In a season where the entire NBA has gone into a massive two star players per team alignment, Mike D’Antoni and the Houston Rockets have taken it a step further with the complete commitment to a system that has been wreaking havoc on opponents’ defensive rotations. As author of the Phoenix Suns “seven seconds or less offense”, D’Antoni has returned with a new take on his small ball philosophy.
Now small ball is not a new concept for the NBA. For example, the 2006 Golden State Warriors under the coaching of Don Nelson employed small ball and eliminated the top seeded Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs that year. The difference lies in the fact that Golden State had a hard time acquiring a big man, while the Rockets traded theirs away.
In trading Clint Capela and acquiring forward Robert Covington, Houston has basically eliminated the post position and has completely opened up the floor for James Harden as well as Russell Westbrook. The Rockets have not played anyone over 6’8” recently. This was a bold move from a coach who still has not had his contract extended.
So far, the Rockets have won eight out of their last eleven games with impressive wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Perhaps we should take a moment to examine the method behind the madness that could pose a formidable challenge for the current state of the game.
Defensively- At first look, you see that Houston should have a problem defending the post as far as matchups are concerned, theoretically. If you noticed in the first Celtic game, Enes Kanter had a difficult time exposing P.J. Tucker in the post.
At that very moment it occurred to me that most NBA teams do not have a dominant center/post threat and don’t look to make easy quick post entries, either. As far as the rest of their defense, they rotate well, switch all screen action, jump the passing lanes and pack into the paint on drives.
Offensively- They are the truest two player tandem in the league. Harden seems to be controlling the iso-ball, half court game while Westbrook is attacking in transition and posting up small guards. Both Harden and Westbrook shoulder the lion’s share of the Rocket’s three major offensive statistics; points, rebounds and assists.
The biggest question facing Houston for the short term will be their ability to rebound against taller teams with the playoffs looming large on the horizon. The Rockets bench production will also be a factor moving forward in the postseason. Can they beat the same team four times in a series utilizing this system?
The knock on D’Antoni has always been getting his teams past the conference finals and into the NBA Finals. There is no doubt that he has established himself as one the premier coaches in the league. Challenging the established way of play has become his trademark move.
However, there is a thin line between being a maverick and being an extremist. With regards to a contract extension for D’Antoni and viable championship aspirations for Westbrook as well as Harden, there is a lot on the line for these three gentlemen this year. Although it seems they may be missing a few parts to this machine, it should at the very least be an interesting run.