By: Adam Spolane (@AdamSpolane)
Before the season started I identified the five biggest questions about the 2017-18 Rockets and attempted to answer them. As the team comes back from the all star break with the best record in the NBA, I decided to take a look at how the team has answered those questions and what questions still remain.
Can James Harden and Chris Paul co-exist?
Believe it or not, there was some doubt that Harden and Paul could successfully play together.
I just want to point out that both Chris Paul and James Harden love to have the ball. Like, all the time.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 28, 2017
The two stars have figured out how to share the ball just fine, and both players have played at an elite level with Harden the odds-on favorite to win the NBA’s MVP award.
The Rockets are second in the NBA in offensive efficiency, scoring 113.2 points per 100 possessions, but when Harden and Paul share the floor, that number spikes to 119.9, and the Rockets are outscoring teams by 12.4 points per 100 possessions with both on the floor. As great as Harden has been this season, the Rockets have actually fared better when Paul’s been on floor without him, but when Harden is on the floor without Paul, the Rockets are being outscored by 8 points per 100 possessions.
Did D’Antoni learn from the Spurs series?
After last year’s playoff failure against San Antonio and with the addition of Paul, you thought maybe the Rockets would take more midrange shots when teams look to takeaway the 3-point shot and the paint. So far, they haven’t. In fact, the Rockets have actually taken less, 7 per game after attempting 7.1 a season ago, by far the fewest in the NBA, almost four fewer than Brooklyn, who has hoisted the second fewest, and that’s rubbed on off Paul whose midrange shot attempts are down 40 percent from 5.3 per game last season with the Clippers to 3.1 with the Rockets.
These numbers don’t matter much right now, but it will be interesting to see what happens to the Rockets offense when facing the same team for two weeks.
Can Clint Capela take the next step?
The answer to this is a resounding yes. In his fourth season in the NBA and second season as a starter, Capela is putting up career-highs across the board, and he’s giving the Rockets over 14 points and 11 rebounds per game. His 65.4 field goal percentage leads the NBA, and more importantly, the Rockets have lost just once when he, Paul, and Harden have played together.
Offensively, Capela is one of the most devastating pick and roll finishers in basketball, and defensively, he’s shown the capability to defend anyone, surrendering just .86 points per possession when teams iso on him, important for a team that switches on defense as often as the Rocket do.
Capela has gave the Rockets a double-double nine of their last 12 games before the break, over the Rockets current 10-game win streak, he’s playing 30 minutes a game. All in all, things couldn’t be going much better for Capela with free agency just a few months away.
What is D’Antoni’s crunch-time lineup?
With 25 games left until the playoffs, this is still very much up in the air. When everyone is healthy, you figure Paul, Harden, and Trevor Ariza will be on the floor when the game is on the line. That leaves two spots up for grabs. In most cases you have to think Capela will be out there, but we have seen D’Antoni opt to play without a center in big moments. In all reality though, we are pretty much looking to see who fills one spot and the candidates are Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, P.J. Tucker, Luc Mbah a Moute and Joe Johnson. Anderson is least likely to be out there because of defensive limitations, and Mbah a Moute is right behind him because of offensive shortcomings. The Rockets value versatility on both ends of the floor, so you figure Johnson, Tucker or Gordon will get the opportunity to close games. Aside from the Rockets chasing the NBA’s best record, this will be the key thing to watch the next two months.
How will things change in the Tillman Fertitta era?
Fertitta has only owned the Rockets for about four months, and while there have been changes, those changes have been subtle. The new Rockets owner is a lot more visible than Les Alexander, but any real, noticeable changes will likely not be seen until next season. Alexander was known for spending to keep/bring in players, and needless to say, with Paul, Ariza, and Capela set for free agency this summer, we’ll learn if Fertitta intends to keep that going.