The 2023 Houston Rockets: Hilariously Bad

The 2023 Houston Rockets remind me of one of those so-bad-it’s-good movies from the 1980s. Think movies like Road House and Over the Top. In other words, movies whose very premise is laughable but they’re wildly entertaining.

The identity of this franchise throughout Daryl Morey’s tenure as GM was modern, 3s-and-layups basketball. But with Morey in Philadelphia and former coach Mike D’Antoni in the NBA wilderness, Houston has gone through one of the weirdest and frankly funniest regressions ever seen on a basketball court.

Last year, they were the poster children for “when 3s-and-layups goes wrong.” They were fourth in the league in 3PAR. They led the league in FTR. And no team in the league got more looks from 3 feet and in. That’s a slam-dunk combination for great offense, so much so that the D’Antoni Index stat exists purely to measure a team’s ability to get the most efficient possible look.

But their players were so utterly dreadful that Houston’s offense was the fifth-worst in the entire league. Naturally, they went 20-62.

So Get Less Efficient. That’ll Work.

The Houston Rockets shot chart from the D'Antoni era.

This year? They’re not even pretending to be efficient or modern. Through games of October 31, they’re just 12th in 3PAR. They’re 16th in FTR. And they stand ninth in 0-3 foot attempt rate.

Sure, that’s still a D’Antoni Index above league average (plus-.008), but for the most part, their shot selection reflects a strictly league-average offense in terms of efficiency.

Their reward for all this? How about a woeful 106.5 Offensive Rating, third-worst in the league ahead of only those two pathetic clubs in Los Angeles.

When “at least we’re not the Lakers” is the best you can say for yourself—the Clippers, the league’s worst offensive team, we’ll get to in a future column—that’s not saying much.

And yes, we’re going to talk about the Lakers too. Give it time, my job ate my life.

A team that was fifth-worst in offense is now third-worst. They don’t attack the rim with the same zeal, they fear the long ball since nobody on their team can shoot it, and they’re not bullying their way to the line.

This is what happens when you try to play the right way but your players just plain stink.

Seriously, This Roster? Barf.

Houston is scraping the barrel in terms of salary. They still have John Wall‘s gods-awful contract ($40.87 million this year), and they also have Eric Gordon and Derrick Favors getting paid a combined nearly $30 million to go outside and yell at clouds.

On any night Gordon doesn’t start, the guys Houston does run out there make less combined than Wall does by himself.

This team is an extreme youth movement, the ultimate trial by fire. Of their top ten minutes-getters, eight are 22 or younger and five aren’t even old enough to drink.

Which means you’re watching a team with no veteran leadership other than Gordon on the floor make a ton of rookie mistakes and shoot like they’ve never picked up a basketball before.

These guys have eFG% numbers that wouldn’t have passed muster in the Dark Ages. Even Allen Iverson and Jerry Stackhouse could make shots more consistently than the 2023 Rockets (Iverson’s career eFG% was a pathetic .452 and Stackhouse’s was an even worse .446. They, along with Russell Westbrook (.468 career in an era with a higher league average), constitute the three worst shooters with long careers in NBA history.

All three would look like All-Stars compared to this year’s Houston garbage fire.

Awful On Defense

And it’s not like any of these guys have the saving grace of being able to play defense. Houston’s 21st in Defensive Rating, one reason their Net Rating is the worst in the league. At least the Los Angeles teams can get stops. The Lakers are third-best in the league defensively. And the Clippers are sixth-best.

But that’s why the Rockets are so much fun. They play fast. Their 101.1 pace is eighth-fastest in the league. And because they can’t defend to save their lives, you get to watch the other team do fan-friendly things.

That’s faint comfort if you’re a Rockets fan, of course. But for the rest of us randomly picking a game on League Pass, that’s entertainment.

The Houston Rockets seem to have done the impossible. They took a team that already stunk…and got worse.

But at least they’re not the Lakers.