The Houston Rockets recent slump highlights a big problem that is holding them back. What is it and how can it be fixed? Let’s dig into it.
The Houston Rockets are 4-6 in their last 10 games, including a current four-game losing streak, which has resulted in them falling all the way to the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
Over this 10 game stretch, James Harden has shot 37.7 percent from the field, including 29.5 percent from three, and is averaging nearly five turnovers. This goes to show that when Harden does not play well the Rockets are not very successful and ultimately points to the Rockets’ biggest problem: they rely too heavily on isolation offense.
Houston leads the NBA in offensive isolation usage as around 20 percent of their offensive possessions are iso, which is nearly double the percent of isolation possessions than the team second in isolation offense usage.
Harden leads any player in isolation possessions, averaging 15 per game, and Russell Westbrook is second in the league, averaging seven isolation possessions per game. It’s apparent that 22 isolation possessions between Harden and Westbrook are far too many and something the Rockets must cut down on if they hope to make a deep playoff run this season.
To be clear, I am not saying the Rockets should completely abandon isolation offense but rather cut down on how much they use it. I’m all for Harden, arguably the best one-on-one player and shot-creator in the NBA, utilizing his deadly step-back jumper in certain situations like late in the shot clock or in crunch time.
Similarly, I’m all for Westbrook using his explosiveness and athleticism to attack his defender one-one when he gets a favorable matchup. But with that being said I think the Rockets’ offense places too much emphasis on Harden or Westbrook playing one-on-one with their defender.
Instead of focusing on isolation offense, Houston should instead use Harden and Westbrook’s abilities to create more shots for others. This starts with Harden and Westbrook attacking the rim because good things typically happen when either of these two NBA superstars attacks the rim. They either use their athleticism to blow by defenders and get an easy bucket, get to the free-throw line, or draw a double team that leaves one of their teammates open.
And the Rockets have the pieces surrounding Harden and Westbrook to be able to knock down
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open shots. P.J. Tucker is one of the top corner three-point shooters in the league. Eric Gordon is a 37 percent career three-point shooter who, when he gets going, is among the league’s best shooters from downtown. Both Ben McLemore, who has emerged this season as a key piece for Houston, and Danuel House are shooting 37 percent from three-point range this season.
If you look at the NBA teams that have had consistent success over recent history, like the San Antonio Spurs under Gregg Popovich or the Golden State Warriors under Steve Kerr, they all have one thing in common: they focused on ball movement and creating shots for others rather than focusing on isolation offense.
If the Houston Rockets are going to be added to these lists, which they have the personnel to be on them, they must shift their focus from isolation offense to one that’s centered around ball movement and creating shots for others.