Despite early struggles defensively, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey believes the team can be a top 10 defense with some urgency and commitment.
It’s no secret that the Houston Rockets have been less than stellar in the first seven games of the season. While their 3-point shooting has been a concern early on, defense has been the major problem for Mike D’Antoni’s group, as they had given up 112 points or more in their first six games. Before Houston’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday, Rockets GM Daryl Morey appeared on The A-Team on SportsTalk790 to discuss the team’s defensive woes.
While admitting out of the gate that it’s fair for people to be concerned about the team’s slow start, Morey was confident in Mike D’Antoni and the organization’s ability to turn things around defensively:
“[Our] defense is nowhere near as bad as it appears right now. We’ve got to make those changes to make ourselves a top 10 defense. I feel very comfortable we can be a top 10 defense. I know that sounds ridiculous given some of the early returns, but a lot of the early returns are unsustainable. Once we tighten up and play better, you’re also gonna see the defense improve dramatically. We’re not as far off as people think.
When hosts Adam Clanton and Adam Wexler asked Morey about whether or not a “panic button” exists in his world, he assured that it does, but it’s nowhere near the time for that yet. “There are times where you should hit the panic button. We had a year where we were losing at home to bad teams by 20,” Morey said. “A big part of [all of our] jobs is separating when you need to make changes and when there is something fundamental going on that you need to fix. We’ve played below standards, but we’ve also made it look worse because of several other factors.”
Given where the Rockets stand defensively in the NBA right now, Morey’s goal seems lofty, but the team took a step in the right direction later on Monday, holding Memphis to 100 points in a 107-100 victory.
As it stands now, the Rockets are currently 29th in the league in opponents’ points per game at 123.1, just ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans. Breaking it down to defensive rating, Houston is allowing 113.9 points per 100 possessions, which has them at 28th in the league.
To get an idea of what it would take to be a top 10 defense, let’s take a look at overall NBA statistics as of Tuesday afternoon. The surprising Phoenix Suns are currently 10th in the league in opponent’s points per game, giving up 106.4, with Toronto just behind them, giving up 106.8. So far, Houston has only held their opponent to 106 or less one time, which was on Monday.
In terms of defensive rating, the Milwaukee Bucks are currently 10th at 102.4, with the Indiana Pacers just behind them at 103. The Rockets would need to shave off over 10 points per 100 possessions to get to this figure by the end of the season.
It’s important to remember that Houston gave up 158 points to the Washington Wizards early in the season, which is skewing some of the defensive numbers with only seven games to go by. Dropping that game entirely, the opponents’ points per game average would drop by six, down to 117.3. As the season goes on, the Rockets will need to avoid being caught in another All-Star-like game like the one that broke out against Washington.
Regarding Coach D’Antoni’s comments on the team playing soft after a crushing loss to Miami, Morey agreed: “We know what it takes to win. We all know that we’re going to turn this around and it’s going to be fine, but at the same time, the only way to do that is to inject some urgency. We had a great team meeting [on Monday before the Grizzlies game].”
For now, the meeting seemed to work. The real test will be if the Rockets can sustain the defensive intensity they showed on Monday as the season rolls on.