Early this season, Gary Payton predicted the Houston Rockets would fizzle out in the playoffs due to a lack of defense and a number of other reasons.
Gary Payton has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind on the court or off. While much of what he says should be taken with a grain of salt — no, he couldn’t have just “tired Michael Jordan out” enough to win a playoff series as he claimed on “The Last Dance” — some of his words carry weight. As the 2019-20 season was beginning, Payton had a harsh prediction for the Houston Rockets.
Gary Payton is widely regarded as one of the best defensive players ever to play the game. Throughout his Hall of Fame career, he earned nine NBA All-Defensive selections, a Defensive Player of the Year award and nine All-Star selections. It’s safe to say The Glove knows all about that side of the ball.
So when he made his prediction for the Rockets’ chances this season, it’s not surprising he addressed their defense first. Payton appeared on “The Bounce”, a show for Yahoo Sports NBA, in November and gave his thoughts on the team.
“They’re not gonna be good in the playoffs because they don’t play defense. We’re not gonna change that. They’re not gonna play defense,” said Payton. Gary did give some credit to two Rockets for their defensive prowess, although one of them is no longer with the team:
“Only P.J. is gonna play defense and Capela is gonna block shots. But everybody else is not gonna do anything. They have to change their look.”
Of course, since Gary spoke about the team’s chances, Houston did make a few major changes, most notably the trade of Clint Capela for Robert Covington and the acquisition of Jeff Green. While the team did lose valuable rebounding, they haven’t lost much in the shot-blocking department so far, with Covington having surprising success in that department.
Payton also seemed to fall into the same old re-treaded myth that James Harden never plays defense despite numerous examples of the contrary. It is true that he still does lag behind from time to time, but he’s a vastly improved defender, even from his first year with Houston.
Since it’s been over five months since Gary Payton made these comments, there’s a chance he’s changed his tuned, but guessing from his personality, I doubt it.
Statistically, the Rockets haven’t really improved their defense from last season. When it comes to defensive rating, their 110.7 points allowed per 100 possessions is two spots better than they were last season (15th from 17th), but they’re now 22nd in the league in points given up per game compared to their 10th place finish last year.
The good news is the new-look Rockets have only played 14 games together, so no one fully knows how much their defense can improve in the new micro ball system.
While Payton may have exaggerated his feelings about this year’s Rockets squad, his point about Houston’s defensive issues still rings true. Let’s just hope Mike D’Antoni‘s group gets a chance to prove him wrong sooner than later.