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Redline Running - Will the Rockets play to their strengths?

Might they (PLEASE) run now?

2023 NBA Draft
At 1-20? For real?
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Rockets truly earned their “A” on draft night. You know they earned it, because right now the Rockets and their players generally suffer what I am calling “The Rockets Discount”. Basically, since the Rockets have been beyond bad, and moreover often looked unwatchably bad, their draft prospects seem to take about an immediate 40% haircut in the eyes of the public analysts we can easily access.*

Get drafted by the Rockets, see the general assessment of your future fall by 40%. Sounds fun. Enjoy!

Let’s take advantage of the discount, and instead look one of the (several) reasons why now might be the best time to buy Rockets stock for the future.

The Rockets without much hyperbole, are likely the most athletic team in the NBA. That’s cool, but what does, or should, that mean in terms of results? What does athleticism actually DO for a team, to help it win?

On Offense

To my thinking, it means that the team can outrun, out jump, and generally be more physically dominant (though not necessarily in a “rams crashing their horns into one another” sort of way) than their opponent.

On offense this shows up in the final score in terms of fast break scoring, running off both makes and misses for easier early clock offense, and exploiting mismatches where defenders simply can’t keep up with the attack. It also presents in terms of offensive rebounding, something the Rockets, despite being bad nearly everywhere else, were good at last season. Offensive rebounding leans more to an expression of talent and athletic ability that defensive, which requires solid positioning, technique, strength and size, more than pure athletic ability.

I think it should translate to several more wins next season. Why? Because the Rockets seemed to be determined NOT to use their athletic advantages, particularly speed, last season.

The Rockets have added to their existing high speed/power lineup with two of the highest profile athletes in the 2023 draft, Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore.

I cannot imagine the Rockets will play slow-down, observe the defense, dribble pounding, heliocentric offense under Ime Udoka. It’s basically runs counter to everything the San Antonio coaching philosophy advocates.

Simply using the athleticism already present on the Rockets correctly should add wins to the total without any sort of shooting renaissance. (We’ll cover that later.)

On Defense

What does size and athleticism do on defense? Well, one might think, it allows a team to be a switch-heavy defense, and easily pass off defensive assignments because nearly every player has some combination of size/strength/speed to handle different matchups. If you watched the Rockets last season, you know that’s exactly what they (pretty much) didn’t do.

Athleticism on defense also means players can catch up from mistakes. They can physically overwhelm opponents sometimes. They can rotate to help quickly enough for it to matter, and they can contest shots in the air. Again, that’s mostly what they didn’t do. In this case the blame falls more squarely on the players. Much of the foregoing is based on effort, and for much of the season, many Rockets didn’t show much of it on defense. They often simply refused to put for the effort, and to take accountability for that lack of effort. They talked a good game, but only a few played one.

That attitude simply won’t fly with Ime Udoka. If you saw how he transformed Boston from a decent, but generally passive defense, to one of the best in the NBA, you saw a coach who demanded constant accountability and effort. I would suggest that the Rockets do not lack the talent to do the same, given time, coaching, and experience.

Ime, unlike Silas, has more stature than any player on the team. This is unfair, in many respects, but I think it’s also reality. I believe that refusing to be accountable on defense to won’t result in more minutes, no questions asked.

Pragmatically, we’re also getting to a point where certain players must starting thinking about their next contract. They must be getting an inkling of how uncertain that status might be, especially as another dismal, hopeless season probably sees the end of Rafael Stone. This means the next GM has literally no stake in an underperforming draftee getting another deal. Money is a grand motivator in the NBa.

In General

I’ve grown weary of the blame for the past few seasons offense and defense being placed so much on certain Rockets players. They were mostly about 20 years old. I believe they, especially Kevin Porter Jr., were doing what they were told to do. I think it’s vitally important to understand that the Rockets really ranged in age from age 19-23. That’s not a typical NBA team in any respect, pretty much

Moreover, they were playing against their strengths and saw their mature decision making faculties stressed beyond their limits by the challenges of the NBA. It seems mendacious, and lazy, to drag players who without any real failings might still have been in college for looking bad in their circumstance.

There’s nothing wrong with their talent. There was something that could be seen as stubbornly and foolishly flawed in how that talent was deployed.

* Even the normally even-handed Sam Veccine downgraded TyTy Washington as a developmental prospect. Why? It’s hard to say. TyTy was hurt most of the year, and then stepped into the “Dead Man Coaching” Stephen Silas Scenario. Why do I think that was a less thoughtful bit of analysis by Sam? Because TyTy played all of 423 minutes of NBA basketball, much of it in garbage time. (Insert -”Wasn’t the entire season garbage time?” joke here).

Let’s say TyTy was getting typical NBA starter minutes - 36. That’s roughly 12 games. Out of 82. Is that a real sample size? Can you really draw conclusions from it, especially given how choppy his minutes were, not even really 12 starter games?

Do we discount a prospect’s domination of the GLeague? Apparently, yes. But look again, he played about as many minutes in the GLeague as NBA. His per36 there was 26pts/6rbs/6ast/.7 stl 2TO. That’s really nice. In the end for a podcaster, there are a lot of players to talk about, and the Rockets, frankly, weren’t that interesting to dispassionate, or even passionate, observers.

Maybe Sam is right, maybe he’s wrong, but when I mention a “Rockets Discount”, that’s the sort of thing I mean.


Will the Rockets actually take advantage of their athletic advantage?

This poll is closed

  • 87%
    (188 votes)
  • 6%
    (15 votes)
  • 5%
    That means Leaving The Path of Harden & Luka, so, no.
    (12 votes)
215 votes total Vote Now