The Houston Rockets are primed to start a new era around James Harden, but is the offensive fire power enough to overcome the defensive flaws?
Daryl Morey Has Signed His Dream Players, Now Will It Work?
Houston also decided to part ways with interim coach John Blair Bickerstaff.
After an extensive interview process owner Leslie Alexander and General Manager Daryl Morey hired Mike D’Antioni as the next head coach. Morey was very busy during free agency interviewing many free agents and eventually inking Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, Nene Hilario and Pablo Prigioni to the roster. The formula is simple, let’s try to surround Harden with elite three point shooters.
To Live And Die By The Three Pointer!
Last year the Rockets ranked 19th in three point percentage (34.7%), yet ranked 2nd in three pointers attempted (30.9) and 3rd in three pointers made per game (10.7).
To put Houston’s three point statistics into perspective, for 2-years in a row the Western Conference champions Golden State Warriors ranked 1st in three point percentage (41.6%), but ranked 1st in three pointers attempted (31.9%) and 1st in three pointers made per game (13.1).
The moral of the story is the Warriors shoot a lot of three’s, but they were also the most efficient three point shooting team in the NBA last season. As a league the average for three point percentage last year was 35.4%.
Top 7 NBA teams in three point percentage averages last year:
- 1. Golden State Warriors – 41.6%
- 2. San Antonio Spurs – 37.5%
- 3. Chicago Bulls – 37.1%
- 4. Portland Trail Blazers – 37%
- 5. Toronto Raptors – 37%
- 6. Los Angeles Clippers – 36.4%
- 7. Cleveland Cavs – 36.2%
Notice, the 2 teams who met in the finals rank first and seventh. Not to mention all seven teams finished with a combined record of 392 wins and 182 loses. The NBA has transformed into an offensive player friendly league. Hand checking is a thing of the past and it makes it extremely hard for an elite defender to play defense. This leaves the door wide open for three point shooters since the defender can no longer make contact with the shooter to effect his rhythm.
The Newest Rockets!
Ryan Anderson is a career 37.7% three point shooter and the ideal stretch four to fit into D’Antoni’s system. Anderson’s career three point percentage is three points higher then the Rockets team average last year. Further, Anderson averaged 40.9% from downtown during the 2013-14 season. Notably, there will be times the Rockets go small and move Anderson to the center position.
Anderson at the five position is ideal for Harden to be successful. It allows Harden to operate one-on-one without the center and power forward cheating on defense, guarding nobody in the post. Anderson doesn’t need much space to get his shot up with his 6’10 frame and has a very quick release similar to Steph Curry. Take a look at Anderson as he knocks down 7 three pointers vs the New York Knicks:
Eric Gordon is a career 38.3% three point shooter and shot 44.8% from three in the 2014-15 season. Gordon finished 2nd in the NBA in three point percentage that year, right behind Kyle Korver. The Rockets tried a traditional point guard next to Harden last year with Ty Lawson, which for many reasons didn’t work. Gordon is a shoot 1st and pass later kind of guard, which is the best possible player next to Harden.
People seem to forget, but Harden was the point guard for OKC down the stretch in the fourth quarter’s with Russell Westbrook as the SG and Kevin Durant as the SF. The Rockets ranked 2nd in three point attempts per game last year. Picture Harden driving to the lane and kicking out to Gordon for a wide open three, like this play right here:
Nene was added to back-up Clint Capela at the center position. At this stage of his career his veteran leadership will be helpful for Capela who is only 22 years old. Check out what Nene had to say about his expected role with Houston:
"“I have been in the league for 14 years. It has been a blessing to be able to play for such a long time in the best league in the world. I look forward to working with and assisting our young players, like Clint Capela. I had the chance to compete against him and now it will be pleasure to help him reach his potential. I’ll help him in any way that I can.”"
