What does a new head coach mean for the Houston Rockets? Here are the top five predictions to keep in mind for next season.
The hire of new head coach Mike D’Antoni raises several questions for the immediate future of the Houston Rockets. A year after pulling off one of the most improbable comebacks in NBA playoff history and falling short in the Western Conference finals, the Rockets recorded a 41-41 season that looked better than what it really was: an underachieving team limping its way into a first round exit in the playoffs.
The Houston faithful are looking for a return to form.
D’Antoni ushers in a new era for the Rockets. An era that could look awfully familiar to that of the middle to late 2000s Phoenix Suns. D’Antoni relishes the offensive dominance of James Harden, an offensive talent that he hopes can be the Steve Nash of his revolutionary high-tempo offense.
If D’Antoni uses the offensive scheme that has become his calling card, you can expect five realities for the Rockets’ 2016-2017 season.
1. The Rockets will lead the league in scoring
D’Antoni integrated an offensive system with Phoenix that averaged just under 110 points per game in his four full seasons with the Suns. He walks into a situation with a bona fide offensive superstar in Harden and a team full of off-the-ball shooters in Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverly, Corey Brewer and possibly Jason Terry, barring he opts for retirement. Plus, the Rockets have spent the better part of the past two years focusing on offense and fully utilizing the high-tempo, three-point heavy offense that D’Antoni loves.
The Rockets averaged 106 points per game since the 2012-2013 season and were fourth in the league in scoring last year. The team has adopted an offensive first mentality since Jeff Van Gundy made his departure from the head coaching position after the end of the 2006-2007 season. Expect the team to continue the offensive attack, if not speed up the tempo even more, possibly adopting D’Antoni’s “seven-second” offense.
2. The Rockets will be one of the three worst defensive teams
It’s no secret that defense has been long absent in the city of Houston. And nothing shows any reason to expect differently next year. They may not be the worst, with the Brooklyn Nets and Los Angeles Lakers likely to continue to be atrocious, but Houston will still be one of the worst.
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The Rockets allowed 106.4 points per game last season (25th in the league) and have allowed triple digit scoring over the last four seasons. Although the nature of the NBA has changed and teams are scoring more now than ever, last season reached a historic-low with fans as far as the Rockets’ defensive effort.
While hopefully the team chemistry will drastically improve from the discombobulation that was on display last season, it’s unrealistic to believe Houston will leap ahead in the defense department. As long as Harden is focused more on getting to the free throw line than he is on simple man-to-man defense, in addition to the on-again-off-again attitude shown often by the entire team, defense appears to once again take a back seat, even with a new head coach.
While general manager Daryl Morey made it clear during the coaching search that defense was a necessity, the selection of D’Antoni proves otherwise.
3. James Harden will earn an All-NBA selection
James Harden was not selected to any of the three All-NBA teams for the first time in four years. After recording back-to-back All-NBA First-Team honors the last two years, Harden was not voted to one of the teams despite receiving more votes than any other player who did not make a team.
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Next year, Harden will once again be recognized among the game’s elite players.
A big reason why he might have missed out was because of his infamous defensive lapses and constant quarreling with fellow star Howard. But his offensive numbers speak for themselves. His 29.0 points per game where not only a career high, but were also second in the league behind the most valuable player Stephen Curry. He also averaged a 6.9 value over replacement which ranked fourth in the league while his player efficiency rating was 25.3, ranking ninth.
Under D’Antoni, where offensive possessions could start with Harden taking the ball 94-feet for a layup or a foul, Harden will continue to put up monster numbers and very likely lead the league in scoring. One interesting facet to look for next season will be how D’Antoni responds to Harden’s heavy one-on-one offense in which he either finishes at the rim, goes to the line or finds an open three-point shooter. While it usually produces points for the Rockets, it also takes a lot of time of the clock, which is something D’Antoni has never gone for.
4. The Rockets will make the playoffs
Will the defense be shaky? Yes. Will the roster still require a lot of work? Yes. Will the Houston Rockets be one of eight teams in the West playing at the end of next season? Yes.
There are a lot of issues and questions awaiting D’Antoni in his first year at the helm in Houston. But one thing Rockets’ fans can hold tight to is the return of postseason basketball in Houston. His Phoenix teams reached the playoffs in each of his four years and made it to the conference finals in 2005 and 2006. After two losing season with the New York Knicks, D’Antoni found a way to get them to the playoffs. And after taking over the head coaching job with the Lakers 10 games into the 2012-2013 season, he led them into the postseason.
Harden guarantees you an offensive weapon that only a handful of players in the league can match. With the return of Michael Beasley, Ariza and Beverly, it gives you options both at the three-point line and attacking the basket. Team chemistry will continue to be the Rockets’ greatest concern.
5. Patrick Beverly and Clint Capella will be the lone defensive anchors for the Rockets
As stated before, strong defensive possessions will be few and far between for your 2016-2017 Houston Rockets. But, two familiar faces may provide just enough defensive enthusiasm to avoid allowing too many 110 plus point games.
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Defensive pest Pat Bev and optimistic Clint Capella could be all the defense D’Antoni requires next season. Beverly averaged just under 10 points per game, but you expect that to increase in the range of 13 to 15 points per game with D’Antoni’s up-tempo style offense. His defense, which has been the pillar of his NBA career thus far, will continue to be there as one of the league’s biggest nuisances in the game, but don’t expect his teammates to share his defensive mindset.
Clint Capella, the 22-year old who just finished his second season could be the new center for the Houston Rockets. Capella showed glimpses of excellence on both ends of the court, especially with his defense. He averaged 1.2 blocks per game in 77 games and while averaging 7.0 points per game on 58 percent shooting, the potential for the Switzerland native is promising.
Ariza has been the go-to defender the Rockets rely on to cover the LeBron James, Kevin Durrant and other top scorers in the league. While this is doubtful to change, expect Ariza to improve upon his 12.7 points per game from last season, and find more of the 15 points a night he averaged in his first season with Houston back in the 2009-2010 season.
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