What the heck was the Rockets offense last season?

The Rockets executed a number of different offenses last season. They regularly attempted to execute them in the following approximate order:

1: Fast Break
2: Dribble Drive Motion Offense (DDMO)
3: Off Ball screens
4: Pick and Roll
5: Isolation

I feel sure that everyone understands at least the basics of 1, 3, 4, and 5. However there seems to be little discussion of DDMO, and not much more understanding. So I hope to explain the dribble drive motion offense here today, and perhaps enter into some spirited debate.

What is DDMO? It is an offensive system based on the precept that you have one (or more) ball handler(s) who can create offense for himself on the perimeter. And what offense does that ball handler need to create? The dribble drive to the basket. Additionally the offense ideally requires 3 other players around the 3 point line maintaining proper spacing. I find that the most interesting twist to DDM is that the center plays on the weak side! In a post up offense the center classically plays strong side looking for the entry pass from a wing. In DDM the center plays 3 yards beyond the basket on the weak side. No chance of a post up there. Why does the center play weak side away from the basket? To draw the opposing center away from the basket, opening up the driving lanes. Here is the classic DDMO court diagram showing the offensive and defensive players. This offensive set should seem very familiar if you closely watched the Rockets games last season.

You will notice that I have 2 defensive 5's marked on the diagram. The one further away from the basket is defending Asik. The one tight to the offensive center is guarding Howard. Why you might ask? Because Howard is a constant threat to cut to the hoop for an above the rim pass and a slam dunk. A seldom mentioned added positive to Howard. The further the defensive center is held away from the basket the more driving lanes are opened. The standard implementation of DDM has the offensive center taking a step to the basket every time the defensive player takes a step to the basket. With Howard playing it sounds like the defense will be caught between a rock and a hard place. They will not want Howard closer to the basket but no one else is in position to intercept the penetrating guard in the DDM offensive set other than the 3. If the 3 commits to intercepting Harden there is a simple pass to Parsons for a wide open 3 point shot. I personally as a fan can live with that.

So why would the Rockets run the DDMO? There are a number of reasons. The first I wish to discuss is points per shot. The LMA column is the stats from Aldridge last season. Basically it comes down to this:

These numbers are from the entire 2012-2013 season in the NBA. Mid and long range two point shots are a bottom of the barrel shot only ranking ahead of half court heaves at the end on quarters. Yes, that bad. Basically league wide they yield a full 0.3 points less than the 3 point shot. A full 25% less than a three point shot. What coach would incorporate such a shot into his offense if he had the roster to avoid it? Thankfully Morey has provided McHale with a plethora of alternatives.

And what are the advantages of the DDMO? Simply put it limits the inefficient mid and long range 2 point shot. It concentrates the offensive focus on at the rim shots, creating fouls off the dribble drive and 3 point shots. Sound familiar? Well that is an accurate description of Harden's offense. Look it up.

The Rockets further complicate their offensive strategy by running professional level variations of the R&R (Read and React) offense if DDMO does not initially work. DDM is actually a subset of the R&R offense, a subject that defies a 3 paragraph explanation. Next season I expect a much more seamless transition back and forth between the two offenses. Two iterations of the DDMO set per 24 second shot clock. Last season we saw R&R when Smith was playing power forward, because with him on offense his limited shooting range means that DDM will not work. You can learn a lot about R&R at . I would like to state that in my opinion DDM is by far and away the most potent variation of R&R. This is because DDM is unparalleled in creating mismatches, opening up dribble-drive lanes and encouraging the offense to take good shots.

What is the most successful offense in the NBA running the DDMO? The Miami Heat by far. LBJ is the facilitator. He just often runs it from the high post and from other points on the court. No one in the NBA can run the DDMO better than James. He also has one of the best cutters in the league (Wade) and an absolutely devastating spot up shooter in Bosch. Not to mention a plethora of 3 point shooters including Battier and Allen.

The example of the Heat's implementation of DDM goes a long way towards explaining several things that drove Rockets fans nuts last season. Why isn't Lin running the offense? This parallels the Heats decision to have LBJ initiate the offense instead of Wade. It is because Harden is a far better instigator of the DDM offense than Lin. Harden with the ball is much more threatening to the defense than Lin. This may change as Lin's 3 point shooting and at the rim shooting percentages improve.

Why doesn't McHale shout out plays from the sideline like other coaches? Because DDM teaches basketball at practices and depends on read and react so much during games. McHale and his coaching staff teach players how to play basketball, not how to run plays. It also allows players the freedom to show their strengths on the court, without shoehorning them into set plays that may or may not utilize their abilities to their fullest. And above all it allows players to enjoy playing basketball.

So what type of roster runs DDM most effectively and how do the Rockets rate? You need a center that can draw his man away from the strong side (Howard). The further away the defensive center is from the rim the more driving lanes open up. Asik is obviously much less of a threat than Howard, who can take a pass easily 2 feet above the rim and slam it home. There needs to be a person (Harden) or two (Lin) that can absolutely break down their defender for a dribble drive to the basket. There needs to be wings (Parsons, Lin/Harden, and a PF???) that can hit the 3 point shot and drive to the basket on a defensive over commit. It certainly seems like the Rockets roster and coaching staff are tailor made to run DDM. In addition DDM requires other team attributes. From one of the sources listed below:

"It requires quick, smart and talented guards who have a feel for the game. It requires agile big men who can shoot from the perimeter and race down court. It requires deep benches and three-point shooters who can punish sagging man-to-man defenses and the inevitable zones. Not least, it requires complete commitment from coaches, who have to give up the control that comes with offensive play-calling and conventional half-court defenses."

But what else is needed from the roster? In addition to the offensive capabilities the ideal players in the DDM system also defend, rebound, assist and run the fast break at a high level. Spreading out rebounding means that you have good rebounding at every position. Same for assists. Lin, Harden and Parsons all can rebound and assist well. Defense is self explanatory, as is the fast break.

NBA basketball is much more complex than any other level of basketball. This means that teams can not run exclusively the classic DDM set. The offense has to incorporate other wrinkles. Next season the Rockets probably will run DDM incorporating the pick and roll and the motion screens much like last season. R&R will again play a major role. In addition I would expect more complex staggered screens and dribble hand offs between Lin and Harden and the addition of a few low post sets for Howard. The Howard effect on the offense should be spectacular. Howard after all is the prototypical center for DDM. Lin and Harden are classic dribble-drive penetrating guards who can create their own shots. I do expect Lin to improve his 3 point shooting next season, which will make him much more potent in DDM sets. And Parsons is a wing tailor made for the DDM offense. The only question is who will be the power forward.

Here are a few clips of the Rockets running more advanced versions of DDM, which include moving the center high on the weak side and incorporating screens for the perimeter players:

The first 5 seconds of the clip below feature a classic DDMO in a playoff game, without the pro level wrinkles. I have to admire the complexity and the speed of the pro level offense. The tip off in the video is the spacing of the wing players and Asik deep into the weak side, approaching the basket with the defensive center. However the wrinkles in the offense can introduce many variations including the high pick and roll, bringing the center all the way over from the weak side to an offset position far wide of the driving lanes etc.

The key to the DDMO is creating 1 gap, 2 gap and 3 gap driving lanes. The full explanation is far more words than I am willing to write. But the sources for a full investigation are included above.

At the 1 minute mark:

No cursing in title. No pirated material, such as links to online game streams. Do not cut/paste entire sections of content from other websites. Thanks.

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