Matt Bullard explains how Rockets’ Rudy Tomjanovich was ahead of his time

Houston Rockets Rudy Tomjanovich (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Rudy Tomjanovich (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images) /

Although the 3-point shot has become a large part of the current NBA strategy, it wasn’t always like that. Matt Bullard explained how Houston Rockets legendary coach Rudy Tomjanovich set the trend.

Houston Rockets TV analyst Matt Bullard spent nine of his 11 NBA seasons with the Rockets, and was a part of the Rockets’ 1993-94 championship team. Bullard was also coached by legendary Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich during each of his seasons with the Rockets, and became valuable due to an unprecedented coaching strategy used by Rudy T.

Tomjanovich emphasized the 3-point shot, which was a tad bit unorthodox for the NBA’s style of play in the 1990s. This was a huge advantage for Bullard, as long-range shooting was undoubtedly one of his greatest strengths, as he was a career 38.9 percent shooter from distance.

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The Bull recently joined Sportstalk 790’s The A-Team to discuss the strategy that helped him maximize his talents and flourish.

Rudy was ahead of his time in putting shooters on the floor around Hakeem Olajuwon, to space the floor, and give Dream more room to operate in the post.

But also to make defenses pay for doubling Dream in the post, so we had great shooters in Kenny Smith, Vernon Maxwell, Mario Elie, myself, and Robert Horry.

Sure, it sounds like a no-brainer to surround one of the greatest post players in league history with long-range shooters, but the 3-point shot wasn’t as widely accepted as it is now. Despite that, Rudy had a vision for maximizing Hakeem Olajuwon’s post strengths, and knew he was a great passing big man, which meant he’d find open shooters behind the 3-point line.

He also knew that spacing the floor would give Dream more room in the post. The strategy became effective instantly, as The Dream had career-highs in points and assists during each of Rudy’s first four complete seasons at the helm. During that span, Olajuwon averaged 27 points and 3.6 assists, compared to 22.8 points and 2.2 assists leading upto that point.

The Rockets finished inside of the top-two in 3-point field goals during each of Rudy’s first seven seasons at the helm, while also finishing inside of the top three in 3-point attempts during the same span. Compare that to the Rockets only having a top-three finish twice in the previous nine seasons before Tomjanovich was named the full-time head coach.

Not only that, the amount of threes the Rockets made per game increased each season from the 1992-93 season through the 1994-95 season. During the 1992-93 season, which was Rudy’s first full season as the Rockets coach, Maxwell, Smith, and Bullard each finished inside the top 22 in triples made. All in all, the Houston Rockets duo of Maxwell and Smith finished inside the top 21 in threes during Rudy T’s first three seasons at the helm.  In fact, Smith made 42.9 percent of his triples in 1993-94, which was eighth-best in the league.

One of the other players Bullard mentioned, Robert Horry, had shooting percentages of 37.9 percent and 36.6 percent during each of the Rockets’ championship seasons. Smith and Horry both finished inside the top 50 in that category during both of those seasons.

When you add it all up, it was clear that Rudy set the blueprint for the current era of the NBA, as teams are shooting threes at a much higher clip than back then. Bullard spoke about how Rudy’s strategy set the tone for the future of the NBA.

Now we can look back on it and say that was way ahead of what we’re doing today in the NBA. Rudy was putting those 3-point shooters on the floor back in the early 90’s and ended up winning championships because of it.

These days, Houston Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni has taken this strategy to another level, as the Rockets have broken the record for the most treys during each of the last three seasons. The Rockets have even gone so far to discard the traditional big man, in favor of playing the five-out strategy.

As it pertains to having shooters on the roster, the current Rockets team is built similarly to the teams Rudy T coached, as the Rockets have Ben McLemore, James Harden, Eric Gordon, Danuel House, P.J. Tucker, and Austin Rivers, who have all shown themselves capable of knocking down the long-range shot.

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But if it weren’t for Rudy Tomjanovich, we may not have seen this strategy.