Without a doubt, the Houston Rockets are one of the most volatile teams in NBA history. They certainly have talent and superstar ability, when you consider both James Harden and Russell Westbrook as the two leaders and driving forces of their team.
While these two players are enough to make the Rockets a contender, they don’t help with making them less volatile. Not to mention, their style of play and questionable supporting cast results in their championship chances leaning towards a coin-flip chance.
Here are the major reasons the Houston Rockets are the most volatile team, that has enough talent to win it all, but also key weaknesses that can result in a first-round exit in the playoffs.
The James Harden System
James Harden is officially regarded as one of the greatest offensive players we have ever seen, and he has been building on that case since he arrived in the Toyota Center. Harden has become the best scorer in the league, ahead of the likes of Stephen Curry and even Kevin Durant. He simply cannot be stopped when he gets it going, and that might be part of the problem.
James Harden has completely fallen in love with the step-back three-pointers since the start of last year. While this is fun to watch and gives him higher MVP chances, you cannot win when that is the main offense that the Rockets run every time down the floor. Instead of using Harden as a part of a system, he has become the entire system.
Harden is the one who leads the offense, and the supporting cast doesn’t even feel the need to bring up the ball anymore. This is the complete opposite of the Rockets that could have and should have won it all two years ago when every single player shared the wealth. Now, everyone camps out at the three waiting for Harden to score or pass to them.
As Kobe Bryant said, you simply cannot win like this. Let everyone find their rhythm naturally, and the entire team will be hot instead of Harden carrying the load every night. He will eventually get burned out, and then fail to perform in key moments in the offseason as we have seen before. This simply needs to stop or the Rockets are in danger.
Russell Westbrook And The “Others”
The supporting cast of the Rockets, beyond Russell Westbrook, is simply not as good as what the Rockets had two years ago. Danuel House Jr. is a poor man’s Ariza, while guys like Gerald Green, Nene, and Eric Gordon have gotten older and are not as effective. Eric Gordon specifically has dealt with quite a severe injury and is just returning to form.
While players such as Austin Rivers and Ben McLemore have revived their careers with Houston, they don’t match up to the likes of the LA Lakers when they have multiple 3-and-D guys with plenty of sizes. Not to mention, only Clint Capela can be relied upon to play major minutes at the center position and he also relies on lobs from Harden and Westbrook.
Even though P.J. Tucker is a sturdy player and key or the team, he is playing major minutes every night and no one on the bench can fill his production. Overall, a complete lack of depth at the big man positions and inconsistencies from their supporting cast hurts the Rockets.
Mike D’Antoni is a legendary offensive coach, and he has done a tremendous job putting the Rockets in positions to succeed and win titles since becoming the coach a few years ago. Simply put, without D’Antoni, the Rockets would not have made the Western Conference Finals. Still, he has important flaws that cannot be denied.
First, it is his desire to focus the entire system of play on one player. He did this with Steve Nash, and Nash ended up winning two straight MVP Awards. James Harden could have won two MVP Awards in a row as well, and already has one. But the Suns never reached the Finals despite having a tremendous supporting cast, because one player cannot beat the best teams in the league.
The “James Harden System” is one that will probably beat 25 out of 30 teams on most nights. But when it comes to the playoffs, where everything breaks down and whistles aren’t blown as often, other guys have to step up. D’Antoni needs to revamp the system, possibly with assistance from GM Daryl Morey to make some trades, to give his Rockets team a better chance of winning.
D’Antoni also struggles with defensive guidance, and the Rockets are no longer one of the best defensive teams they were two years ago. They struggle to get stops and don’t have enough size to dominate the paint. Not to mention, D’Antoni also has key moments where he fails to call important timeouts in the playoffs and these are well-documented. Overall, Mike D’Antoni is a great coach but must address key areas of his own self if the Rockets finally want to capture the elusive championship.
Even with all these flaws, the Rockets still have the offensive firepower to win it all. They rank top-two in pace, thanks to Russell Westbrook, and have unbelievable stretches where they blow teams out with hot shooting and easy fast-break buckets. If they get it going, and keep it going, they might possibly be the best team in the league.
Unfortunately, basketball is a cruel game and sometimes shots don’t fall. When the Rockets don’t have their shot from deep, they are at tremendous risk for going cold while the opposing team scores every time down the floor. The Rockets are simply not good enough defensively to get stops when they go cold, and this is a very dangerous position to be in. There needs to be ball movement, and the “others” need to have confidence in taking the matter into their own hands and defending consistently as well.
With the current system employed by the Rockets, if they get hot, they can win it all. If they go cold, it’s a first-round exit. It’s as simple as that.