Are 11 NBA games enough to draw significant conclusions about the Houston Rockets and James Harden? Maybe, when you see the same kind of problems that have been there for quite some time, while some sort of apathy has shrouded this team.
The 111-95 home loss to the Boston Celtics drops the Rockets to 4-7 this season. They’ve lost four in a row; in none of them have they given up less than 106 points or scored more than 98 points. The safety blanket of James Harden isn’t working, and if the injuries to Donatas Motiejunas and Patrick Beverley are what’s been crippling this team, then someone has been doing a very bad job. It’s probably more than just someone.
We’ve already touched on the subject of Ty Lawson finding it difficult to exist next to James Harden and in general in the Rockets offense. Harden, in the meantime, is doing his thing, only with less efficiency than before (had a rough start last season as well) and the usual awfulness on defense. He’s leading the team with 27.3 points per game, but he’s shooting only 37.2% from the field and 26.2% from beyond the arc, jacking up 9.4 threes a game. That’s part of the Daryl Morey plan, but that has to come with accuracy, and not just a way of life regardless of the poor shooting.
Harden actually has a -5.5 net rating per 100 possessions so far this season and the Rockets are a 8.7 points better when he’s not playing, although that comes down to very few minutes. Harden isn’t the only issue here. Dwight Howard, when he’s actually healthy, looks that he’s carrying on with his consistent decline. He had only 5 points in the loss to the Celtics, and Clint Capela isn’t going to make up for the points Howard doesn’t get. Terrence Jones and Trevor Ariza scoring in double figures doesn’t make up for that either.
Right now the Rockets are in the bottom 10 of the league when it comes to offense (only 98.5 points per 100 possessions) but their defense is the most worrying thing, giving up 106.5 points per 100 possessions, with only the New Orleans Pelicans doing a worse job on defense. Having Howard on the floor isn’t helping either. He has a -8.1 net rating this season, without having any effect on the defense whatsoever. Not a good one at least.
Is it all about a coaching change? Kevin McHale might not be getting through to them anymore. It’s always been about giving the ball to Harden and get out of the way at Houston since he arrived from the Oklahoma City Thunder. They’ve been playing the way Morey has been ordering as well, and if McHale can’t get some life into this group, maybe it’s time to move on? It’s still not time to go into full panic mode for the Rockets, but it’s getting to that point, and quickly.