When the Houston Rockets traded Clint Capela to the Atlanta Hawks in that mega-trade that brought Robert Covingon with him, they not only unleashed the most progressive and unusual offensive system in NBA history, but they substantially expanded their range of results.
For a team like Texas, the difference between being eliminated in the first round or in a seventh game of the Western Conference Finals is negligible. The outcome is the same: back home without the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Thus, any risk that implies not having an interior tower does not suppose a worse panorama than the one that existed previously.
Houston was a good team before it adopted this extreme version of small-ball, but not enough to pose a real threat to the two Los Angeles coconuts in the West. Perhaps it is not now either, but at least they have a new offensive paradigm much more complicated to solve.
The entropic nature of this new system generated a wave of questions with very little action time to be answered. The main one, to know if it is solid enough to contain with guarantees to the great rival offensive weapons. A question that has not yet been answered. But that it has given some first samples of a higher effectiveness than initially thought.
How does the Rockets defense work without a traditional center?
The absence of an inner anchor has made Houston rockets on one of the most annoying defensive teams in the NBA. A tangle of hands that gets in the way of passing lanes, causing constant discomfort in opposing offenses and a feeling that any movement of the ball can be intercepted.
By directly attacking the rise of the ball, cutting the passing lanes, provoking offensive charges and opening the game to the post, Mike D’Antoni He has found a way to maximize the centimeter gap and use it to his advantage. « Our energy, our effort and our aggressiveness in defense is something that we have to maintain, especially being small, » James Harden perfectly defined the TNT medium.
Throughout the first five games in the bubble, it was precisely their defense and not their attack that has propelled the team to a balance of four wins and a single loss. They have the fifth best defensive ratio (107.5) in the league in Orlando, while their attack has been more discreet and occupies the twelfth position. In addition, they lead the league in deflections (deflected passes that do not end in steal) and are third in percentage of losses caused to the opponent. This not only makes up for the absence of a protect-rim but helps create a quick and direct offense. Nearly 16% of the Rockets’ plays at Disney World have been in transition, the second-highest mark in the league, and quick counterattacks often translate into quick shots as opponents fail to generate an effective defensive balance.
Robert Covington and P.J. Tucker They make up a duo of skilled thieves and crafty aid advocates. Both provide the defensive foundation necessary for the D’Antoni system to function. The rest of the components have accepted the challenge and add additional revenues. In an even more aggressive approach, Russell Westbrook can directly attack the passing lanes and James Harden’s fast hands generate a large number of steals, either in one-on-one or the many assists featured by the rotation. Another virtue is the physical strength and implicit intensity shared by much of the roster.
Each of the opponents in Orlando has tried to exploit the Houston Rockets’ lack of inches by feeding balls to their tall men, but none have been able to capitalize on this advantage enough against robust and compact defenders. These rarely try to block the shots, but instead focus on taking advantage of their low center of gravity, working the court, making it difficult to catch and discomfort through the use of the body. A tactic perfectly exploited by Andre Iguodala in his numerous matches against LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
The results are obvious. Teams have consistently attacked the Rockets post more than any other. However, the Texans keep their opponents in the third lowest efficiency to the post in the league. No one is more aware of this fact than the Rockets themselves, who gain a mathematical advantage by inviting the least profitable play in basketball today. In turn, they force unproductive isolations at the edge through constant screens and assignment changes.
However, there are ways to attack this reduced small-ball defense from the Houston Rockets. His vulnerability in the paint remains a fact and the aggressiveness of anticipating the passing lanes also carries a great risk of collecting too many fouls. Opponents can also use the mark of James harden to generate missmatches or isolations that allow to attack the painting frontally. Influencing Covington’s minor weigh-in can expose his limitations and lock in the team’s best support defender.
The Rockets are one of the teams with the most aggressive defensive assists in the entire NBA. But the lack of resistance under the rim is a critical point against teams that move very well in the paint and have many centimeters in it, as is the case with Los angeles lakers with Anthony Davis or Denver Nuggets with Nikola Jokic.
Plus, this defensive approach is only worth it if the Rockets keep the effectiveness of their usual firepower intact. They depend a lot on triple and clarified, two resources that have not been able to explode in the bubble. Before the suspension of the season they were the second team with the most points for possession, behind only the Dallas Mavericks. In Orlando they occupy the ninth position.
The real litmus test will come shortly with the playoffs dispute. Only then will we know the real scope of a system that, on the other hand, is still in the beta phase and that has all the earmarks of being able to evolve even more in the coming years, perhaps opening up a new basketball paradigm in basketball. NBA.