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It’s Time for the Rockets to Stop Shooting From Inside the 3-Point Line

With Nene out for the playoffs, Houston should double down on its extreme approach

(AP Images)
(AP Images)

Nene has torn his left adductor muscle and, halfway through the second round, is done for the playoffs. The largest and oldest member of the Houston Rockets always felt like a throwback to an ugly turn-of-the-century style of basketball, particularly in contrast with the team’s futuristic offense. Not only does the Rockets’ layups-and-3s-only shot selection represent a commitment to the bleeding edge of basketball research, but Houston’s 50–3s-a-game approach is so extreme, so aggressively innovative, it feels like it dropped in from outer space.

Despite his old-school game, Nene played a role in that offense. He’s a convenient dump-off option for James Harden, Lou Williams, or whoever’s handling the ball. And since the Rockets also miss a lot of 3-pointers, Nene fits into the offense as a rebounder, where he trailed only Clint Capela in offensive boards per 100 possessions for Houston this year, to say nothing of his defensive attributes.

With that said — and intending no disrespect to Nene, who, by virtue of his willingness to wear dreadlocks even as he’s going gray, has proved he’s twice the man I could ever hope to be — the Rockets aren’t my favorite team to watch since the 2009 Magic because Nene crashes the boards. I want 3s. Any possession that doesn’t include at least one 3-point attempt feels like a waste, whether the Rockets score or not. Nene is 7-for-48 from outside the arc in 871 career games; when it comes to chucking 25-footers, Nene is about as useful as a nene, the rare Hawaiian goose.

In fact, since so many long-range misses come caroming back outside the paint like, well, rockets, Houston might not miss much on the offensive glass by going to the slimmer Montrezl Harrell; Nene’s per-100-possessions offensive rebounding numbers this postseason aren’t significantly better than Patrick Beverley’s. The Rockets do need to figure out how many of Nene’s 18 minutes a night they’re comfortable handing to Kyle Wiltjer, but that’s a problem for the defensive end, and defense isn’t as fun as chucking up 50 3s a game. Give me more 3s. I need 3s to live.