Houston Rockets

Doctor's Orders: How the Houston Rockets can get back on track

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Chris Paul, James Harden [NBA Getty Images]

The Houston Rockets are off to a slower start than they imagined after falling one game short of reaching the NBA Finals a season ago, so let's take a look at what they need to do differently to improve upon their 4-6 record.

Adjusting to the roster

The Rockets went into this season knowing they had to replace the absence of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, and it's clear they're still fighting over those growing pains.

They've filled those minutes with James Ennis (22.6 minutes per game) and Carmelo Anthony (29.4 mpg), but have also had to dive deeper into their bench with players such as Michael Carter-Williams, Gary Clark and Isaiah Hartenstein because of different injuries/suspensions they've dealt with.

The Rockets' bench currently ranks dead-last in scoring, averaging only 29.4 points per game. For perspective, that's a full nine points fewer than the league average.

It has been reported by ESPN's Tim McMahon that Eric Gordon is getting closer to a return and could possibly be back in the lineup as soon as Saturday's contest in San Antonio. This should help solve some of their depth issues and provide a much needed scoring burst to their second unit.

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Sure Not Now

But even before Gordon went out with an injury, he was shooting a career-low 23.6 percent from beyond the arc - a number the Rockets will need him to improve if they're going to turn things around.

Playing with so many new faces in the rotation will always take time to click, and that is part of the story early in the Rockets' season. They've struggled to find consistency in their rotation as their core of returning players - Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, PJ Tucker and Clint Capela - have only played two games together.

Houston did not lose their sixth game of the season last year until Dec. 22 when they held a 25-6 record. Adjustments to the roster helps explain their slow start but there's more to it than just figuring out lineups and production from their bench.

Back to the original offensive game plan

The Rockets pride themselves on 3-point shooting, getting to rim with layups and dunks and getting to the free throw line.

So far this season, they have struggled to do all of the above.

Compared to a season ago, the Rockets' statistics in most offensive categories have depreciated. A team that had the best offensive rating in the league last year is now ranked 26th, dropping from 114.0 to 104.2 points per 100 possessions.

There are plenty of statistics that correspond with this decline, too.

They led the league in 3-pointers made last year and are eighth in that category this season. They're still getting their 3s up - 41.9 attempts per game is the second-most in the league - but they're shooting 32.7 percent (25th in the league). They have the worst field goal percentage in the league (42.0 percent) and they're 28th overall in rebounding, failing to create extra offensive opportunities for themselves.

Their free throw numbers are way down - Houston attempted the third-most and made the second-most free throws last year and this season they're second-to-last in both of those categories. These numbers might be a bit deceptive since Harden, who's a master at getting to the line, has missed three games, but even when the Rockets have gotten to the charity stripe, they've shot the third-worst percentage (71.3 percent) in the league.

If Houston is going to turn things around, they have to go back to what got this team one game away from The Finals a season ago - high-volume 3-point shooting, attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line.

Defence, defence, defence

At the start of the 2018-19 season, the Rockets' former associate head coach Jeff Bzdelik, who was responsible of running their defence, had retired before the start of training camp. He played a major role in the success the 2017-18 Rockets had, transforming their defensive unit into one of the best in the NBA.

This season they find themselves as one of the worst defences in the league, ranking 21st in defensive rating, allowing almost 110 points per 100 possessions.

Not only do teams shoot 47.4 percent from the field against Houston, the Rockets rank in the bottom-five in the league in opponent points in the paint per game (52.4). It should come as no surprise, then, that they're also the second-worst defensive rebounding team in the league.

Luckily for the Rockets, ESPN reported that Bzdelik has agreed to rejoin Houston as a defensive coordinator "after Thanksgiving" to try and fix up some of the problems he left behind in early September. He'll certainly have his hands full in trying to return this team's defensive unit to what it was a season ago but if he is successful, that would be a huge step in the right direction for a team that is struggling much more than anyone has expected early on.

The Rockets are back in action Saturday, Nov. 10 against the San Antonio Spurs. The game will be broadcasted on TSN 2 at 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

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