The Houston Rockets have turned two weaknesses into strengths

Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

In the offseason, Mike D’Antoni emphasized two things the Houston Rockets needed to improve upon, and so far they’ve responded well.

Coming into the season, Houston Rockets Head Coach Mike D’Antoni had two main points of emphasis to focus on: improving defensive rebounding and pace of play. Both of these areas were major weaknesses for the team heading into the postseason and definitely factored into why they fell short in the playoffs again.

Last season, Houston averaged 42.1 total rebounds as a team with 31.9 of them being defensive.  These figures had them at a disappointing 29th in the league in defensive rebounding and 28th in overall rebounding. While Clint Capela was pulling down a career-high 12.7 rebounds per game, he was simply not getting enough help from his teammates on the glass.

Through 18 games so far this season, the Rockets have upped their total rebounding average to 47.1 per game and their defensive boards to 36.2. These are vast improvements from their averages last season and now have the team sitting at seventh in the league in total rebounding and ninth in defensive rebounding.

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Capela’s recent rebounding renaissance has pushed his rebounding average to 14.7 per game, which easily on track for a new career-high for a season. The Swiss center has already had six games with 20 or more rebounds, including a 23-rebound performance against the Dallas Mavericks.

Clint Capela (@CapelaClint) already has six 20-rebound games in 2019-20, the most in a season by a Rockets player since Larry Smith in 1990-91. #OneMission

— StatMuse (@statmuse) November 25, 2019

Russell Westbrook can also largely be credited for helping the Rockets become a much better rebounding team, as he’s pulling down 7.6 per game from the point guard position.

When it comes to pace of play, the Rockets were surprisingly one of the slowest teams in the league last season. Their pace of just 98.39 was 27th in the league, only slightly ahead of the Detroit Pistons, Cleveland Cavaliers and Memphis Grizzlies (two of which didn’t make the playoffs).

This season, Houston has used the frenetic energy of Russell Westbrook to catapult themselves to second in the league in pace of play, averaging a pace of 105.64. Only Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks are playing at a quicker pace than Clutch City right now, with a slight edge of 0.88.

The frantic pace the Rockets are playing at now has helped them establish themselves as one of the best offensive teams in the NBA. At 118.2 points per game, Houston is sitting at third in the league in scoring, just behind the Milwaukee Bucks and Washington Wizards. Their offensive rating of 112.4 is also the third-best in the league behind the Mavericks and Wizards.

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With a couple of struggling teams coming up on the schedule in the Hawks and Spurs, the Rockets should be primed to continue their winning ways with their improved play this week.