1. Welcome! Please take a few seconds to create your free account to post threads, make some friends, remove a few ads while surfing and much more. ClutchFans has been bringing fans together to talk Houston Sports since 1996. Join us!

[The Ringer] Are The Small-Ball Rockets Sleeper Contenders in the NBA’s Restart?

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by Patience, Jun 30, 2020.

  1. Patience

    Patience Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2002
    Messages:
    5,332
    Likes Received:
    3,045
    https://www.theringer.com/nba/2020/...ockets-sleeper-contenders-in-the-nbas-restart

    Are the Small-Ball Rockets Sleeper Contenders in the NBA’s Restart?

    Houston doesn’t need a traditional big man to make a deep postseason run—it needs near-perfect basketball from its superstar duo

    By Jonathan Tjarks Jun 30, 2020

    The grand experiment in Houston started out with a bang. In the Rockets’ first game after trading Clint Capela for Robert Covington and going all in on small ball, they went into Staples Center and beat the Lakers 121-111.

    Just about everything went according to plan. With no one taller than 6-foot-7 in the starting lineup, Russell Westbrook took advantage of the extra driving lanes to slice through the NBA’s no. 3 defense and score 41 points on 28 shots. The Rockets hit 10 more 3s than the Lakers, pushing the pace and running into open jumpers against a bigger team that lost track of shooters in transition, while baiting them into less efficient post-ups on offense.

    The results were more of a mixed bag in the next month. Houston went 8-6 with a net rating of plus-1.5 in its final 14 games before the league shut down on March 11with impressive wins against Boston and Utah and ugly losses to New York and Charlotte.

    How the new-look Rockets will perform in the playoffs would have been hard to predict in a normal season, much less with all the chaos surrounding the NBA’s return in Orlando next month. Houston, at 40-24, is part of a huge cluster of teams in the middle of the West. They are 2.5 games behind Denver for the no. 3 seed and 1.5 games ahead of Dallas at no. 7. I’ve talked to staffers on Western Conference playoff teams who think they are legitimate contenders. Others dismiss the team’s chances completely.

    All we know for sure is that the Rockets aren’t giving up on small ball. Under GM Daryl Morey, Houston has always been willing to push the envelope and take existing trends to their logical conclusion. The Rockets have finished in the top two in total 3-point attempts in each of the past eight seasons. The big difference is that no. 1 team in 2012-13 was averaging 28.9 attempts while no. 1 in 2019-20 is putting up 44.3. Every time the rest of the league caught up to the Rockets’ ways, Morey and Co. took it one step further. They are doing it all over again this year by going even smaller with lineups. Few teams would have been willing to cut a promising young 7-footer like Isaiah Hartenstein in order to sign David Nwaba, a 6-foot-5 power forward who is out until next season while recovering from a torn Achilles.

    Playing without a traditional big man, Houston has already accomplished something even fewer would have thought possible: turning Westbrook into an efficient player.

    Russell Westbrook’s 2019-20 Stats
    Pre-Trade 42 26.4 45.4 4.2 23.4 7.4 4.3
    Post-Trade 11 31.7 54.6 2.4 38.5 5.5 4.9

    Those numbers aren’t a fluke. The same thing happened when the Rockets went small around Westbrook before the trade. (The changes in James Harden’s numbers haven’t been as dramatic because he’s a one-man offense who exists outside of the normal laws of basketball.)

    Two things about this latest version of Westbrook stand out. The good news is that he has deemphasized the 3-point shot, relentlessly attacking the rim instead. The bad is that his assist numbers have gone down.

    Part of that is caused by Capela’s absence since the Rockets no longer have anyone who can catch lobs at the rim—but not all of it. The former MVP is a good passer and a more unselfish player than he’s given credit for. He will find the open man when the defense collapses on him.

    So why the dip? His teammates just aren’t making enough 3s. The other Rockets besides Westbrook and Harden are shooting just 35.5 percent from 3 on 32.4 attempts per game since the trade, which would be tied for 17th in the league in the whole season. The new offense is leaving a lot of meat on the bone.

