The Houston Rockets are in a decent spot, to say the least. They’re 10-27, last within the Western Conference and have a difficult stretch of upcoming games. Offensively, things have been a large number, particularly as of late. What’s been occurring? Where do they go from here? To dive into Houston’s complicated offense, The Athletic‘s Rockets beat author Kelly Iko sought out the expertise of Steve Jones Jr., former NBA assistant coach and host of “The Dunker Spot” podcast.
Iko: Thanks for doing this, Steve.
As you recognize, the Houston Rockets are struggling. They’ve lost nine out of their last 10 games, and their offense — which was already inconsistent to start with — has come to a screeching halt. Based on Cleansing the Glass, they’re thirtieth in half-court efficiency, scoring just 89.7 points per 100 possessions. They’re also dead last in turnovers. That may be a bad combination, really bad. So what gives? You’ve watched them enough — together with other NBA offenses — to know right from incorrect. What do you see once you watch these young Rockets play?
Jones: It’s mainly inconsistency, which may be expected from a young team. I’m going to their first play of the sport versus Dallas, Jalen Green comes off a screen from Alperen Sengun, engages Christian Wood, hits Sengun rolling, who skips to Eric Gordon for 3. Saw an identical possession shortly thereafter, which ended with a Kevin Porter Jr. drive after the ball moved. It’s in there, the issue is, how persistently will they find it? A few plays later Porter calls “first play” to try to get a repeat, it takes 12 seconds to establish, and the outcomes aren’t the identical.
Have to seek out consistency with their execution and a commitment to one another offensively. The more the ball moves, the more they play together, the more success they’ve.
Iko: When Gordon gave the postgame interview heard around the globe, the operative word used was “improvement.” He truly believes there hasn’t been any improvement during the last three seasons, which is saying quite a bit for a rebuild supposedly at a critical juncture.
Because that is such a young team, there are going to be growing pains, right? But how do you diagnose their struggles? For instance, in accordance with Synergy, their second-most utilized offense involves a pick-and-roll, but its output is simply within the third percentile. Naturally, those duties fall on the shoulders of Porter and Green. But should it?
Jones: So far as the Gordon quote goes, I read that as frustration tied to the kind of losses and the explanations they’re coming. It’s a mindset deal and I’m not the vibe police, but you go too early in that Dallas game, Sengun has a post-up, Luka Dončić has his back turned, Jabari Smith Jr. cuts and gets an and-1 and … not a huddle in sight, perhaps a pair of men on the bench stood up and clapped. When you might want to do certain things to provide yourself a shot and people things aren’t happening, it tends to wear on folks. Growing pains are to be expected. For me, it’s a team trying to seek out its way through those growing pains. It’s tough once you’re trying to seek out your way on each ends of the ground and perhaps you let one end affect the opposite.
With the personnel you have got, in case you’re going to simplify it so it’s not overly scripted, you give Porter/Green the reps in pick-and-roll. The thing is their development so far as opening plays up and reading the defense when there. Each have seen plenty of drop coverage, which goes to open up space, we see pull-ups, we see drives to the basket and a pocket pass. What you wish is for the reads to enhance, make quicker decisions, change speeds, make the defense react. Know what you are attempting to get out of this play once you come off, don’t predetermine. Engage the defense after which make the play. If pick-and-roll is only a shot:
… otherwise you predetermine and go to the pocket pass
… it just limits what the offense can do. And if the offense is being simplified to provide more freedom to where pick-and-roll and iso are the default, you have got to profit from those probabilities. I’d prefer to see them play outside of the play more and create for one another. Get to more drive and kick, pass and cut, and trust the ball is coming back.
Their best possessions offensively generally come from multiple attacks. Use that athleticism and size to get to drive and kick outside of the set, outside of that first pick-and-roll and keep it moving. When there are struggles to execute a set after which struggles to play outside of that set you get uneven results.
Iko: Stephen Silas has all the time stated his preference for his guys to play fast, rise up the ground quickly and look to punish defenses before they’ll get fully arrange. That’s a advantageous strategy, but you have got to generate a consistent amount of defensive stops to use it effectively — the Rockets don’t.
So, what happens is that they’re left with attempting to interrupt down set opposing defenses. If you should point to stagnation, and bad habits, Houston coughs up the ball greater than any team within the league. But I like to think about those as the ultimate mistakes of a possession. There are plenty of other mishaps that occur throughout the lines of their half-court offense, is that fair to say?
Jones: When you have got to take the ball out of the web, you have got to execute more within the half court. Too often it takes some time for them to get into their set. Against the Knicks early in the primary quarter (1st vs. NYK 10:08) only a swing to Fernando to play out of delay motion (big dribble handoff). Green hits and cuts through, Jabari Smith is sort of waiting within the corner, Porter is standing on the wing. Eventually with 12 seconds on the clock Porter comes off to get the handoff.
Those are the kinds of possessions they should try to eliminate, execute, make quick decisions, and provides yourself a likelihood. That makes it tough to construct consistency and now you’re up against the clock attempting to make plays. Or it’s throw it within the post and watch or wait for a screen or look to attack one-on-one. Once they make quick decisions and execute, it looks different. Once they don’t they find yourself having to force the difficulty.
I have a look at a team like OKC, sure they’ve Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but you recognize they’re going to look to drive the ball and kick it. If Houston can commit to creating plays for one another more times than not, positives will come.
Iko: On paper, it looks like Houston could be higher served with a playmaking-by-committee approach. There isn’t any true point guard on the roster, but Porter, Green and Sengun can create offense. As well as, nonetheless, there’s one other name I would like to bring up which may have the ability to patch some things up — third-year forward Jae’Sean Tate. He’s missed the vast majority of the season with a right ankle injury, but all signs are pointing to his return to the lineup this week.
To me, Tate has all the time been great in a connective tissue role. Once I watch Houston, I see players who need a push from point B to C. Tate has shown he’s able to bridging that gap offensively. Even when he doesn’t should be pounding the rock for eight or 10 seconds a possession, he’s great and brings plays together. He understands what Silas desires to do and puts it in motion, even when it’s an easy quick handoff and screen for a shooter.
Should his return help smoothen some things out? Or are their problems much greater than that?
Jones: I feel different ways that you would be able to use Tate offensively should help Houston. Can involve him in motion, can catch and attack, drive a closeout and force more help. We’ve seen what he can do on the weakside as a cutter or whilst a screener. Even catching a pass and swinging it to maintain things moving should give them a lift. Those are the little things that might bring a level of consistency to Houston offensively. Can have to see how he’s used, but his skill set should smoothen things out.
(Photo of Jaylen Green: Tim Heitman / Getty Images)