DALLAS — What Mike D’Antoni must think of these young, run-and-gun, jack-’em-up Houston Rockets.
“They are an exciting team,” said Dallas Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, a staple on D’Antoni’s seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns. “And, on the floor, they are a team I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Maybe since your Suns teams, Shawn?
James Harden and Co., are turning conventional basketball on its ear, spurred by the analytics revolution that suggests mid-range jumpers in today’s game are a waste of time. The Rockets aren’t without flaws — namely a defense that allows far too many points — as was the case in Wednesday’s 112-108 loss at the Dallas Mavericks, a tough one to swallow as Houston tries to solidify its playoff position.
Their offensive approach, however, continues to defy convention at a pulsating pace. The Rockets score the majority of their points in three ways: Drives to the basket for the majority of their high-frequency points in the paint, free throws and 3-pointers. Consider in Wednesday’s game that 100 of their 108 points came from those three areas — 38 points in the paint, 26 points from the free-throw line and 36 more from beyond the arc.
“That’s Rockets basketball,” Harden said.
Houston is the youngest team in the NBA and, at 33-29, it is poised to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They’re tied for the league lead in scoring at 107.0 points a game with Oklahoma City. They’re second behind the Knicks in 3-pointers attempted per game (28.7) and 3s made per game (10.6), fourth in free throws made per game (18.9) and second in points in the paint per game (46.5).
“We’re doing what suits us best,” said Rockets forward Chandler Parsons, who had 23 points and was 5-for-8 from beyond the arc against Dallas. “We don’t mind what other people do. That’s the way we should play. That’s the best style that we play is up and down with the personnel we have. I think that suits us best. I think it’s a perfect situation, a perfect style for the way we play, how young we are; we got shooters, we got playmakers. I think there’s no other way to play.”
Last month, the Rockets tied the NBA’s all-time 3-point record by draining 23 against the Warriors. Since the All-Star break, Houston has increased its 3-point attempts to a whopping 32.3 a game. They went 19-for-46 in a two-point loss at Washington two weeks ago. In the last seven games, the Rockets have attempted 30 or more 3s five times.
“They shoot about 25-30 3s a night, and that’s a lot of 3s,” Marion said.
Yes it is. But the exchange is worth it. In those seven games, the Rockets are 102-for-226 from beyond the arc for an astounding 45.1 percent. After Wednesday’s 12-for-32 performance (37.5 percent), they’re shooting it at 37.0 percent on the season.
“I don’t think, with our offense, you can’t put a number on it [3-point attempts],” Parsons said. “We go up and down so fast that sometimes in the flow of a game shots are there and sometimes they’re not. So, I don’t think the 3s hurt us. I think it’s just part of our game and if we have open shots we’re going to take them.”
The question, assuming the Rockets hold onto their playoff spot, is if this style can win in the grind-it-out postseason. Of course, Houston won’t be favored to beat either of their most likely postseason foes (OKC or San Antonio) so it might take another year or two of seasoning before the Rockets come of age and their style becomes dissected in the playoffs like the D’Antoni’s old Suns.
“We know the difference now between good 3s and bad 3s,” Harden said. “So, when guys are open I think everybody on the team is going to say shoot the ball.”
That’s exactly what they’re doing.