Not so long ago, the main issue in the NBA was can jump-shooting teams win. There was this young team in Golden State launching threes from all over the place, and Charles Barkley led the case that you can’t win if your game is based on perimeter jump shooting. The discussion was settled with Chuck wearing this t-shirt.
The moment that discussion was settled, another one started. How much shooting is too much? The test case for that are the Houston Rockets. The most progressive team in terms of tailoring their game according to analytics, the Rockets created a look not everyone likes. Well, most people don’t like it. That approach is personified in James Harden, dribbling the air out of the ball and launching a contested step-back (quite often traveling) three.
The Rocket’s commitment to their style and James Harden’s ego was on display last night when Harden went 1 – 17 from behind the arc. Houston is all about threes, layups, and free throws; the three wasn’t falling last night. That didn’t stop Harden from launching it without a conscience.
“I just think, if you’re 1-17, that’s just stupid. Like, if you’re 1-10, you should say, “I’m gonna stop taking threes.” It’s just ridiculous.”Charles Barkley, Inside the NBA
This example illustrates what Barkley was saying about the Warriors years ago. You will have nights when the shots just won’t be falling, and you need an alternative way of getting buckets to win on those nights. It’s not just the fact that Harden kept on shooting, but the Rockets didn’t have a different style of play to try. Everyone stands in the corners while James dribbles, and we’ll see what happens.
“I just think you have to be smarter. Some nights it ain’t working, you gotta go to plan B. The Rockets have plan A, plan A, and plan A. … Sometimes you just can’t keep shooting 3s if you’re not good at it.”Charles Barkley, Inside the NBA
Shaq wondered if “shooters shoot” is something we need to consider. Shooters have worked through slumps and find their rhythm. Kenny Smith explained the main difference here is, are you taking good shots or bad shots. If good shots are not going in, you have to keep taking them. But if you are forcing the issue so much you are trying to work through bad shoots – there’s no way to find your rhythm.
Westbrook was supposed to be that other style, someone the Rockets can turn to for Plan B in case Harden has a bad shooting night. Westbrook’s numbers have improved lately, but we’ve yet to see that happen.