Community Shootaround: Small-Ball Rockets

The NBA doesn’t return to action until Thursday but the Rockets made some noise on Monday.

They agreed to a 10-day contract with Jeff Green, who could eventually sign for the remainder of the season. It was also revealed that another veteran forward, DeMarre Carroll, intends to sign with them once he clears waivers. Carroll reached a buyout agreement with the Spurs on Monday.

These developments are a clear signal that the Rockets are going all-in on their small-ball approach. They traded Clint Capela to the Hawks, in part to get out from his long-term deal and dodge the luxury tax. But they’ve also seen that they can win games with the likes of P.J. Tucker and Danuel House manning the power positions.

The Rockets have two of the league’s premier guards in former MVPs James Harden and Russell Westbrook and conventional wisdom would say they would be complemented by a quality big man or two. Mike D’Antoni has a couple of traditional big men at his disposal in Isaiah Hartenstein and Tyson Chandler but instead has decided to go with an interchangeable group of forwards. Recently-acquired three-and-D wing Robert Covington is another key piece in this approach.

Houston has championship aspirations but currently sits fifth in the Western Conference standings behind the Lakers, Clippers, Nuggets and Jazz. The Clippers are the only member of that quartet that doesn’t have a dominant big man, though reserve Montrezl Harrell comes pretty close. The Lakers, of course, have superstar Anthony Davis. Nikola Jokic is the Nuggets’ top player and Rudy Gobert collects Defensive Player of the Year awards for the Jazz.

No matter which team the Rockets face, they’ll have to figure out a way to guard those players and hold their own on the boards. Or perhaps they’ll just anticipate they can run and space the floor so adeptly, they’ll neutralize them and force the opposition to go smaller.

Anyway, it should be fascinating how this plays out. This leads to our question of the day: Can the Rockets succeed in the playoffs without a traditional center?

Please take to the comments section to weigh in on this topic. We look forward to your input.

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39 thoughts on “Community Shootaround: Small-Ball Rockets

  1. Chucktoad1

    There’s no question you can succeed in the postseason without a center. The Warriors ran centers off the court with Draymond at the 5. I just don’t think the Rockets can win a championship with Harden, Rusty Worstbrick and a bunch of average or worse forwards.

    • They did have McGee and Bogut there incase they needed a 7 Footer tho and these two were vital at times. Rockets have Chandler but he’s 37 and doesn’t get minutes again all

    • harden-westbrook-mvps

      Worstbrick is shooting a career high 46.3% so far this season (he shot just 42.5% when he won the MVP) while leading the NBA in scoring over the past two months at 31.5PPG so he’s hardly “rusty” these days.

      • Otogar

        RW has an effective FG% of 48.4, which ranks 160 among guards. Not very impressive.

    • ChapmansVacuum

      The death lineup and the Hamptons five both played less frequently together in games then you might think also with how prominent they have been discussed. They would run it out in key situations, but they played many more minutes with Dray at the 4 then 5 since 2015.

      • harden-westbrook-mvps

        It was used a lot more during the playoffs, they benched Bogut in favor of Iggy who went on to win Finals MVP 5 years ago.

  2. clubber_lang84

    It will be interesting to see. End of the day if the Rockets are making threes, they can beat anyone in the league. If they go cold they lose. That has been the issue for 5 years

  3. hiflew

    I guess we will just have to see. It’s obvious that they CAN succeed because they are currently winning more games than they are losing. That’s all it takes in the playoffs. Whether or not they WILL succeed, nobody will know for a few more months.

    • ChapmansVacuum

      No in the playoffs its winning more then losing against a top 8 team every game. No GSW Suns or Twolves here. Also Russ doesnt shoot 3s well.

      • hiflew

        Really, you mean they don’t get to win against teams not in the playoffs? Thank you sir for informing of this. I don’t know how I could have gone on in life without you sharing this information that must have taken you months of research.

          • RenAvi

            Okay…My point was that their failure isn’t guaranteed since they’ve been able to beat the teams he mentioned. Not saying they will in the playoffs. What do the Jazz have to do with that?

  4. Can’t blame Mike D’antoni for not trying his hardest. The 7 second offence with the Suns and now another small ball 3 point line up in Houston.

    I think if he fails this year he might be without a job. The Rockets have continued to always bring him in players to suit his style and get stars.

  5. Dionlim

    Rockets small-ball experiment kills their defense and rebound.

    Rockets = second round exit

    • harden-westbrook-mvps

      Everyone is confused between height and weight when they talk about size. Just because PJ Tucker is only 6-5, the fact that he weighs 245 pounds is what allows him to match up with centers who are about the same “size” as he is. Same with Harden who weighs 220.

    • RenAvi

      Super small ball works with their switch everything defense. If an opposing team wishes to take 2s, that’s great, that works in the rocket’s favor as they shoot threes. They might give a few away but that’s fine. As for rebounds, they don’t matter if you don’t score on second chance opportunities, which they’ve been able to limit with steals and defections. It’s yet to be proven but to ride them off already is extremely insulting.

    • Put that’s the thing if teams have two near 7 footers is the Lakers and Sixers getting the 2 points down low will be easier that hitting a three. Why?
      Because guarding the two bigs down low are two wings who are slot shorter. Plus hitting threes won’t exactly be easy against these two teams because they have good premiere defenders Lakers (Rondo, Bradley, KCP, Bron) and Sixers (Simmons, Thybulle, Richardson).
      Plus just trying to defend the rim against those bigs your probably going to give away a lot of “and 1’s” giving the other team the chance to get 3 points anyways.

