DEFENSE. DEFENSE. DEFENSE. This concept will excel the Houston Rockets’ ability to win games throughout the season. Although the Rockets are on a five-game losing streak, they showed good stretches of defense lversus the Los Angeles Lakers. After the last game, the Rockets have a 105.9 defensive rating, which is ranked 11th in the NBA. Another fascinating stat is they are 11th in steals too (9.0 steals per contest).
The Rockets have a ton of upside on defense with Jae’ Sean Tate, Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, and Christian Wood. They have another set of defenders on the bench, which is Josh Christopher and Usman Garuba. Each of these players have held their own on defense this season. The biggest struggle the Rockets face is the switch defense. Coach Silas mentioned it was important they tackled the defensive concepts in film on a previous Monday:
“We showed film today that was very positive. We had helped the helper situations, we had cover situations on the weak side where the closest man just has to take it, and we [did]. They’re grasping it there, you know it’s game. We played six games, so I always wanted to be faster than [what] it’s probably going to be. But, yeah, they’re getting it.”
Yes, the Rockets did struggle allowing a ton of points in the paint, as it resulted in lobs and dunks or layups underneath the basket. Communication on defense is the biggest part for a scheme. It allows players to know where their man is on the court and putting teammates in place for defensive switching and making sure the help-side defense is in the right position. In the first five games, the Rockets allowed 49.2 points per game inside of the paint, which put them at 24th in the NBA. They are ranked 18th in the league by only allowing 47.1 points per game inside of the paint now.
The Rockets have been decently solid on only allowing 12.1 points per game in second chance points. Wood has been great in his rebounding effort, as he averages 12. 1 rebounds per game (9.9 defensive rebounds per game), which surpasses his amount at 9.6 rebounds per contest last season. He has upped his hustle on the glass this season by creating space, using his length, and playing tougher. Wood recorded his fourth double-double versus the Lakers and wouldn’t back down from Anthony Davis, as he had 26 points too.
Transition defense is something the Rockets must get better at. The Rockets are ranked second to last in the NBA, as they allow 26.3 points per game (1.23 points per possession), which puts them in the 6.9 percentile (!). Turnovers play a huge part of that too because it doesn’t allow them to get set on defense. Teams are scoring 24.6 points per game on turnovers turning to points, as the Rockets are dead last in the NBA. It’s important that Green and Porter make the right decision on offense, so they won’t rush their reads in passing lanes and on pick-and-roll.
The last thing I do want to discuss is the rotation. Alperen Sengun looked crisp in the starting lineup. The Rockets looked much faster on court and versatile as well because of the pressure he adds on transition and the passing lanes. He is always looking to pass first before he scores, as he is very unselfish. Sengun and Green have a great ideal of the dribble handoff action.
With Sengun in the starting lineup, the Rockets average 91 points per 36 minutes and shoot the ball at 50 percent from the field. Their three-point shooting skyrockets to 47.1 percent and Sengun gives them a better chance at getting off to a better start.
Although the Rockets are 1-6, there is still time for them to figure out the mistakes and learn from them. After watching them play against the Lakers, their stride is coming soon, but a consistent one. Hopefully, Silas sticks with this rotation by giving more minutes to the younger players on the team.