I noticed last year the Harden and Capela pick and roll is unstoppable! Many people don’t understand why the Rockets decided to part ways with Howard making Capela the starting center for next season, but this stat can’t be ignored!
The Rockets Opponent’s Offensive Rating with Howard and Capela on/off the court last year:
- On: 107.9
- Off: 108.7
- Net Rating: -0.8
- On: 105.6
- Off: 109.8
- Net Rating: -4.2
Basically, Capela effected the other teams offense, more then the former three time defensive player of the year award winner. Capela is ready to lift off with the Rockets as the full time starter this coming season.
Mike D’Antoni has coached for twelve years as a professional coach. D’Antoni has a record of 455 wins and 426 losses for a winning percentage of 51.6%. Many believe the offense will take a huge boost, but it sure wasn’t bad last year with the Rockets ranking 7th.
The Rockets also hired coach Jeff Bzdelik to take over the duties on the defensive side, the real issue of the team. The Rockets ranked 22nd in defensive rating last year. Bzdelik has specialized in defensive schemes with the Memphis Grizzles for two straight seasons. Bzdelik offers a sign of hope for bringing back the old Rocket defense.
Arguably the main reason the Rockets finished 2nd in the west and made the Conference finals two years ago was their defense.
Last season despite copious injuries the Grizzles finished ranked 19th on defense (whereas the Rockets were ranked 22nd). That said, Bzdelik’s system gave up only 95.1 points per game (ranked second) and finished third in defensive ranking overall in the 2014-15 season
People forget, but the Rockets have a lot of players who specialize in defense. Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley (former All-Defensive 2nd Team in 2013-14), Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels (former ACC Defensive Player Of The Year), and Montrezl Harrell are all great defenders and Bzdelik should be able to have some fun.
How Does The D’Antoni System Work?
Steve Nash played for D’Antoni and won back-to-back MVP’s in this system. Nash expressed his feelings on how, Harden will fit under D’Antoni’s offense:
"I think Coach D’Antoni and James Harden will be a great fit. I think he’ll space the floor, and be clever in using James."
Nash continued on to say about Harden:
“I do think though that the Rockets have been utilizing James in a way that was kind of molded out of the way we played in Phoenix, so I don’t think a lot will change, but I think Mike will do a great job of refining his game and making him a better player, bringing the best out of him and hopefully turning them into a winning culture,”
Harden said during his 4 year $118 million dollar contract extension press conference, “I got a little bit of Steve Nash in me.” Harden ranked sixth in assists with 7.5 per game. Further of all non-point guards Harden ranked second (only behind Lebron James ) producing assists for teammates leading to 35.4% successful field goals off those assists. last year.
Which means for all the haters, Harden is an elite passer and has no problem sharing the ball. Harden was recently asked how he fits into D’Antoni system:
"“ You know what? The day he got hired, we watched film. We’ve communicated several times a week. You know, it’s going to work. I’m really excited about it because he’s prepared. He’s prepared, he’s given me knowledge, he’s given me things where I can fit into his offense and what he’s trying to do. And not only myself but the entire team — I asked him questions about how Patrick Beverley and the new guys that we got fit. So it’s exciting.”"
D’Antoni system is ideal for Harden’s game, specifically via floor spacing and running on every defensive rebound. In my opinion Harden’s assists per game will increase this coming season, but don’t expect the Rockets to be competing for a championship with just Harden. None of D’Antoni’s teams have ever made the finals before. Remember that statement.
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This system is a match made in heaven for Harden, but defense was the problem for the team last year. It seemed like there was always a break down on defense by one player either in the half-court defense or on transition defense.
Ultimately the new additions should improve the Rockets three point consistency.
Yet, I’ll leave you with these questions:
Will this system work for Harden?
Will the new acquisitions for Houston help or hurt this team?
Let us know!
SCS will update as free agency news develops. For now if you’re a fan who wants to follow free agency closely consider checking out my Free Agency Profiles for all 30 teams:
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