      Bigs will always thrive against smaller dudes but can Harden and Russ thrive against good perimeter defences ??

      • RenAvi

        If the opposing team is using two 7 footers then they have no speed or spacing and will be decimated by smaller faster teams that don’t get tired easily. There’s a reason why no on uses two seven footers anymore, because you can win games with smaller players, or else the gradual switch to smaller players wouldnt have happened. Not saying it’s not a disadvantage but you can get stops with smaller players on bigger one, just not all the time, which is the point. If you can limit the bigs with the small line up then you’ve mitigated it’s biggest weakness. Also having guards that can get 10 rebounds a game helps limit that disadvantage as well. MDA is a very good strategist, not the best tactician or leader. And yeah 3 pointers are more than 2s, especially when those 2s aren’t a guarentee when PJ is in. I’m not actually sure how many times they have to foul but seeing their games it looks like when they’re beat they allow the opposition to score without fouling to limit their and 1s because you’re right, theoretically they should be giving up and 1s like crazy. That sounds like MDA to me.
        I believe they can, they’ve recently shown that they both can go for 30 in any given game. Harden can’t be stopped, and RW has lebron’s ability to drive to the basket. As long as RW stays disciplined and keeps his 3s to a minimum and harden doesn’t hero ball, we’ll be fine against any defense. James has the nack for slicing new defenses to pieces. You might get him for one game with a new defense but that’s it he’s learned it’s weaknesses and they usually never work twice. Only James can beat the rockets.

  6. phillyballers

    Let’s see who else gets a BO before March 1s. They will probably see how this goes another week and the grab a big if necessary. Noah is available if all else fails.

  7. x%sure

    I think Morey is so mad at Fertita that he will send himself off as the master of the small-ball roster structure– if he does get fired, which will probably happen regardless. The “Daryl discount” will turn into the “Morey more-yuan” for his next GM contract.
    Rockets get to #1 or #8, no matter, the team fate has already set.

    Suitable for a TexMex telenova.

    • El Don

      Couldn’t agree more Maz, if all teams start playing with 5 small guys & no center, where is the point in watching the NBA anymore?
      I don’t think you can win without a center, is more what I have seen this season I would be surprised if Houston gets in to the 2nd round, they will be out in 1st against Lakers, Denver, Dallas & Oklahoma, their only slim hope would be with Clippers & Utah.

      • Chucktoad1

        It’s not bad for the game, it’s called innovation which is always good for the game.

      • RenAvi

        That’s what they said about the traditional big set up before the revolution of the past decade. now almost every big has to know how to shoot. You can only have one none shooter in play at a time anymore. This point of view is more than short sighted, it’s ridiculous. The game adapts, and you’ll never stop watching.
        Shows how much you know about basketball. If that was the case the twin towers lineup wouldn’t be a complete nonstarter today. What you need is speed, shooting, and versatility.
        I’d be surprised if anyone other than the Lakers can get in their way. They have a proven track record for most of the top teams in the west. They’ve had Denver’s number for years now and you think they’d lose to them in the first round!? The rest of your post jas no credibility just for that.

    • RenAvi

      Why would that be good for the game? They’re experimenting with a new form of basketball. It should be intriguing for people who actually appreciate basketball and not Social Media Narrative hype that just makes you a hater. Weird.

  8. I’ll give D’Antoni credit for being innovative, however pure coaching ability he struggles. He’s only effective with players that match ‘his’ program as opposed to being good enough to flex based on the skills of the players. Guys like Pop adapt to the players and their talents – thus his success. D’Antoni has had talented teams, past and current, but has never brought home the hardware, and when he didn’t have players that matched up well to his philosophy, they tanked.

    • RenAvi

      Pop is a tactician. He knows how to use his pieces, but he isn’t much of a strategist. A strategist is able to adapt their system to changing situations, which Pop hasn’t done. His style of play is the same, where as MD has adapted his play with the times, though he’s a trash tactician if he doesn’t use a time out. At the end of the day, it’s usually about having Tim Duncan and the other team not having Tim Duncan.

  9. The league has put less emphasis on the big man game over the last decade, to point of the positions (center,PF) themselves being of importance. But this give has always been balanced by the taking of more threes and more importantly making them at a well above average rate. This seems like a clear correlation, and a necessary one for a team to be successful when going “small” (or reshaping how they view going “big”). At the end of the day, a low post bruising 7fter can burn you down low when you go small, and if you arent outweighing that mismatch by lighting it up from 3 (3pts vs the 2pts the 7ft gets) and getting out in transition, then your just getting burned more or less. So can the rockets hit the 3 at the rate and the efficiency needed to outweigh them having Tucker at the 5? Well their two best players are ball dominant guards, one (westbrook) is at best mediocre from 3 (being generous), Harden is near excellent from 3 with the “near” being earned when his usage rate goes up and his 3pct slips. These two guys will take the majority of the rockets shots each game, and they simply do not hit the 3 at the rate or efficiency needed to outweigh their lack of size. Yes there is Gordon and covington, with tucker and house also stretching the floor from the big positions, but these guys more or less play the roll of “hit the open three if its there” and in the playoffs its only their a handful of times each game. It will work in short spurts, when theyre hitting (obv), but once they start missing the 3’s and are only getting bitterly contested midrange twos theyll likely switch to something more traditional. But their traditional isnt very good.

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