    That’s where Eric Gordon comes in. Gordon, who underwent knee surgery in November, has been a shadow of his former self this season. He has appeared in only 34 games and is shooting his worst 3-point percentage (31.9 on 8.5 attempts per game) in eight seasons and worst 2-point percentage (46.7 on 4.4 attempts per game) in his past four seasons. The hope is that the layoff will allow him to return to his form as an elite third option in the past few seasons.

    Houston is going nowhere without him. Gordon is the team’s best outside shooter, third-best scorer and playmaker, and one of its best perimeter defenders. He made Donovan Mitchell’s life miserable in last season’s playoffs and is arguably the best two-way player on the roster.

    The concern with adding Gordon back is that he makes a team that was already small even smaller. Perimeter length was the key to the success of Golden State’s Lineup of Death. It didn’t need a traditional center at the rim because of how much space guys like Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Shaun Livingston could cover. All are 6-foot-6 and taller. Covington and Danuel House are the only players that size in Houston’s rotation.

    The Rockets have also gotten worse on defense since the Capela trade, although not as much as some feared. They went from a defensive rating of 109.6 in their first 50 games to 111.2 in their last 14.

    The team still has a lot of good defenders, from Covington and House to P.J. Tucker and Austin Rivers. But the downside of going small is that you can’t afford any weak links. Houston is switching on a lot more screens, and it no longer has a second line of defense with Capela in Atlanta. One bad defender can all make the difference in that scenario. The Rockets’ defensive rating since the trade goes from 115.7 in 249 minutes with Ben McLemore on the floor to 107.3 in 428 minutes without him.

    That brings us back to Harden and Westbrook. If Gordon absorbs most of McLemore’s minutes, the two All-Stars become the weakest links.

    But it shouldn’t be that way. Westbrook is a huge point guard (6-foot-3 and 200 pounds) and is still one of the most athletic players in the league. Harden is built like a tank (6-foot-5 and 220 pounds) and has the length (6-foot-11 wingspan) to hold up on defense against bigger players. He’s always been a great post defender, and Houston often puts him on opposing centers. One of the biggest potential upsides of pairing the two former MVPs is that they could share the load on offense and redistribute energy to defense.

    They can be pretty good defensively when engaged and challenged. There are plenty of clips of Harden and Westbrook making life difficult for big-time scorers:

    Their problems on the defensive end have always been the little things. It’s gambling for steals and getting out of position, not closing out with discipline, falling asleep off the ball, not hustling back in transition, and failing to rotate over and play help-side defense:

    NBA coaches will tell you they would rather have a less athletic player who understands his role within the defensive scheme than a better one who makes spectacular plays but routinely blows assignments. Doing too much can be just as bad as doing too little because it puts everyone else in a bad position. Even worse, players of Westbrook’s and Harden’s statures can’t hold their teammates accountable if they aren’t doing what they are supposed to.

    Harden, who has never been as in shape as many of his peers, has reportedly rededicated himself to physical fitness during the layoff. He’s second in the league in minutes per game, and improving his endurance could help him avoid running out of steam during deep playoff runs.

    But just as important for both Harden and Westbrook will be cutting out the mental mistakes. Turnovers are a perfect example. The Rockets stars are combining for nine per game this season, far ahead of LeBron James and Anthony Davis (6.5) and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (5.6). That can make all the difference in a playoff game or over the course of a series.

    The bar to win the West is incredibly high. It’s almost unfair to ask more of Harden and Westbrook, but Kawhi, George, and Davis all give their teams elite two-way play despite shouldering huge loads on offense. Even LeBron was playing more defense before the quarantine.
     
    #1 Patience, Jun 30, 2020
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2020
    sirbaihu, ryan_98, YOLO and 2 others like this.
  2. Patience

    Patience Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2002
    Messages:
    5,332
    Likes Received:
    3,045
    https://www.theringer.com/nba/2020/...ockets-sleeper-contenders-in-the-nbas-restart

    The Rockets don’t have much margin for error. Their stars need to play near-perfect basketball to make up for the talent gap between them and the league’s top contenders.

    The perception of the Rockets’ playoff defeats in the Harden era is backward. Houston has not fallen short because its style of play is dictated by nerds who don’t understand basketball. Its progressive philosophy is what got this team so far in the first place.

    The Rockets have not had a frontcourt player whom they could run offense through since Chandler Parsons in 2013-14. There was never a Draymond Green to Harden’s Steph Curry, much less a Kevin Durant. There still isn’t now. Harden, at 6-foot-5, has been the team’s tallest playmaker for each of the past five seasons. No championship team in the past 20 years has had a roster like that.

