With the Houston Rockets hiring Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Stephen Silas, it’s worth assessing whether Silas’ success with Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis will carry over to James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
The Houston Rockets made a major announcement this Wednesday with the hiring of longtime NBA assistant coach Stephen Silas. Silas, who put an end to the Rockets’ long-awaited coaching search, spent his last two seasons as an assistant under Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle.
Under Carlisle, Silas helped build an efficient offense around 2018-19 NBA Rookie of the Year Luka Doncic. With the addition of Kristaps Porzingis this past season, Silas played a pivotal role in helping head coach Rick Carlisle formulate the greatest offense in NBA history.
By accomplishing that tremendous statistic, Silas earned himself the head coaching job of the Houston Rockets, a team that has its own dynamic duo of former NBA MVPs James Harden and Russell Westbrook. It should be acknowledged that the downfall of the rather successful Rockets in the D’Antoni era was his failure to adjust the gameplan in critical situations like the playoffs. The Rockets must believe that Silas can lead this team to the NBA Finals while the window is still open for the aging backcourt superstars.
When comparing the superstar duos of Dallas and Houston there is no question of who the focal point is that the team builds around, as James Harden and Luka Doncic each represent the face of their respective franchises. Both NBA All-Stars are extremely similar in play style, with Harden having an athletic edge over Luka.
While Doncic is not the elite scorer that Harden is today, his offensive facilitating was right up there with James last season. Upon analysis of the Mavs’ 2019-20 offensive ideology, it’s clear that Silas will remove the “3-point mindset”, as Luka only attempted 491 shots from deep, compared to Harden’s 769. This is good news for Rockets fans because D’Antoni seemed to refuse to let James shoot the mid-range, even though he can be extremely effective from inside the 3-point line.
Expect Silas to try and bring in big men that can shoot, similar to Maxi Kleber, Dwight Powell, and of course Porzingis in Dallas. Utilizing these bigs that can drain a shot is what allowed Luka to rack up an average of 8.8 assists per game this past season. These create some easy shots due to mismatches and take advantage of spacing on the floor by feeding the post.
With this gameplan, Harden’s assists could jump significantly from an average of 7.5, which was tied for seventh-best in the league. And lastly, on the comparison of Doncic and Harden, Silas will make James take control of the offensive tempo.
The Mavericks offense suited Luka well to deal with traps, which is an occurring issue with Harden, and especially in the post-season. And with the exceptional passing of Harden, putting the ball where it needs to be on offense will no longer be an issue with the Rockets. To summarize the comparison, when you slide Harden in the Luka role in a Silas-style offense, he should be expected to thrive more than Doncic did.
As for the other half of the dynamic duo, we have Russell Westbrook and Kristaps Porzingis. Unlike Doncic and Harden, these two stars are very different on the court. Westbrook is one of, if not, the best finishers at the rim, and feeds off of pure athleticism to take over games.
Porzingis is a 7’3 center that plays terrific defense and can shoot deadly beyond the arc. Porzingis creates a deadly pick-and-roll for the Mavs’ offense, which leaves defenders guessing on whether or not to defend the big man or to defend the wide-open 3-point shot.
Westbrook could take on this role, but with a twist. Because he is so explosive, he will have to beat his man downhill in order to get the ball in the basket, if the defender is bigger. But even then, Westbrook’s strengths are still difficult to overcome.
Comparing the Houston Rockets’ dynamic duo with the Mavs
And it is easy to look at Russell’s 25.4% 3-point shooting from last year and question his ability, but that was on just 201 attempts. Silas will cut that number down significantly and will make sure Westbrook only attempts low-volume shots, allowing him to re-gain his confidence, which will open the door for big shots to be made.
A key part of the Dallas offense is setting screens and setting the ball handler free. With a stretch center on the court, either Westbrook or Harden can get loose and really do damage behind screens, which is where the Mavericks struck a lot of teams last year.
Besides Westbrook, Silas and new GM Rafael Stone will need to surround he and Harden with similar players to the Mavericks. An example of a good fit right now on the squad would be guys like Ben McLemore and Danuel House, because of their effective shooting and ability to keep the ball moving, which is where the Mavericks thrived.
With the implementation of the Silas playbook, it’s all about creating new opportunities for the duo of Harden and Westbrook on offense that was very inconsistent last year. By incorporating some things from the highly efficient 2019-20 Mavericks, the Silas-led Houston Rockets look to challenge the Western Conference contenders next season.