Houston Rockets: Poor Shooting Will Doom Playoff Chances

The Houston Rockets have been struggling with their shooting for some time now. If they don’t regain their prowess from beyond the arc, their playoff chances will suffer.

Remember when the Houston Rockets were having fun as they killed teams with endless barrages from beyond the arc in December? Well those times are clearly gone as the Rockets have gone 10-8 since the new year began.

What has changed, you may ask? Well there are several factors that have contributed to this rough stretch, from a brutal road-heavy schedule, to a lack of rim protection, to nagging injuries. However, the one change that is possibly the most frightening to Rockets fans has been the regression of the perimeter shooting.

The Rockets began the season by shooting an impressive 38.1 percent on their three-pointers in November. This number is even more significant when you consider that the team attempted 38 three-pointers per game, leading them to make a 14.4 of them per game on average.

Then in December things got even better. The Rockets increased their attempts to 42.9 per game, and actually slightly increased their percentage to 38.3 percent on such shots. This led them to make an astounding 16.4 three-pointers per game for the month.

However, the new year has not been kind to Houston. For the month of January, they shot 33.2 percent on their 39.5 three pointers attempted per game, leading to an average of 13.1 threes made per game. This cold stretch coincided with the Rockets’ offense dropping to ninth in the league during the month, far off from the third ranked offense they own for the entire season.

Who are the leading culprits behind this cold stretch for the Rockets? Three key players — Eric Gordon, James Harden, and Trevor Ariza — are the coldest shooters over the past month for the team.

Gordon shot only 29.9 percent on 10.3 three pointers per game in January (which was likely in part due to the nagging toe injury he dealt with throughout the month). Harden shot only 30.5 percent on 9.1 attempts in January, while Ariza shot 33.3 percent on nearly seven attempts per game during the month.

These numbers are well below the season averages for each player, making it likely they are anomalies. For the season, Gordon is shooting 38.5 percent on three-pointers, Harden is shooting 34.6 percent on such shots and Ariza is shooting 35.6 percent behind the arc.

For a team that relies on the three-pointer as much as the Rockets do, it is crucial that they (mainly the three players mentioned above) find their shot from behind the arc as soon as possible.

While their place in the standings as the third seed in the Western Conference is fairly safe (they are 3.5 games ahead of the fourth place L.A. Clippers), the Rockets are a team that should have lofty playoff goals in the form of challenging for the Western Conference Finals.

As I have written about previously, the Rockets could be (and probably should be) looking to make a trade for wing depth.  However, the most sought after wings on the trading market are not exactly three-point marksmen.

The Rockets should not panic after this cold stretch and look for another shooter in the trade market. Rather, they should target a defensive-minded wing and/or a rim protector to solve the defense slippage.

If the Rockets regain their shooting prowess in the coming weeks, this will all be for nothing. However, if this cold shooting continues and the November and December months look like the outliers, then they will be in trouble moving forward and in the playoffs.

The Rockets don’t have the defensive capabilities to overcome their cold shooting, which coincides with an under-performing offense, as seen in January.  Let’s hope the Rockets regain that explosive offense through re-discovering their three-point shooting. The NBA is a more fun place with Houston killing teams with unconscious barrages from beyond the arc.

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