dwight Howard have started together every night in the team's first five games. The result has been a clear disadvantage on the boards for opposing teams.
A year after winning the rebounding title with the Los Angeles Lakers, Howard is back on top of the charts with a league-leading 14.6 rebounds per game. Asik is averaging 9.4 rebounds per game, which is good for 22nd in the NBA.
As a team, the Rockets lead the league in total rebounds with 238 and are just a hair behind the Orlando Magic in the rebounds per game category (47.8 to 47.6). It goes without saying, but a team with this many weapons will greatly benefit from being able to dominate the glass and earn second chance opportunities.
The Asik-Howard tandem has its share of kinks to work out, but even the toughest skeptic can't deny the upper hand it gives Houston in the paint. In a size-deficient league, having two big men that can do what these two do on the floor together is going to be tough for teams to counter.
After all, there aren't many teams that have one elite rebounding big man, let alone two. If Houston's pair of skyscrapers can remain happy and healthy, the Rockets will own the paint for a long time.
They Are Ridiculously Deep
The key to any long postseason run is having quality depth and a strong bench. One of the startling revelations when looking over this Houston Rockets roster is that the team is deep at nearly every position.
Bench stars Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi are contributing (on average) double-digits in scoring on a nightly basis. Jeremy Lin, who opened the season as the backup at point guard, is the team's third-leading scorer with an average of 15.2 points per game.
When Patrick Beverley was sidelined with a rib injury, veteran Aaron Brooks filled in admirably. Young forwards Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas could probably start (or at least earn significant playing time) on a handful of other teams, but they are the ninth and 10th best players on the Rockets.
The same for Greg Smith, who is solid backup center that is logging a little over five minutes per game. Ronnie Brewer, an athletic wing scorer and defender that the team signed in the offseason, can barely get on the floor.
This doesn't even include youngsters like Robert Covington and Isaiah Canaan, who are waiting in the wings.
The wealth of talent that the Rockets have at their disposal helps the team in two ways. First, as evidenced by the Patrick Beverley injury, it allows the team to not miss a beat when someone goes down. Second, it gives Houston flexibility and attack with a variety of lineups.
They could choose to play Casspi at power forward. They could have Garcia log minutes at the 2 or the 3. Lin can play either guard position. Brewer, if he can ever get off the bench, can play a number of positions.
It also gives general manager Daryl Morey some intriguing trade chips down the road, if he decides the team needs to make another move.
Turnovers Still Haunt the Team
After finishing as the league's most mistake-prone team last season, the issue continues to plague the Houston Rockets this year. Houston's 96 turnovers are the worst in the NBA. The Miami Heat are second, but have 11 fewer than the Rockets.
Houston's 19.2 turnovers a game ranks them in the bottom five of the league. James Harden, Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin are all averaging at least three turnovers per game. Harden's 4.8 errors per contest trails only Derrick Rose, Stephen Curry and Eric Bledsoe for the league worst.
Guys who attack the basket as much as Lin and Harden or get as many touches as Howard are going to be more prone to carelessness with the rock than their seldom-used brethren. Still, this is an issue that needs to be curbed immediately.
No matter how good this team is on the glass or how improved they are defensively, they aren't going to make a title run if they continue to give the ball away at an alarming rate. The question is whether the Rockets can play at the fast pace they are accustomed to without getting careless with the basketball.
The Rockets have escaped with victories over the likes of Charlotte (20 TO's), Dallas (24), Utah (18) and Portland (20), but those teams aren't the ones that will be standing in the way of Houston's title hopes. This team isn't getting by the Spurs or Clippers if they are turning the ball over 20 times a game.
They Have Improved Defensively
The addition of a three-time Defensive Player of the Year in Dwight Howard was going to make Houston better at stopping opponents by default. However, Howard's presence isn't the sole reason behind Houston's improvement on D.
The pairing of Howard with Omer Asik inside has given the Rockets a frontcourt duo that has made life miserable for opposing offenses, especially in the paint. Teams are having a tough time overcoming Houston's clear size advantage and that has given the Rockets a huge boost.
The team is also getting a helping hand from James Harden, who is averaging nearly two steals per game. "The Beard" spent the offseason working on his conditioning so that he can be better equipped to handle both sides of the ball.
Opponents are shooting 42 percent from the field (sixth best in the NBA) and just under 33 percent from three (10th in the NBA) against the Rockets this season. When you take out the 137 points they gave up against the Clippers, Houston has allowed 95.5 points per game this season.
Whether that is indicative of the quality of those opponents or the play of Houston's defense will become clearer as the level of competition increases over the next few weeks. At the very least, the team is better defensively than they were last year, when they gave up 102.5 points per game (third worst in the league).
We knew the acquisition of Howard and the subsequent teaming with Asik would help. However, now that guys like Harden are honing their defensive skills, Houston is now a step closer to being a complete team.