The Rockets have made several changes this off-season, including the decision to part ways with the architect of the “switch defense” Jeff Bzdelik. How will they fare without him?
The Houston Rockets have had quite an active off-season, ranging from swapping superstars to the on-again/off-again contract negotiations with coach Mike D’Antoni to getting rid of former defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik. If you recall, Bzdelik was the master of the switch heavy scheme the Rockets have played on defense. During the 2018 season, the Rockets had the 6th ranked defense in the league, which was the same season they had the best record in the league at 65-17.
After that season, Bzdelik retired but eventually came back to architect the defense again last year. The Rockets got off to a slow start but finished with the second best defense in the league after the All-Star break. Despite that, the Rockets had a massive overhaul on the coaching staff including parting ways with Bzdelik and defensive assistant Roy Rogers.
They decided to instead bring in former Rockets defensive coordinator Elston Turner, who spent four seasons on Rick Adelman‘s staff from 2007-2011. Turner impressively received head coaching interviews in three consecutive years between 2008-2010. During that span, he received head coaching interviews with the Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls, and LA Clippers. He also was a finalist for the Portland Trailblazers vacancy when they eventually hired Terry Stots. That alone is quite impressive and also partly explains the caliber of coach the Rockets are replacing Bzdelik with.
Turner has openly spoke about how you can’t employ the same defensive strategy against every team, which certainly means the Rockets won’t switch as much as they have under Bzdelik. Whether the Rockets choose to abandon the switch strategy altogether remains to be seen, but I would expect them to mix it up, based on Turner’s additional comments regarding flexibility. The Rockets’ roster has largely the same personnel that previously thrived under the switch heavy scheme. Although the switch-heavy strategy wasn’t Turner’s, because he’s got a roster of players that did thrive in that system, I wouldn’t expect him to scrap it altogether.
Turner’s track record should allow him to make whichever decisions he deems to be best on the defensive end of the floor. Under the tutelage of Turner this past season, the Sacramento Kings forced their opponents to 15.3 turnovers per night, good for second most in the league en route to ranking 6th in steals per game with 8.3. During the 2018 season, which was the season before, the Kings’ defense ranked 10th with the fewest field goals allowed per game in the league. During the 2017 season, which was Turner’s first season in Sacramento, the Kings ranked 10th in fewest field goals allowed per game also. The Kings did not have any All-Defense players or Defensive Player of the Year Finalists during any of those seasons, making it even more impressive. Those Kings teams weren’t playoff contenders either, yet Turner was able to maximize their efforts defensively.
Then there’s also the fact that during Turner’s first 2 years with Houston, the team ranked second in defensive rating.
Whether or not the Rockets will retain the same switch-heavy scheme remains to be seen but Rockets fans should be excited about the return of Elston Turner as his track record speaks volumes. I personally think the Rockets will be in good hands defensively.