In August, I questioned whether the Houston Rockets were being overlooked for the upcoming 2018-19 season. So far, I have been very wrong about Houston. Admittedly, these concerns I alluded to three months ago (and largely downplayed) have been, to varying levels, actualized issues this season for Houston. Here are the issues I spelled out (and countered) before the season started and how they have affected the team.
Chris Paul is injury-prone
Paul is 33 and has had serious injuries in the past. CP3 has missed five of 22 games this season, but two were due to suspension. The issue has been more about playing alongside center Clint Capela and reigning-MVP James Harden, who has missed three games himself. In games Paul, Harden and Capela all played this season, Houston is 11-4. Paul is on pace to play 63 games this season, five more than in 2017-18.
Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah Moute will be sorely missed
We know Ariza wanted to make the most money he could in July. He wasn’t going to get that with the Rockets. He did get paid by the Phoenix Suns, but to the surprise of no one, he isn’t exactly lighting it up this season. Ariza has a true-shooting percentage of .522 (he was up to .567 last season). His defense is certainly missed, but, he is 33. It’s hard to measure intangibles like leadership and communication on defense, but it is likely there is a correlation between losing Trevor and underachieving this season. The Rockets correctly passed on Mbah Moute last summer. He has played in five games this season for the Los Angeles Clippers. James Ennis, the stop-gap wing-replacement for Ariza, hasn’t been the problem either. Ennis has a .614 TS% including 38% from three-point range on almost four attempts per game. He has been solid on defense, but is not the same level of defender that Ariza was for Houston.
Carmelo Anthony is in position to have a bounce-back season and will not disrupt the on- or off-court chemistry in Houston
Yikes. This was a swing and miss. Melo played over 29 minutes per game in ten games with the Rockets and had a TS% of .513 while being a black hole on defense. He was bad, but his demise was likely that he demanded more played time than what head coach Mike D’Antoni was comfortable giving him. The Rockets were 4-6 in the ten games Anthony played and have since gone 7-5.
It’s hard to point the finger at a singular issue. It has been a collection of problems adding up to a rocky start for Houston through 22 games. Yet, the Rockets are .500 again with 60 games left to play. The Rockets can still right the ship and turn the first two preseason concerns into non-issues.