Have the Houston Rockets shown signs of improvement this season?

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Scratch that, we’re tanking, it was just the worst of times. The Rockets season ended with a team barely putting up 20 wins. At times we’ve seen moments of brilliance, and others blunders of sheer stupidity. While no one was expecting a wining team, games this season have left the fans wanting more. The end goal is and always will be the development of our youth.

Was the All-Star Break a border wall or a line in the sand?

By eye, it seemed like the team was finally figuring some stuff out after All-Star break. Fans were really excited about Green and we looked a little more cohesive than earlier on in the season. Maybe being beyond the trade deadline guys stopped worrying about being dealt. Maybe All-Star weekend inspired some of the youth- whatever it was, it felt like we were seeing a different team.

Pre-ASB the Rockets were 15-43 (to the tune of .258 win ratio), and post-ASB they were 5-19 ( .208). This does not seem like a dramatically different product on paper. As we tear down past wins and losses this team does show signs of improvement.

The Rockets started the season off with some really poor shooting. I have constructed a chart looking at the team’s shooting as a 5-game moving average Field Goal %. We see the team go through periods of droughts and monsoons (well, monsoons for a rookie team). In comparing our offense to the red-hot Phoenix Suns’ offense, you can see even at their peak performances this team fails to keep pace on that end.

More than wins and losses

A positive takeaway in all this is the Rockets are showing signs of progress. We start to see a change right around the 59-game mark, when the Rockets see their biggest uptick in shooting. That point is also right after the All-Star Break (ASB). If we isolate the team pre- and post-ASB we see that the Rockets shooting improved slightly from 45% on the field to 46%, and from 34% to 35% from 3-point range. While that may seem minimal, the change amounted to 4 PPG more.

Watch the racing bar-chart to see who takes the most shots in the season.

What is also encouraging is the fact that Rockets did this while increasing pace as well. Before ASG we saw the team average 85 field goal attempts with 38 three-point attempts, and after we saw 88 field goal attempts with the same number of threes. The rockets also took better care of the ball dropping their average turnovers down by around 2 turnovers a game. We have also seen them shift more play-making responsibilities over from Kevin Porter Jr. to a mix of Jalen Green and Joshua Christopher. The Rockets woes early this season on were magnified by trying to make their 2-big lineup work. By ditching that Christian Wood/Daniel Theis line-up the offense has improved. This is slow but steady progress.

Why are the Rockets better on offense?

My biased opinion leads me to believe the primary driver of these successes is Green. In this stretch Green has had multiple 30-point games and even a 40-point game while maintaining 46.6% shooting from the field and 33.6% 3-point shooting. Wood has been showing an ability to score the ball at will putting up a 55.7% field goal percentage on 38.2% shooting from 3-point range.

Unfortunately, their defense did not improve in this stretch. In fact, the defense has been the Rockets greatest source of variability. As you can see in the chart below-tracking opponents scoring on a 5-game moving average-the Rockets defense has been dreadful. If we compare their defense to that of Cleveland, Minnesota, and Phoenix (mid to best defenses in the league) we see how much of a gap this team has to make up moving forward. Even at their best point in the season, this team is allowing opponents to score around 118 points a game on them (while only averaging 112 points a game scored). The pace the rockets have been playing at does not overcome their inability to defend the ball.

Things to Look Forward to Next Season

The Rockets have some major wins to hang their hat on after a very trying season. Draft fortunes could easily come in and bias our perspectives on this season, so I would like to say these things long before we find out where we stand this summer: Jalen Green is the future of this team. His scoring is a thing of beauty and increasing his load does not seem to diminish his efficiency. Are we seeing James Harden level efficiency here? Hell no. But that’s not a fair mark. James Harden is a grown man who played college ball and has a well cultivated game. Heck, Harden’s biggest efficiency bumps did not come until he started playing for the Rockets and then again when we brought in Mike D’Antoni. Green has a lot of room for growth but it’s still relatively easy to stay high on his stock.

Furthermore, the summer of 2024 could be big. Houston could potentially have 2 top five picks as well as enough cap space to make a major splash in free agency. We could see the formation of an exciting and young big three as early as then. I’m not telling you to go out and cash in all your doge coin to bet on our title odds in 2024, but a play-in playoff berth could be in the stars for this team.

What will affect a lot of decisions moving forward is coaching. I have always set the bar for coaching to be a win-count of 30-32 games. That is the magic number. If Silas does not reach that mark, I will be scared for his future as our coach. With that said, that is a long time away. Enjoy the summer, and let’s root for a good drop of those ping-pong balls.

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