By Will Baldwin
It seemed with every missed shot in the fourth quarter of game seven of the Western Conference Finals, the Houston Rockets seemed to buckle further and further down with their style of basketball. No matter what, “shooters shoot”, right?
But, the question for General Manager Daryl Morey and Head Coach Mike D’Antoni heading into the offseason is, was it too much? Is there a time when a analytically bad shot can be a great shot or, is the algorithm they established the best way to succeed in 2018 basketball?
The 65 wins by the Rockets this regular season, just the twentieth team in NBA history to accomplish that mark, would tell you that the way they played is exactly the way too play in the modern NBA. Find a superstar (or two) who can handle the ball and pass, spread the floor out and dare you to pick your poison between open three point shots, or layups at the rim.
The problem is not only the pressure it puts on your star ball handler but also, what happens if you cannot capitalize on your open threes. If someone starts to struggle, the misses can often infect everybody and even though technically the shot is better for the team, realistically it may not be.
That, is in a nutshell what happened in game seven.
The Rockets managed to miss twenty seven straight three pointers down the stretch of a close game. It did not seem like it was the pressure of the moment but rather, they seemed to get caught trying to match shot for shot with the Golden State Warriors instead of focusing on just finding a great shot. The thing is though, it was not like this the entire series.
The changing factor in this series was Chris Paul getting injured but not for the reason you might expect.
Paul gave the Rockets a mid-range dimension on offence that made them significantly more difficult to guard. Instead of just focusing on threes and layups, the Warriors had to focus on the entire court when Paul had the ball, something they never really figured out.
Not only that but, the future Hall of Fame point guard helped to establish a culture of scrappy, hard nosed defence, something that was always missing from D’Antoni’s teams at all of his other stops around the league.
So, what are the exact questions the Houston Rockets must answer if a championship is the goal in 2019?
For Morey, he has to find a way to supplement this team with more depth. Although the possibility of LeBron James is out there, this team was one to two veteran pieces away from knocking off the Warriors and in bringing in James, you would have to sacrifice the depth that has helped to make this team special. One or two more “PJ Tuckers” that can help extend the rotation and suddenly, another championship could be headed to Texas.
D’Antoni meanwhile must find a way for mid range jump shots and even a few post ups to fit into his offence. This team needs a way to slow down the pace at times and get back to what they do best and by adding extra dimensions, even in small doses, it will only enhance the danger of the Houston Rockets.
Maybe nothing or no one is more important than Chris Paul. It seems like everyone has said it before but there is a reason; Paul has to stay healthy. At some point, you have to change how you approach a season and off season because clearly the fact Paul breaks down at the end of seemingly every season is an issue that has to be placed on his shoulders.
Finally, James Harden, the leagues likely MVP. Harden needs to add a midrange element to his game. Right now, he relies too much on whistles that just do not come in the NBA playoffs. He needs to realize the difference between the regular season and post season and then adjust his game accordingly otherwise, he and his Rockets will be in store for moments like this for years to come.
The Rockets were so close this season to finally reaching their goal of the NBA finals but ironically what in many ways got them to this point killed them when it mattered most. It is time for the Rockets to add some diversity or, risk facing the same questions every singe off season. The definition of insanity is trying the same thing and expecting different results so, your move Mr. Morey.