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Houston Rockets: Behind The Schemes and Weekly Steph

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After a 4-7 start the Rockets have shown glimpses of unyielding relentless effort under Interim Head Coach J.B Bickerstaff who has coached his way to a 4-4 record since the departure of Kevin McHale. J.B is the son of former NBA coach Bernie Bickerstaff and has had his fair share of tough times before joining the Rockets.

Bickerstaff was an assistant for the Charlotte Bobcats for three seasons in which the team had a combined record of 77-169. He then went on to join the Timberwolves coaching staff as an assistant for four seasons going 78-250.

J.B has seen it all, from the lows of losing to the highs of winning. Which is why the sudden jolt of effort you’re now seeing from the Rockets as opposed to the nonchalant whatever’s shouldn’t come as a surprise. But aside from getting Houston to actually give a damn about winning or losing to teams like the freaking Nets, Bickerstaff has thrown away the ever so famous “James Harden Up Top While Everyone Stands Around Staring” play that the Rockets ran 90% of the game and has benefited from doing so.

Nov 16, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and guard Jason Terry (31) sit on the bench watching the Boston Celtics in the second half at Toyota Center. Celtics won 111 to 95. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

“He’s awesome,” Parsons said. “First of all, he’s a players’ coach. He understands guys. He understands X’s and O’s and personnel. His dad was a great coach. He’s been around it his whole life. He really wants to win. He works extremely hard.

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“The biggest thing with a coach is how to manage players, how to get along with players, how to manage egos. He’s going to have respect from his guys. X’s and O’s he was always great. Time outs when I had him he was always able to draw something up on the fly. I think he’s going to be a really, really good young coach in this league.”

Mixing It Up Offensively

It is almost day and night when comparing the offensive fluidity we’re seeing from the past five games as opposed to the crap show that was put on display earlier this season. The Rockets are scoring 108.5 points per 100 possessions (per nbastuffer.com) in their last five outings. Although some may argue that the last five opponents were cake walks (actually it’s been pretty damn weak, -5.21 “Strength Of Schedule” the last five games good for dead last in the league) some optimism can be drawn from this recent success looking forward.

What we expected in the off season with Harden being off the ball a lot more is what we’re starting to see more and more of. One of the few tweeks that have come within this offense is that Houston has continued to find ways to position James on the elbow or block where he’s more often than not putting thinner and smaller defenders in a torture chamber.

Creating mis-matches for one of the most meticulous scorers to ever step on the hardwood isn’t such a bad idea. Another way of doing so is simply involving either Ty Lawson or Patrick Beverley in a pick and pop action with Harden. After the switch, James is than matched up with Beverley or Lawson’s defender. The Mavericks have terrorized opposing defenses through out the years utilizing Dirk Nowitzki in the same action calling it “HIGH FIVE” or “HIGH FOUR”

While creating opportunities for Harden is a necessity to success, Houston has a deep and talented roster so involving others is just as vital. In the past we’ve seen this offense become stagnant at times in the half court when James isn’t in rhythm. I mean in a league where players get paid to play and coaches get paid to coach, it isn’t hard to figure out that nine times out of ten they’re going to want to spread the floor and let Harden do his thing. So having offensive sets where there’s action involving players setting screens and curling with a purpose is way more effective than having them turn into statues in the corner.

In the clip above, Houston steals a page out of the Clipper’s playbook running a double high pick in which the five man dives towards the rim vacuuming the defense while the four pops out for a mid range jumper. Against the Pelicans not too long ago this set was ran with Lawson as the ball handler, Harden as the popper and Dwight Howard as the diver.

Although this play doesn’t work out because Lawson doesn’t take the proper angle and Howard isn’t set. The options out of this set are beautiful especially with these three involved. Lawson darting to the rim, Howard diving towards the basket and Harden popping into open space.

Of course it’s still early in the season so mistakes will be made as the starting and bench units are looking to build cohesiveness amongst themselves under a slightly new system. But with the Houston offense trending as of late, one can’t help but to imagine the potential it holds come mid January.

Still Figuring It Out Defensively

The Rockets have yet to maintain a persistent all out effort on defense for a full game. To be fair, the first unit has performed admirably well since the return of Patrick Beverley. He as of late has been the spark plug to all of Houston’s impressive outings. Trevor Ariza has aced assignments of defending superstars such as Dirk and Anthony Davis to a “T” and has been the most active Rocket in the passing lanes on most nights. However it is almost impossible to ignore the glaring weakness within this unit on this side of the floor. You guessed it.

Don’t be fooled. Yes he has shown signs of improvement in regards to preventing dribble penetration and he’s always been fantastic at closing out on shooters. But his performance off the ball has been abysmal. Teams are recognizing his lack of awareness on rotations and have targeted him in most some of their offensive sets.

When momentum shifts Houston’s way, the energy becomes contagious which leads to stretches of 2-3 minutes of solid defensive possessions.

Houston is a team that thrives off momentum. This can be more bad than it is good, especially when your superstars are almost sure bets for mental lapses through the course of the game. A lack of focus and attention to detail seems to be the reoccurring problem when evaluating the Rockets. In the clip below, Andre Drummond literally only takes a step forward which causes Dwight to lose sight of him.

But such as the offense, there are signs of optimism to take away from the most recent performances on defense. The defensive prowess of Clint Capela has made Houston’s small ball lineup a playable one because of his ability to play out on the perimeter. Houston likes to hedge hard or trap the ball handlers on pick and roll action up top, this at time has caused Dwight Howard some trouble as he has a hard time sliding his feet keeping up with opposing guards.

The Rockets are dead last surrendering 46.3 “Opponent Points In the Paint Per Game” (per teamrankings.com) and I don’t expect this to get any better over the course of the season. This is a common factor amongst switch heavy defenses. Most switch heavy defenses require an emphasis on perimeter pressure on and off the ball. In doing so, the risk of back door cuts and lane penetration is inevitable because it is humanly impossible not to slip up once during a span of 48 minutes.

Remain Calm

Of course it hasn’t been the season everyone expected for the Rockets. From setting historic 0-3 starts with 20 point plus losses to the firing of a head coach. The reasons for crossing them out of championship contention were all plausible. For a team that was possibly two healthy starters away from a Finals appearance, the hunger and determination to get back just hasn’t been there. But as any wise NBA fan would know, the 82 game season is a roller coaster ride. One week you can find yourself dancing in the top 8, slip up and before you know it, you’ll be in line outside the club with no hope of getting in before 2.

Though the record of 4-4 doesn’t shout new beginnings in any shape or form, the level of energy and effort these past few games have been different. The Rockets are now playing with a sense of urgency and if recent performances are big indicators of what’s to come, than worry no more.

Weekly Steph

Alright here’s the deal. It is absolutely disgraceful and borderline blasphemous to have a conversation these days and not include Stephen Curry. I don’t care what the subject is. Curry makes the world go round and so for that reason I’ll be including a section every week highlighting my favorite “Steph Moment” of the week.

We all know about Curry’s performance the other night against the Hornets. 40 points in three quarters. 28 points in the third quarter alone. But did you know that of those 28 points in the third quarter, 14 of them came within the last 2 minutes?

And check our our newest installment of NBA Sideline Chirps

Next: NBA Sideline Chirps

Make sure you catch up on our entire Team Preview Series, our Houston Rockets Player Profile Series as well as our SCS Round Table Sessions to help you get through the season. Start your morning with SCS Rocket Science Daily and visit us throughout the day to keep abreast of all your Houston Rockets news and updates.

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