On Wednesday night, the Houston Rockets acquired guards Iman Shumpert, Nik Stauskas and Wade Baldwin in a three-way trade with the Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers. The Rockets certainly added some depth with the deal, as both Shumpert and Stauskas should see regular minutes in Houston, but the question is, has Daryl Morey done enough for his team to contend with the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference?
The Rockets have had a strange season.
They got off to a disappointing 11-14 start, with many questioning whether or not Houston’s offense was enough to overcome what was a dreadful defensive unit over the first two months of the 2018-19 campaign.
However, James Harden then took matters into his own hands, leading the Rockets through a stretch where they won 11 of 12 games, capped by a thrilling overtime road win over the Warriors to get to 22-15. During that stretch, Chris Paul injured his hamstring in a Dec. 20 loss to the Miami Heat and had been sidelined up until recently, but at first, it didn’t matter, as Harden’s scorching offensive efforts were carrying the Rockets.
But, since that 12-game stretch, Houston has been very ordinary, going just 9-7 over its last 16 games. Harden has not come back down to earth and Paul is back, but things just have not been going the Rockets’ way like they had been a month ago.
Depth had been an issue for Houston, so adding Shumpert and Stauskas definitely helps. The two guards will also provide some more perimeter shooting for the Rockets, which will make Harden’s dribble-drive game all the more deadly.
Still, to beat the Warriors, you need a lot. A whole lot, and I’m not sure the Rockets have that right now. Now, to be fair, Clint Capela has been out with a thumb injury and should be back soon, so once he returns, he will undoubtedly bolster Houston’s rotation, and Shumpert could kind of fill the shoes of Trevor Ariza from last season.
Again, though, overall talent is a question mark here.
The Warriors boast five All-Star caliber players in their starting five, not to mention seasoned veterans like Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston off the bench. The Rockets, meanwhile, have two All-Star caliber players in Harden and Paul and then a bunch of role players and glue guys.
Not that there is anything wrong with that in a vacuum, but the game isn’t played in a vacuum, and once you get outside that vacuum, you realize that you have to beat Golden State, which is a nearly impossible task.
Right now, I’m not even sure the Rockets are the Warriors’ biggest threat in the Western Conference, as the Oklahoma City Thunder have the length to actually bother the Dubs defensively, especially if Andre Roberson gets back sometime this season.
Sure, Houston has the reigning MVP in Harden, but how much longer are the Rockets going to be able to keep this get-out-of-the-way-and-let-James-score act up?
As Kobe Bryant said on ESPN’s The Jump the other day, that is not a championship formula.
I’m not sure how the additions of Shumpert and Stauskas change that. They are not guys who can get their own shots, so they will likely be standing out on the perimeter watching Harden dance with the ball waiting for a potential kickout.
It might be entertaining to watch, but come playoff time, opponents are going to key on Harden, likely sending traps up top and forcing the ball out of his hands.
For that reason, the Rockets may need to add another scorer who can get his own buckets. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, as those types of guys don’t grow on trees. Plus, Houston is really tapped out in terms of assets after making this three-team trade, so I’m not sure there is much else that Morey can do.
It seems like Morey is just trying to stockpile as many role players around Harden as he can with the hope that they can get hot in a seven-game series against the Warriors, kind of like last year when the Rockets actually took a 3-2 lead over the Dubs in the Western Conference Finals.
That being said, Houston was a bit better defensively last season, and let’s also remember that the Warriors did not have DeMarcus Cousins then. Now, they do, which presents yet another issue for the Rockets to worry about.
The key to the Rockets’ success in last year’s playoff series against Golden State was switching everything defensively and getting Stephen Curry into mismatches on the other hand, but with Cousins now in tow, the former is a bit harder for the Rockets to successfully achieve, and with Ariza gone, the latter is also more difficult.
Make no mistake: Houston did get better here, but not enough to seriously challenge the Warriors.