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Get To Know A Playoff Team: The Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets v Golden State Warriors

Alright the Playoffs are officially on the horizon so I thought in the days leading up to it, this would be a perfect time for people who may have not watched much of the NBA season to get familiar with all 16 teams entering what is sure to be a fun ass second season. Since a lot of the seeds are still up in the air we’ll begin with teams we know for sure have made the playoffs and will work our way down. What better way to start us off than with the team who completely dominated the 2017-18 season: The Houston Rockets

Current Record: 63-15

Current Seed: 1

Starting five: Chris Paul, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, PJ Tucker, Clint Capela

Since the very start of the 2017-18 NBA season, the Houston Rockets have been the league’s best team. Through the first few two weeks of the year they saw their record stand at 5-3. They then didn’t lose three games again until December 22nd when they were 25-6. They’ve had three separate 10 game winning streaks on the season, which is pretty fucking amazing. Their 17 game winning streak this year was not only the longest of the year, but is also tied for 16th all time.

They’ve had this great amount of success because we’re seeing an offense that historically is one of the greatest of all time. This isn’t hyperbole either. Their 115.5 offensive rating on the year ranks 4th all time (Basketball Reference looks back to 1973 but good enough for me) and to put this in perspective the 73-9 GS team of 2015-16 didn’t even have a rating this high. The way the league has shifted in terms of style of play fits what HOU does perfectly, and while there were questions at the beginning of the year how CP3 and Harden would look together, the answer turned out to be pretty damn good. Here’s where things get a little exciting if you’re a Rockets fan. When you look back and the top 7 best offensive rating seasons in NBA history, only the 87-88 Celtics (5th) and the 09-10 Suns (6th) did not make the NBA Finals. To make this even sweeter for you HOU fans, the Rockets this season have the 5th best eFG% of all time. All of the other 4 not only made the Finals, but 3 of them won the whole damn thing with GS in 2016 being the only one to come up short. History tells us not only are we seeing a historic team, but one who very well should make and win the Finals. The problem though is this year’s GS team is basically right there with HOU in both of these areas, but let’s not worry about them right now.

When you look at what has made this Rockets offense so unstoppable, the first place you have to talk about is clearly their outside shooting. Not only do they make 3 more 3PM than the second ranked team in BKN (15.4 vs 12.4), they also take a crazy 42.3 3PA a night. We all think GS changed the thinking of outside shooting, but it’s been HOU who has led the league the last two years and GS has never taken more than 31.6 3PA at any point during their current run. We haven’t seen a team play like this at any point in NBA history which is sort of crazy when you think about it. D’Antoni has taken his system, found the right pieces to run it, and we’re seeing what that looks like when run well. It’s not a shock that another player is set to win an MVP playing for Mike D’Antoni. That’s obviously the main reason for the Rockets success, James Harden is having one of his best seasons ever

Pick your poison with Harden it makes no difference. He’s one of the best isolation players in the league, ranking in the 96th percentile and it’s something he does on over 33% of his possessions. As you can imagine, as a team the Rockets lead the league with 1.13 points per iso possession and they shoot 44% in those situations. Nobody scores more frequently with it, as the Rockets come in at 48% there as well. It’s nearly half their offense. What’s crazy is it’s not just Harden. Chris Paul has been just as nasty in isolation, scoring 1.13 points per possession and shooting 44.4% in those situation. He ranks in the 90th percentile. Not too many teams have two guys who rank 90+%. But this is just one way the Rockets can kill you. When they aren’t running isolation, they can use their deadly P&R offense, something they are in the 93rd percentile in. The two man game between Harden/CP3 and Capela is no joke because with the defense so focused on Harden, Capela can just roll to the rim with ease for an easy lob. It’s really indefensible if you ask me.

We won’t even talk about how the Rockets are in the top 5 in handoff plays or that they are the best transition team in the NBA. If you’re looking for a weakness offensively on this team you won’t find it. They know what they do well and until someone proves they can stop it things won’t change.

The lesser known thing about this Rockets team is they are also defending at a pretty high level. They have the 8th best Drtg in the entire league, and believe it or not James Harden is actually playing defense this year. Especially in the post. It seems like he has bought in enough to actually try, and that’s made all the difference in the world as he becomes a more complete player. CP3 we know can defend, same with Tucker and Capela, so while many think of HOU as this offensive juggernaut, they are set up for playoff success because this version of the Rockets play both ends of the floor.

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In terms of lineups, the starters as you can imagine are pretty good, and have a +6.6 point differential when they’re on the floor together in 227 minutes. What makes the Rockets so tough is they then add Eric Gordon to the mix, and the group of Anderson/Capela/Ariza/Gordon/Harden is a +22.6 in 217 minutes (second most used lineup). We know that the Rockets are basically undefeated this year when Capela/Harden/CP3 all play, but the fact that they are even better with Gordon in the lineup just goes to show the depth this team has.

The biggest question for this Rockets team is obviously around their two stars. Both Harden and Paul are notorious for playoff failures, and that’s most likely the main reason people may not be buying this Rockets team and their ability to make a deep run or get past GS. To that I say we’re seeing something from this HOU team that we’ve never seen before. They feel equipped to handle things if one of those guys struggle, something that couldn’t be said of previous Rockets teams. It’s what makes them one of the most intriguing teams in this whole postseason, because history says they should cake walk all the way to the WCF/Finals, but given the personal history of their two best players, it wouldn’t shock anyone if they underperformed. I can’t wait to see what happens.