Rockets News

Analyzing the revamped Houston Rockets offense in the Orlando bubble

By Amsal Madhani
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets James Harden (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets have been rolling in the Orlando Bubble, going 2-1 to start the regular season, and most of the credit has to go to their exceptional play on the offensive end.

Everyone knows that the Houston Rockets are a lethal offensive team. Whether they’re making a plethora of threes or scoring 40 points in the paint, they’re hard to stop. To give an idea of how deadly this Rockets offense has been, they’ve scored a combined 375 points through the first three games of the regular season.

When you have two former MVPs at the guard spots along with wing defenders who can shoot and are quick, you’re bound to be a tough offensive team to contain. Coach Mike D’Antoni has always been known as an offensive mastermind and has proved that year after year.

After switching to small ball midseason and having four months off to search for a way to make the Rockets’ offense more efficient, D’Antoni has found the recipe to get the most out of his new system.

The Houston Rockets Offense in the Bubble

The Rockets’ offense is built on iso basketball. Having great iso players like James Harden and Russell Westbrook is what makes this team so lethal on offense. D’Antoni has shown throughout the first few games of the regular season that nothing has changed in the gameplan.

Nobody can guard Harden or Westbrook one on one, so opposing players always have to help. Due to this, a shooter will always be open. The Rockets have used their two MVP’s strengths to their advantage.

Next: Diving further into the offense

Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Russell Westbrook (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /

Diving further into the offense

Almost every Rockets possession is either Harden or Westbrook attacking the paint, causing the opposing defense to crash. This then leads to either one of them kicking the ball out to an open shooter.

In this possession, Harden drives past Wesley Matthews, causing Brook Lopez and Khris Middleton to help, which allows Harden to make the easy pass to Jeff Green in the corner, who then nails an open three:

Slip screens using Westbrook and Harden as Distractions

Having guys like Harden and Westbrook on your team can be a big positive not only on the scoring margin but also with their presence alone. Opposing defenses are so focused on stopping either of the two that they forget that the Rockets have other players that can put the ball in the basket at will.

One way they have utilized this advantage is by running slip screens with Harden and Westbrook. Whenever they are involved in a screen play, most of the attention goes to them, leaving the other player involved in the screen either open for three or a layup.

That then leaves Westbrook and Harden with the choice of either taking a shot if they have enough space or kicking it out to the shooter or roller for an easy bucket. This screen-slip play has confused a lot of opposing defenses as they have to make the tough decision of letting Harden or Westbrook take their shot or allowing an easy bucket from another role play on the Rockets.

In this scenario, Westbrook and Ben McLemore are in an off-ball screen play when Westbrook sets the screen and fades out to the 3-point line while McLemore rolls to the basket. The defense then chooses to let Westbrook take the open three rather than give the easy layup to McLemore.

Next: Going back to their roots

Houston Rockets Ben McLemore (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)
Houston Rockets Ben McLemore (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) /

Back to their Roots: Playing Iso Basketball

Rockets basketball since D’Antoni got to Houston has been based on iso play, and Houston is staying true to that even in the bubble. As said previously, Harden and Westbrook are virtually unguardable one-on-one, so the Rockets are using that to their advantage.

When the roleplayers on the Rockets aren’t hitting their shots, D’Antoni lets Harden and Westbrook take over and get to work. Harden kills defenses with his stepback jumper and shifty moves to get to the basket while Westbrook physically dominates other guards and either blows by his defender or bodies them.

Here’s an example of Harden going to work. He was matched up against Vincent Poirier of the Boston Celtics in a scrimmage game early on in the bubble. He saw the matchup, knew he had the speed advantage, made a dribble move, and just blew right by him. Even with some contact, Harden was able to complete the play with a tough layup.

What to Expect from Houston Going Forward

Rockets GM Daryl Morey said earlier that D’Antoni had added some new offensive sets to utilize. As the Rockets continue to play more games, we may see some new plays from Houston.

After the loss to the Portland Trail Blazers Tuesday night, the Rockets may use some new offensive schemes to get back into the flow of things. One thing that Houston has seen in the first three games of regular season basketball is that teams are continuing to either double or trap Harden.

To counteract that, Houston may look to get Harden going by increasing their pace and taking shots earlier on in the shot clock so that teams don’t have as much time to double or trap Harden.

Danuel House

One thing that has been great for Houston is the play of Danuel House through the first three seeding games, scoring at least 16 points in each. You might be thinking that his points are just off of catch-and-shoot threes, but in actuality, he’s hitting step-back threes, drawing contact, and finishing at the basket. We should expect to see greater things from House as the season continues.

Giannis' jabs at Harden's defense now haunting him. Next

With the playoffs quickly approaching, the Rockets’ offense seems to be firing on all cylinders.