After finishing in the bottom five in pace of play last season, Russell Westbrook has catapulted the Houston Rockets toward the top so far this season.
Seven seconds or less. That was current Houston Rockets Head Coach Mike D’Antoni‘s mantra during the run and gun days of the Phoenix Suns for a few years starting in 2005. Even spawning a book titled after the mantra written by Jack McCallum, D’Antoni changed offense as the world knows it with his dedication to his offense getting the ball back down the court and into the basket in seven seconds or less.
With a lineup that included Steve Nash, Amar’e Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Leandro Barbosa, D’Antoni’s Suns would reach the Western Conference Finals twice but never get over the hump to represent the West. Still, D’Antoni’s fast-paced style would be adapted further and further every year.
To give an idea, let’s have a look at a statistic called pace of play. Essentially, pace is the number of possessions a team has in a game, so a team that plays quicker will, naturally, have more possessions per game. D’Antonio’s 2004-05 team finished the season with a pace of play of 97.35, which led the NBA.
Flash forward to last season, where the Memphis Grizzlies were the only team to NOT beat that figure, as all 29 other teams played at a pace of 97.38 or higher. The league-leading Atlanta Hawks finished with a pace of 104.56 last year, while Houston finished 27th in the NBA at 98.39. Given D’Antoni’s love of quick play, that number was no doubt front-and-center in his mind over the offseason.
While Coach D’Antoni would have loved to be toward the top in pushing the ball last season, sometimes it’s all about personnel. James Harden and Chris Paul had their moments, sure, but Paul’s style was usually more deliberate than other younger, more energetic point guards. In the offseason, the Rockets addressed their pace problem by acquiring the best possible solution when they dealt for Russell Westbrook.
How Westbrook has sparked Houston’s offense
While the season is still very young, Mike D’Antoni should be encouraged to see his team playing at a pace of 110 so far, which is second only to the Milwaukee Bucks. While certainly a team effort, it has been the superstar backcourt of Harden and Westbrook that has propelled the Rockets so far.
Everyone that has seen Russell Westbrook play knows he gives every play his all and brings fiery intensity to every action he takes on the court. The eight-time All-Star has established a reputation of making freight train drives down the court to force the action during his time in Oklahoma City.
On paper, the move to acquire Westbrook should do wonders for the Rockets on the fast break, and so far the numbers have proven that to be true. Houston has outscored their opponents in fast break points by 10 and four so far in their two games, and most of that is due to Westbrook forcing the issue.
An underrated part of what makes Russell Westbrook so deadly in the open court is his ability to push the ball even after getting a defensive rebound himself. He has shown an ability to do that numerous times so far, and even when not getting the rebound, he often sprints off along the sidelines looking for an outlet pass to start a break.
When asked about Russ’s effect on the Rockets’ pace recently, D’Antoni had a perfect answer: “Six seconds or less, baby. We’re working on it.”
Knowing his love of high-octane offense, D’Antonio’s answer probably isn’t a joke.