Why the Houston Rockets will ascend towards the top of the NBA in pace
The trade for Russell Westbrook gives the Rockets one of the best transition players in the league and will likely increase the team’s overall pace.
For years, Mike D’Antoni‘s teams were known for their fast pace and uptempo offense, but in the past two seasons with the Rockets, the pace of his teams have decreased substantially.
In the 2017-18 season, the Rockets were 13th in the league in pace, down 10 spots from D’Antoni’s first season with Houston in 2016-17 when the Rockets were 3rd in the league in pace.
Last season in 2018-19, Houston’s pace dropped all the way to 27th in the league.
This season, however, Houston’s decreasing pace trend will likely come to an end for two reasons.
The first reason is because the Rockets cannot slow down their pace by much more since they were nearly at the bottom of the league this past season, and the second reason has everything to do with the acquisition of Russell Westbrook.
Why Westbrook will increase the pace for Houston
As most Rockets’ fans know very well, one of Westbrook’s signature skills on the court is his ability to rebound the ball. Westbrook has averaged double-digit rebounds for the past three consecutive seasons.
Although in 2016-17, those rebounds helped Westbrook edge out James Harden for the MVP award, the main reason that crashing the boards as heavily as Westbrook did was because it allowed for Westbrook to immediately get the ball and push the tempo.
Last season, the Oklahoma City Thunder were 6th in the league in pace which translated into averaging the 7th most points per game in the league.
Benefits of a faster pace
The benefits of having a constant fast-pace attacking offense are that it puts defenses in tough positions which force teams to have to hustle back to defend Houston.
A fast pace would be a tremendous advantage against teams like Denver, who’s best player, Nikola Jokic, struggles when having to defend an up-tempo offense.
Jokic has specifically struggled to defend Clint Capela in transition. Capela had some of his best performances against the Nuggets last season which included a 31-point performance in a Houston win.
The Rockets were 3-0 against the Nuggets when Clint Capela played. Now add Westbrook pushing the pace, and Denver could be at a bigger disadvantage as Capela excels at running to the rim in transition, and Westbrook excels at finding the open man. There will be plenty of transition alley-oops for the Rockets this upcoming season.
A faster tempo could also be more beneficial against teams like the Lakers, who’s roster is filled with older veterans, and could cause them to fatigue throughout the course of a game and especially a playoff series.
For the Rockets, the acquisition of Westbrook could see the return of D’Antoni’s famous “7-second or less” offense or something close to it.
A faster tempo means more transition opportunities, which means more eye-candy highlights. The 2019-20 season will be filled with electric plays, and quite frankly cannot get here soon enough.