How the Houston Rockets Are Becoming Less Predictable

John WilmesContributor IMarch 5, 2014

Detroit Pistons guard Brandon Jennings (7) has his shot blocked by Houston Rockets' Terrence Jones (6) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, March 1, 2014, in Houston. (AP Photo/Bob Levey)
BOB LEVEY/Associated Press

The knock on the Houston Rockets’ offensive style has been that it’s too easy to predict.

But that’s changing.

As the team’s relatively new core gels together, they’re developing more ways of scoring than simply racing against the shot clock for an easy three-pointer or a high-percentage shot at the rim.

The integration of Dwight Howard has been paramount in this development. He and his team both appeared reticent to incorporate his skill set earlier in the season, but now he’s become a pick-and-roll assassin, catching lobs for easy finishes quite regularly. Howard’s also finding these opportunities through other actions: backdoor cuts, spotting shoddy coverage and even just by outmanning his defender.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

In the month of February, Howard averaged 22.8 points per game, easily his highest monthly figure of the season. Consider it no coincidence that his team’s 8-3 record in February is also one of their best—their 10-4 mark in January was equally impressive.

Howard’s presence in the Rockets’ half-court offense has made his team more versatile and harder to beat. So has the arrival of sophomore power forward Terrence Jones, who’s developed into a beta version of Howard as an off-the-ball slasher.

But Jones also spaces the floor for his team, as he has shooting range which must be respected. He shot 33 percent from beyond the arc in February—not exactly a tremendous clip, but certainly one that demands defenses cover him.

Howard coming around the bend has been a pretty predictable story—he’s one of the best big men of the modern NBA. The Rockets’ rivals could see his monstrous figure coming. But Jones? His surprisingly quick development has made the Rockets attack a little too much to handle.

As has the continued mean streak of Patrick Beverley, who has turned into one of the more pugnacious point guards in the league. On any given night, his relentless defensive hounding can agitate his man enough to gift the Rockets turnovers and easy opportunities on the break.

Put more abstractly, Beverley’s energy can put other point guards on tilt. Seemingly ripped from another era of the NBA, he’s a true gamer whose mercurial style sends the opposition into fits that could very well break their back in postseason matchups.

Rather than a cavalcade of interchangeable three-point-shooting cogs that skeptics feared the Rockets would resemble, this has become a roster replete with character. Their fun, free nature is a testament to their growing chemistry and increasing modal options.

James Harden has even been able to take a step back in the scoring department from time to time, filling in as more of a distributor on some nights. In March, Harden's already had two games with ten or more assists—he'd had four the whole season before the month.

And while February was Jeremy Lin's worst month of the season, the rest of his team (including the ever-steady Chandler Parsons) has either ran steady or improved. Whenever Lin gets hot again, he'll provide one more piece of dynamite for Houston.

Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

The Rockets have even showed a little more defensive flexibility lately, using a decoy matchup with James Harden on David Lee to force the Golden State Warriors away from their perimeter game, and doubling down on rim protection using Omer Asik and Howard against the Los Angeles Clippers. They're still not exactly a lockdown team on that end of the ball, but they're widening their chest of tricks.

The Rockets can do a lot more to make themselves less traceable in the postseason, but signs of their progress have been quite positive. In less than one season together, they’ve rode a strong surge in playing range to one of the league’s best records at 40-19.