The Houston Rockets are extraordinary at putting the ball in the basket. They have the NBA’s second-best offense behind the Golden State Warriors, and that offense got even stronger with the addition of guard Lou Williams before the trade deadline. That move, general manager Daryl Morey said, was made with the Warriors in mind. The Rockets are one of the few teams that doesn’t mind the idea of getting into a shootout with Golden State. In fact, that’s the only way they think they can win.
“We want to win the title, and obviously that’s probably going through the Warriors at some point,” Morey said in an interview on SiriusXM NBA radio. “And we absolutely figured the only way we’re gonna beat ‘em is with a barrage of 3-pointers and it’s probably going to be a 124-120 affair if we’re going to get past them.”
If you want to get nerdy about this, think about it in terms of variance. The only truth to the hackneyed phrase “live by the 3, die by the 3” is that the success rate on 3-pointers is inherently more erratic than shots near the basket. Theoretically, if a team that launches a lot of 3-pointers happens to get hot, it will have a chance to win even against the best competition.
In Houston’s 132-127 double-overtime win over Golden State on Jan. 1, its shooters were not even on fire -- the Rockets shot 14-for-44 (31.8 percent) from deep. The Warriors, though, were even worse, shooting 12-for-44 from 3-point range. That’s a six-point difference in a five-point game, so I shouldn’t have to draw you a diagram to illustrate why it mattered.
Almost every night, the Rockets have a natural advantage based simply on the amount of 3-pointers they take. They are the first team in NBA history to average 40 3-point attempts per game, and in a league that has been trending in this direction, they are still an outlier -- the difference between their 3-pointers attempted and the second-place Cleveland Cavaliers is greater than the difference between the Cavs and the 11th-place Los Angeles Clippers.
With Williams on the roster and Corey Brewer now in Los Angeles, Houston’s entire rotation is full of shooters from point guard to power forward. Eric Gordon and James Harden have each made 192 3-pointers this year, trailing only Stephen Curry. Ryan Anderson has made and taken more 3s than any other frontcourt player. Sam Dekker, Anderson’s backup, is only making 33.1 percent of his 3s, but he’s still attempting five of them per 36 minutes.
“We wanted to make sure our spacing was clean throughout the whole game, that we always had shooters in the game,” Morey said. “And Lou gives us that. So now in our rotation, every player on the floor except for obviously the 5 is able to shoot the 3-point shot well and attack the basket well.”
If the Rockets meet the Warriors in the playoffs, few experts will pick them to win. Their defense is still inconsistent, and Golden State is one of the most talented teams in NBA history. Houston has a ton of firepower, though, and its offense is well suited to the roster. If nothing else, the Rockets will make the Warriors’ defense work for every win.