Houston Rockets: Mike D’Antoni plans to stagger Harden, Westbrook

Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook and James Harden (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook and James Harden (Photo by Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images) /

Recently, Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni spoke on making sure that two of his three best offensive players will be on the court at all times this year.

For the last several years, the Houston Rockets have tried to find players that would lighten the load for James Harden. When Harden isn’t on the court, the offensive numbers are expected to take a dip, but the numbers fall off a cliff when the former MVP is off the court. After the Houston Rockets’ 118-111 preseason win over the Toronto Raptors, Mike D’Antoni stated he would try to make sure that two of his three best offensive threats would always be on the floor.

Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni said after the game that he'll be staggering Harden and Westbrook but will always try to have two of Harden, Westbrook and Eric Gordon on the floor this season.

— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) October 10, 2019

This, of course, is a no brainer. The Rockets are a championship contender but one of the main problems for years is that they are too dependent on Harden to initiate all of the offense. This was alleviated for a while with the trade for Chris Paul, however, injuries and father time seemed to catch up to Paul last season.

The Rockets, being at the forefront of analytics, probably thought of this stat when pulling the trigger on the Russell Westbrook trade. When Harden was on the court last year, the Houston Rockets’ offensive rating was 116.6 but it dropped to 107.6 when he was off the court. The playoff numbers are even worse, as Houston’s offensive rating when Harden was on the court was 112.3 but dropped to 94.7 when he was off the court. That is a huge difference, especially in close playoff games.

Staggering not only Westbrook and Harden but making sure Eric Gordon is on the court with one of the two stars should change these numbers dramatically this year. Chris Paul had a great two years in Houston but creating his own shot was not a strong point and with his lengthy injury history, staggering his minutes with Harden’s was not always an option. Having Gordon work more with Westbrook makes sense considering Gordon’s ability to stretch the floor which of course gives Westbrook more room to operate in the paint.

Another benefit to staggering the two superstars

A familiar criticism came from the experts and fans of other teams when Paul was first brought to Houston. How could two ball-dominant guards work in the same backcourt? It was quickly put to rest when the Rockets staggered Harden and Paul’s minutes. Paul would come out at around the six-minute mark and Harden would play the majority of the second half of the first quarter with Paul off the floor. Then, Paul would come in for Harden late in the first quarter and would lead the team throughout the first half of the second quarter.

We will likely see Mike D’Antoni deploy a similar rotation with Harden and Westbrook. Paul thrived running with the second unit, especially in his first year, and Westbrook should have the same success.

Player grades from 118-111 win over Toronto Raptors. Next

Staggering the minutes of your two best players is nothing new. The Houston Rockets are hoping this year that the discrepancy between when Harden is off the court to when he is on is not as wide as in previous years with the addition of Westbrook. Only time will tell, but the Rockets have gotten off to a good start in the preseason.