5 New Year's Resolutions for the Houston Rockets
Improvement is commonplace around this time of year, as New Year's resolutions influence people to make changes to better their lives.
The Houston Rockets could stand to make a few New Year's resolutions of their own.
Through play on Dec. 26, the Rockets are 20-11. They have shown that they can hang with the big boys of the Western Conference, but a few tweaks here and there to the roster or game plan would help to put them in an even better position to win games.
Houston's offseason acquisitions have put them in a great position to succeed. Dwight Howard and the other newcomers have gelled well with their new teammates, and Houston appears ready to contend for a high playoff seed in the West.
If they can abide by the following New Year's resolutions, then there's no reason to think that the Rockets can't make a run toward the top.
Define Omer Asik's Role
The Rockets need to either trade Omer Asik or give him a definitive role on the team—period.
The back and forth that has been going on all season long has to come for a stop, otherwise the team chemistry while he's on the court will be detrimental to success. Asik isn't happy with the playing time he has received thus far, and trading him may ultimately be the best move.
Teams would certainly line up for his services, as the Turkish big man is one of the better interior defenders in the NBA. The problem is that Houston had been asking for a ton in return when he was on the block in mid-December.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports tweeted that a potential package from the Boston Celtics could include Brandon Bass, Courtney Lee and a first-round draft pick. Why Daryl Morey didn't accept that package is beyond me, but it appears as if Houston is determined to find playing time for their big man.
They need to figure it out, and fast.
Find More Minutes for Aaron Brooks
Aaron Brooks has been stellar off the bench this season, yet Kevin McHale still only plays him for 17.0 minutes per contest. His hustle and energy off the pine make him an attractive option to go to late in games.
Brooks is averaging 7.3 points and 2.2 assists per night, and he is also shooting a ridiculous 43.7 percent from deep. Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones have done a good job finding shooters on the perimeter when they get in trouble down low, and Brooks has been a direct beneficiary.
Sure, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley have earned the right to play more minutes than Brooks, but that doesn't mean Brooks isn't entitled to his fair share as well.
Francisco Garcia hasn't been playing all that great, so a lineup could be used with Lin subbing in for James Harden at the 2 and Brooks coming in to play the point.
Having three quality point guards gives McHale some flexibility, but playing Brooks more than 17.0 minutes each night would help this team succeed.
Improving at the Line
The charity stripe has been far from charitable for the Rockets in 2013-14. Houston has shot just 69.8 percent from the line this season, second-worst in the NBA to the Detroit Pistons.
Omer Asik (64 percent), Francisco Garcia (64 percent), Terrence Jones (57 percent), Dwight Howard (57 percent) and Donatas Motiejunas (53 percent) all fall under the team average, and they are directly responsible for the team's poor showing from the line.
Garcia's mark is surprising considering he's a guard, but Kevin McHale and the Rockets coaching staff will need to take their poor shooters aside and do extra work with them.
Howard goes to the line 9.1 times per game. Imagine if he made two more of free throws per game. Those points could potentially be difference-makers down the line, and the Rockets can't afford to throw games away because of bad free-throw shooting.
Buckling down and shooting better from the stripe is essential in 2014.
Shooter Fewer Threes
Houston attempts 26.4 shots per game from three-point territory. That's the most in the NBA.
Of those 26.4 shots, the Rockets connect on just 9.3 of them. That's a three-point field goal percentage of 35.3. While that does rank in the middle of the pack in the NBA, Houston could boost that mark by being more selective from deep.
Houston is a team built around shooters. James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin, Aaron Brooks, Francisco Garcia and even Donatas Motiejunas like to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. Even strong shooting seasons from Lin and Brooks haven't been able to salvage the team's mark, though.
If Houston took three or four fewer long-range shots each game, then they would be overall more efficient. I'm not saying to pass up wide-open looks, but contested shots need to be passed off to another shooter or big man down low.
Getting the team's percentage near 38 or 39 percent would work wonders for an already potent offense.
Play Better Defense
Houston does have the No. 7 point differential in the NBA, but that's mostly because of the fact that they drop over 106 points each night.
They allow exactly 102 points per game, though, and getting the mark below 100 would mean that this team has made the necessary improvements on defense to make a run in the Western Conference.
The San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are all holding opponents to less than 100 points per game, and they will be Houston's competition in the playoff hunt. Getting on par with those teams defensively would work wonders considering their offense.
Locking down perimeter shooters and preventing easy scoring lanes from opening up would help to remedy some of the problem, but contesting shots better is also an easy fix. Instead of staring down shooters, defenders need to rise up and put a hand in the shooter's face.
Making opposing offenses uncomfortable is something Houston hasn't done consistently this season. In 2014, they should aim to do that every night.