    The odds have always been against the Rockets, but not because they don’t have a traditional center. Their two best players are 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-5. The Clippers’ two best players are 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8. The Lakers’ two best players are 6-foot-9 and 6-foot-11. That’s the size difference that matters.
     
  3. CCorn

    CCorn Member

    Joined:
    Dec 26, 2010
    Messages:
    14,838
    Likes Received:
    6,926
  4. Patience

    Patience Contributing Member
    Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Apr 25, 2002
    Messages:
    5,332
    Likes Received:
    3,045
    jch1911 likes this.
  5. D-rock

    D-rock Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2006
    Messages:
    13,581
    Likes Received:
    15,479
    The portion about needing EGo back at his best is a no brainer. Not as concerned about his lack of length because EGo may be the best 2 way player on team when 100%. And he may be shorter than House but he is a better defender.

    This is the part that I am glad was pointed out.

    This is why I keep advocating for longer playmaking 3-D additions like 6'9 Jonah Bolden and 7'0 Dragan Bender. These rotation players meet the "skill" criteria that Morey and MDA emphasize.

    And both players are still available.
     
    dmoneybangbang, Patience and jch1911 like this.
  6. D-rock

    D-rock Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2006
    Messages:
    13,581
    Likes Received:
    15,479


    Strengths: Versatile player, who – under the right conditions – can be play in all front court positions… Great size and lentgh for a power forward…. He has really long arms and a very good wingspan (measured at 7-3 feet)… Smooth athlete, with very good jumping ability off two feet when he has room to gather… Team player, who plays inside the system… High basketball I.Q… He runs the floor extremely well for a big… Really light on his feet… Impressive ball handling for a player his size… Can start the fast the break as the ball handler and do the coast to coast if he finds room… Great on transition, really knows how to fill the lanes… Stretch-4 potential… He has a nice looking shooting stroke… Can Shoot the ball well from the perimeter, going all the way up to 3-point range… His mid-range game is really solid… Excellent on Pick and Pop situations… Can Play the Pick and Roll as the screener at a very good level… Solid on creating his own shot… Has a good Pull Up Jump shot as a counter move… Can play above the rim… Likes to finish strong at the basket…. Puts the ball on the floor and attacks closeouts thanks to his athleticism and solid first step… Very good passer…. Posseses great court vision and sees angles that are rare to be seen by bigs… Moves well without the ball… Very good rebounder, who is not afraid to bang bodies… Relentless on the offensive boards, puts a lot of presure on the opposing team… Great lateral quickness… He can switch on a perimeter player while defending the Pick and Roll with ease and hold his ground…. He is a great shot blocker, with good instincts… His length, defensive instincts and above average athleticism make him a good rim protector… Covers a lot of ground on defense with his length and athleticism and contests shots… Has active hands on Defense, which helps him make a lot of steals… Very good weakside defender…

     
  7. D-rock

    D-rock Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2006
    Messages:
    13,581
    Likes Received:
    15,479
    Bolden in 2020.

     
    jch1911 likes this.
  8. D-rock

    D-rock Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2006
    Messages:
    13,581
    Likes Received:
    15,479
    Starting with Friday night, Bender got off to an incredibly fast start as he reached double figures within the first five minutes of the contest, thanks to his ability to score at all levels of the floor. And it was the ability to use his size down low after rolling to the basket, to attack closeouts with his dribble drive skills and his stroke on fadeaways out of the post that fueled his season-high 27-point outing with 14 of those points coming from inside the paint.

    Switching sides, Bender’s role as a rim protector has been a consistent feature throughout all of his assignments and it’s clear that his capabilities in that regard have grown as the season has worn on.

