Mid-season Houston Rockets report card
Stephen Silas’ team approached the first year by many as a weak unit worth watching that could at best challenge for a playoff spot while at least earning a spot as a favorite of League Pass. The latter scenario has not been realized so far. The Rockets enter Friday night with an NBA-worst 10–31 record. They rank last in offensive rating. No team has a lower assist percentage, and surprisingly, the NBA’s second-youngest teams are 28th in transition scoring. The Rockets are not just a rebuilding team. They are unfortunately one of the league’s ugliest clocks on any given night.
Let’s not be too sanguine with half a season left in the 2022-2023 schedule. The Rockets show flashes of promise amid extended stretches of poor play, and there are several individual pieces with All-Star potential. Growing that talent into a cohesive group is now the challenge.
So how should we rate the Rockets as we move into the second half of the season? Let’s break down some mid-season grades below:
This group has drawn the most frustration from Rockets fans and coaches this year, which is a compliment in itself to some extent. Few doubt the talent of Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, a pair of players who profile as a duo that could destroy Western Conference defenses throughout the 2020s. Green is one of the game’s best athletes with 25-point-per-game potential. Porter’s vision and size are impressive, and he’s definitely a more natural shooter than his young counterpart in the backcourt. But the collective ability has yet to translate into winning the basketball. Porter has more turnovers than just two players in the entire league entering Friday night. Green’s 47.2 percent field goal percentage ranks 134th out of 141 players with at least 300 field goal attempts. Houston’s point guard inefficiency is sinking the NBA’s worst offense. In a supposed breakthrough year, growing pains are on full display.
The reinforcements behind Porter and Green aren’t doing them much favors. Eric Gordon’s scoring is down in ’15. Garrison Matthews has little value if he shoots below 40 percent from three. More troubling is the state of Houston’s young guards on the bench, in which none of Josh Christopher, TyTy Washington or Daishen Nix have taken over as a serviceable backup point guard. I remain intrigued by Christopher and Washington. As we head back into the dog days of the season, both former first-round picks should step up.
Average grade: D
It’s hard to evaluate this group given Jae’Sean Tate’s extended absence, though when looking at Houston’s roster as a whole, and the ability to add quality arms looks to be a solid fit for general manager Rafael Stone . Tari Eason could flirt with second-team All-Rookie honors this season, and I’m especially excited about his future as a regular in the league for the next decade. KJ Martin is growing his past skills by being a hyper-athletic dancer. None of Houston’s young wings are making a noticeable statistical decline, though perhaps that’s attributed to the team’s lack of slow pace off the table. If the Rockets were to run like the wind, Martin’s skill set would get more attention around the league.
Average grade: C+
That could certainly change if the Rockets land a French teenager in this year’s draft lottery, but the first half of 2022-23 has calmed some concerns about the long-term viability of a pseudo-twin towers in the starting lineup with Jabari Smith. surrounded by Alperen Şengün. Smith’s low-maintenance offensive profile helps Houston survive in this format, as does his precocious ability as a spreader from beyond the arc. There are still some questions about Şengün’s defensive abilities, although he is not a disaster in that regard. The second-year big is an expert at chasing down guards and wings before hitting their shot with an outstretched paw, and he has decisively cut down on his foul rate this season.
It’s a bit of an indictment of Houston’s guards that the team’s offense is mostly only efficient when Şengün is the primary initiator. But the numbers don’t lie. The Rockets are 5.1 points better with Şengün on the floor, the team’s best mark, for Cleaning the Glass. His points-per-possession numbers in the postup match Pelicans phenom Zion Williamson. Smith has a more traditional path to a future All-Star Game given his two-way ability and smooth shooting stroke. Shengün can reach such heights on the back of his sheer basketball brilliance. His rise in Year 2 is the best development of Houston’s frustrating season.
Average grade: B
Silas’ long-term tenure as Houston’s head coach has come under increasing scrutiny in recent weeks, a natural development as the Rockets enter the middle of the season with eight straight losses and 13 losses in their last 14 games. And while the very nature of Houston’s rebuild — a complete wreck in which James Harden was effectively acquired exclusively for the capital project — will undoubtedly lead to significant growing pains, there’s a sense that Silas isn’t exactly maximizing talent. in hand. Center rotations early in the season, designed to give Houston’s guards a lob threat, resulted in severely reduced minutes for Şengün. The Rockets don’t prioritize transition as an antidote to their ugly half-court offense, and simple zones seem to undercut this group. Stretches of strong play are marred by long streaks of inattention and low energy, a death knell for such a young group.
Silas, in his defense, has a legitimate connection to this group of players, Porter in particular. Houston’s coach is a uniquely emotionally-intelligent individual, one who excels at taking the temperature of the room. He’s well-liked inside the building, and regardless of how long the Rockets’ tenure lasts, he should be a fixture on NBA benches for decades to come. At the moment, however, Silas doesn’t seem to have the answers to how to turn the sinking ship around this season.
Average grade: D
Here we have a micro and macro situation as we evaluate Stone’s performance thus far. Take a narrow view and it’s easy to criticize the general manager, with Houston currently having a roster that has little depth, no veteran point guard and a trade asset in Eric Gordon that feels far less valuable than when the Rockets held off in potential markets in the last year’s term. Silas deserves some of the blame for Houston’s ugly first half of the season, although as the saying goes (excuse the old man’s phrases), it’s not the X’s and O’s, it’s the Willie’s and Joe’s. The Rockets are simply too young and too untalented to compete right now.
Let’s not bury Stone so quickly. The Rockets deftly moved on from the Harden era and avoided the NBA’s formidable middle in a package headlined by Ben-Simmons, and via the tank trade route and picks, Houston now has a pair of top-three picks on the roster. his, both of whom have not yet turned 21 years old. The Rockets are also now in position to land another high lottery pick this summer, and even if Victor Wembanyama doesn’t come on board, G League Ignite Scoot Henderson could be a franchise-changing consolation prize. Stone and the Rockets were put in a particularly tough spot when Harden was forced out. The talent pool should pay off in the long run at the expense of the current pain.
Average grade: C