Walk It Back: A Look Into The Rockets Sluggish Start to the Season

A look at a few factors that have led to the Houston Rockets slow start to the season, and a look at how they have slowly improved.

The Houston Rockets were one game away from making their first NBA Finals appearance since 1995. They had the most dominant team in the modern era on the verge of defeat, and throughout the summer, they let it be known that they were on a mission to finish what they could not last year in the Conference Finals.

This season's version of the Rockets has not been nearly as dominant as they were a year ago. With seven losses on their record this season, they have already reached more than a third of the number of games they lost throughout the regular season last year (17).

There have been multiple factors contributing to the Rockets slow start.

Through the first 13 games of the season these four factors have had the greatest impact on the Rockets' sluggish start.

#1.) Rebounding

Houston has been atrocious on the glass early in the season. Specifically defensive rebounding.

The Rockets rank 27th in the league in rebounding overall, averaging a mere 41.2 rebounds a game.

(Ironically, Houston ranks 12th in offensive rebounding, but only 29th in defensive rebounding.)

Houston's struggle to secure the defensive boards has been a major problem for them as it has led to many second-chance opportunities for the other team.

In a recent game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston got out-rebounded 52-39 and were soundly defeated 98-80.

In losses, the Rockets are only averaging 40.9 rebounds a game. When you consider that the league average is 47 rebounds per game, Houston's rebounding has been abominable. That is seven possessions that the Rockets are losing per game by failing to secure the defensive rebounds.

#2.) Chris Paul

This past summer, as expected, Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets agreed to a new 4-year contract following the tremendous success in his first year with the team.

To begin this season, however, Paul has struggled immensely. Most concerning of all, he has not seemed as comfortable or as effective in the offense. Following the Saturday night loss against the Spurs, Chris Paul was shooting a dreadful 29.4% from three and only a mere 38.5% overall from the field.

Chris Paul has been bothered by a minor injury in his elbow; he has been spotted getting treatment on it after a few games.

An elbow injury is a logical explanation as to why Chris Paul could be struggling to shoot. However, Paul has struggled for most of the season, aside for one vintage performance so far (In Brooklyn), so Paul's dip in production has not been a recent occurrence.

On the season, Paul is a -2.5 when he is on the court for the Rockets, which is the worst +/- he has had in his entire career.

Despite the slow start for Paul, Houston fans should not expect him to continue being this ineffective for the entire season. Paul is still only 33 years old, and it is not likely that he has forgotten how to shoot over the past few months.

In the last couple of games, Paul's shooting has improved -- he has been able to raise his field goal percentage to 41.9 and his three-point percentage to 34.8.

#3.) A Dreadful Offense

Mike D'Antoni's teams are known for excelling on offense. Surprisingly, this version of the Rockets started the exact opposite of a usual D'Antoni team.

Houston's offense began as one of the worst in the NBA. Following the loss to the Spurs, the Rockets ranked 22nd in offensive rating and only averaged 101.5 points per game, which ranked 29th in the league.

The reason the Rockets began so poorly on offense was fairly simple: they could not make their shots. Before their game at home against Indiana, the Rockets were missing layups, shooting a frightful 31.7% from three, and even missing from the free throw line (they ranked 25th in the NBA in team free throw percentage at a shocking 71%).

The law of averages is a real thing. Whenever a team is overachieving and rattles off a lengthy streak, eventually that team cools off and returns to their regular level of play. The same goes for a team that is under-performing, and for the Rockets, that appears to be the case as in their last two games (against Indiana and Denver) the Rockets are averaging 112 points a game.

#4.) Inconsistent Lineups

The final factor that has played a major role in the Rockets' unpleasant start has been the numerous different lineups that they have had to use in just 13 games.

The Rockets have had to use multiple lineups due to the Chris Paul suspension and injuries to key players like James Harden, James Ennis, and Eric Gordon.

To add to the inconsistency in the lineups, the Rockets have not been able to find a solid backup center. Nene has missed the entire season with a calf injury and Marquesse Chriss, whom the Rockets acquired in the Ryan Anderson trade, has failed to make an impact due to limited minutes and injury.

Brandon Knight (also included in the Anderson trade) has not played a single minute due to injury as well.

Last season the Rockets did not suffer from this much instability. Even though Chris Paul got injured and missed almost the entire opening month, the rest of the Rockets stayed healthy and were able to adjust to playing with each other despite missing Paul.

This season, the Rockets have not been able to use the same rotation for more than a few of games, and with many new players trying to learn the system, not having that consistency has lead to miscommunications on offense and defense, hindering the team's ability to get into a rhythm.

Now that the Rockets have been able to stabilize a rotation in the past few games, Houston has begun to demonstrate improvement and win games.

What to Look For in the Coming Games

The Rockets were at the bottom of the Western Conference a couple of weeks ago, but with their recent wins, Houston has begun to slowly climb their way up the standings (fortunately they were never Washington Wizards or Phoenix Suns bad).

However, there is some drama developing inside the Rockets organization. Late on Saturday night, news broke that Carmelo Anthony's status with the Rockets is up in the air. Anthony has missed the last couple of games with an illness.

Despite the criticism, Carmelo Anthony was not the reason for the Rockets early struggles, and he was actually key in two road wins at Brooklyn and Indiana. The Rockets as a team have just been bad.

Carmelo Anthony was not brought in to replace Trevor Ariza. He was brought in more to fill the role that the Rockets hoped Ryan Anderson would have filled a season ago, especially with the emergence of Gary Clark. To this point, Anthony has proved that he is more than capable of doing that.

But only Anthony knows if he is content playing that role. ESPN has reported that Anthony is looking for a new team, but Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey has refuted those reports, although he was not willing to confirm a long-term future for Anthony with the team.

At this point it is wait-and-see. Eventually Anthony will either suit up or an official announcement will be made by the Rockets that he has been waived.

As for the rest of the Rockets, if their offense continues on this upward trend, they will be back to the level of play from a year ago.

The Rockets defense has been solid despite the offensive struggles. Houston has now held five of their last six opponents to under 100 points, and it is no coincidence that Houston has won five of their last seven games.

James Harden and Chris Paul struggled early in the season for various reasons, but they are beginning to rise as they continue to play more games. The Rockets will only go as far as these two can take them.

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