    That was evident this weekend as Bender compiled seven blocks over the Herd’s two wins and his use of verticality has been key in being able to replicate the drop defensive coverage the Herd mimic farom the Bucks’ system. Along with that, Bender’s active hands led to a season-high three deflections Friday night against the Bulls, elevating his defensive performance even further.

    https://behindthebuckpass.com/2020/...der-shines-on-assignment-with-wisconsin-herd/

     
  9. D-rock

    D-rock Member

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2006
    Messages:
    13,581
    Likes Received:
    15,479
    Dragan Bender - 7'0 with 7'2 wingspan

    Only 22

    Strengths: Versatile player, who can play both forward positions and occasionally at Center, although for now is considered a power forward … Has all the necessary elements to become a prototypical stretch 4, if he continues to improve … Impressive size for a power forward. Solid wingspan (measured at 7-2 feet) and great standing reach (measured at 9-3 feet) … Runs the floor extremely well for a big guy … Very good coordination for a player his size … Good ball handing … Possesses high basketball I.Q. … Very good court vision, either while dribbling or playing in the post … Already an excellent passer … He can do just about everything at a good rate on the offensive end … Has the rare ability to play the pick n roll as both a ball handler and as a screener … He really likes to run the open floor and can lead the fast break due to his good ball handling … Improving shooter with the potential to be a very good mid-range and long range threat… Can attack closeouts against slower opponents … He has a nice right post hook, which is difficult to block due to his size … Despite the fact that he has a lanky frame, he is not afraid of contact … Willing rebounder … Great low stance on defense, with really active hands … Good lateral quickness for his size, which gives him the ability to guard wing players … Can become an excellent pick n roll defender (as a big) due to his lateral quickness, agility and speed … His great standing reach gives him the potential to be a solid shot blocker … Considered a hard worker and a competitor

    https://behindthebuckpass.com/2020/...agan-bender-proving-seamless-fit-defensively/
     
  10. jordnnnn

    jordnnnn Member

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2010
    Messages:
    7,660
    Likes Received:
    4,821
     
  11. hieuytran

    hieuytran Member

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2003
    Messages:
    431
    Likes Received:
    333
    You cannot call the Warriors one of the greatest teams ever and then call Harden and the Rockets playoff exits to them as failures.

    Even then we were one hamstring away from taking down them bastards!
     
  12. YOLO

    YOLO Member

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2012
    Messages:
    29,359
    Likes Received:
    22,432
    Great read. Thanks for posting @Patience
     
    Patience likes this.
  13. daywalker02

    daywalker02 Easter Egg Hunter - Tell me why? نحن عائلة
    Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Jul 17, 2006
    Messages:
    58,053
    Likes Received:
    18,074
    Totally forgot that it was David West who said that.
     
  14. jim1961

    jim1961 Member

    Joined:
    Jan 26, 2010
    Messages:
    9,848
    Likes Received:
    2,334
    The most important factor in any deep playoff run, IMO, is controlling the tempo. If they cant, they dont go deep. That simple.

    The 3's are not going to fall every game. But they only have to 4 games in a 7 game series.

    As far as the rest, it is just going to depend on our preparation and conditioning compared to our opponents.
     
  15. Will

    Will Clutch Crew
    Supporting Member

    Joined:
    Feb 14, 1999
    Messages:
    4,614
    Likes Received:
    6,711
    I've gone back and watched a few games from before the Covington trade, just focusing on Capela. His contributions, in terms of both effort and effect, were far worse than I noticed at the time. And I'm talking about both ends of the floor.

    The lob catching was not worth the opportunity costs of playing him as one of our five.
     
    Deuce and D-rock like this.
  16. DaBeard

    DaBeard Member

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2017
    Messages:
    2,117
    Likes Received:
    5,535
    The author in the OP said that Harden and Westbrook need to play near perfect basketball to win. Well duh same thing applies to LeBron-AD, Kawhi-PG, Embiid-Simmons, Kemba-Tatum, etc.
     
    D-rock likes this.
  17. waytookrzy079

    waytookrzy079 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 26, 2008
    Messages:
    3,410
    Likes Received:
    2,006
    That doesn’t fit national media’s narrative on crapping on Harden/Rockets.
     
Loading...

Share This Page

  • About ClutchFans

    Since 1996, ClutchFans has been loud and proud covering the Houston Rockets, helping set an industry standard for team fan sites. The forums have been a home for Houston sports fans as well as basketball fanatics around the globe.

  • Support ClutchFans!

    If you find that ClutchFans is a valuable resource for you, please consider becoming a Supporting Member. Supporting Members can upload photos and attachments directly to their posts, customize their user title and more. Gold Supporters see zero ads!


    Upgrade Now