While the beginning of 2019 had most people readying their “new year, new me” pledges, the Houston Rockets were looking for more of the same. After some experiencing struggles in the first half of the season, the Rockets have been able to pull themselves back into position to contend. Houston, ranked as low as 14th in the West at one point, went in to December 10-11 and fighting to stay afloat around .500. Since Dec. 1, they have gone 13-6, with two five-plus game win streaks, and climbed back into playoff seating.
Obviously, the biggest factor behind this reinvigorated Houston team and their success is James Harden. His play as of late has been nothing shy of phenomenal, and forced conversations involving comparisons between himself and greats such as Kobe Bryant. Alongside the reigning MVP chasing after his second is a unique cast, however.
Key roster pieces for Houston, Chris Paul and Eric Gordon, have missed significant playing time so far into the season. Gordon has sat for seven games so far this season and will likely be out for another week. After signing a hefty contract in the offseason, Paul has missed 13 games and is expected to miss 2-3 more weeks. Injuries, combined with preexisting depth issues, created a need for quality play from an unlikely group of names. Players like Danuel House, Gerald Green, and Austin Rivers have risen to the challenge and provided solid play for the Houston Rockets.
In bouncing back from their rough start to the season, Mike D’Antoni and crew didn’t change much. Instead, they stuck to what they knew to find success. In 19 games since Dec. 1, compared to the 21 played prior, the Rockets offensive rating as a team jumped up 1.9 points. Their true shooting percentage also saw 1.8 percent increase. With most other stats staying close to the same, the Rockets were just trying to score and do it efficiently.
Danuel House has been a breath of fresh air since seeing an increased role with the Houston Rockets. Starting in his last nine games with Houston, he is putting up 9.3 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.7 steals, and 0.7 blocks, along with a 52 field goal percentage and shooting 48.4 percent from outside. House has been able to provide substantial minutes to the Rockets, including two games with 30+, bring a boost in scoring, and even contribute to improved team defense. When House is on the court, the Rockets’ offensive rating is 3.4 points higher, and their defensive rating better by 2.1 points.
It is no coincidence that Houston’s top six two-man lineups and top three three-man lineups in terms of scoring lineups feature Danuel House or Gerald Green.
While not new to the team, Green has found a way to go beyond the role expected for his starting this season and deliver in big moments for the team. In the last nine games, the fan favorite has given the Rockets 26.8 minutes a night, bringing along 3.2 threes at a 37.7 percent clip, and a total of 13.4 points. Like House, Green’s on/off numbers paint a picture in how important he has been to the team, especially with little depth behind him. When Gerald Green is playing, the Houston’s offensive and defensive ratings are 3.5 and 4.8 points better, respectively. The combination of House and Green, now being known as the “Greenhouse Effect”, has been huge for the resurging Rockets team.
In order to fill in big minutes after Chris Paul was set to miss time due to his hamstring injury, Houston brought in Austin Rivers, and that is exactly what he has done. In eight games with the team, Rivers has yet to play less than 31 minutes in a single game. He’s even logged at least 40 minutes in four of his five starts. Since joining, he provided averages of 12.3 points, 3.1 assists, and 3 boards a night, while shooting 42.4 percent overall and 38.9 percent from deep, making 2.6 a game. His grittiness and ability to play off the ball has been huge for Houston, still dealing with two important members of their guard rotation out with injury.
It goes without saying that the Houston Rockets would not be on the run they have been on without the efforts of James Harden. Clint Capela has been showing up big for the team, as well, but without role players stepping up when it matters most, James Harden playing out of his mind could look a little more like Anthony Davis’ or Kemba Walker’s struggles to will their teams into victory night after night. Instead, the Houston Rockets are firing on all cylinders and arguably looking like the best threat to the Golden State Warriors in the West.