For the last three seasons, no one would have confused the Houston Rockets with the ‘90s Bulls or even the 2017 Rockets. The Rockets’ offense has been neutral for the past few years. The Rockets went into this offseason to bring in veteran leadership and better overall players.
The Rockets have transformed their roster from one of the youngest in the league to a more balanced team. With the addition of Dillon Brooks, they add a tough-minded defensive stopper to a team that hasn't had one since the days of PJ Tucker. They also added Jeff Green, who is coming off a championship with the Nuggets, Aaron Holiday, who is a solid, reliable backup point guard, Jock Landale, who is all about hustle and doing the dirty work; and, of course, Fred VanVleet, the former All-Star and champion.
The last name on that list is the player who could impact the team the most. From bringing leadership, experience and toughness to the defensive end, VanVleet should improve the Rockets’ overall play on the court. One area where he may have the most significant impact is in the pick-and-roll game. It's not just VanVleet who could excel in pick-and-roll next season. Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. are best at scoring in the pick-and-roll. A staple of any offense, the Rockets could have one of the best pick-and-roll games of any team next season.
Advance numbers show the Rockets could have an elite pick-and-roll game.
Even in an up-and-down season last year for the Raptors and VanVleet, he succeeded in the pick-and-roll, especially with the addition of Jakob Poeltl. Last season, VanVleet ranked 15th in points scored as the ball handler in pick-and-roll situations. That was up a whole point from the prior season. One reason could be his becoming more comfortable as a primary facilitator.
As you see in the clip, VanVleet can score and facilitate in various ways off the pick-and-roll. VanVleet generated 0.96 points per possession last season, which would have made him number one on the Rockets last season by a wide margin. As I mentioned earlier, his efficiency went up after the addition of Poeltl, a great screener, something that Alperen Sengun is also getting better and better at each season.
Poeltl spoke recently about how he and VanVleet clicked after he was traded to the Raptors.
"He's definitely a big part of my success here," Poeltl said of VanVleet. "We created some good chemistry here." The numbers show how good of chemistry they had. With VanVleet on the floor, Poeltl scored five more points with VanVleet on the floor per 100 possession vs. off, and the two generated a ridiculous 1.34 points per possession when they were on the floor together in pick-and-roll situations.
With Sengun's high basketball IQ and ability to score from any spot in the paint after rolling to the basket, we could see this exact scenario play out for the Rockets next season. Sengun was the roll man about 20.7 percent of the time last season for the Rockets compared to 28.2 percent for Poeltl in his time with the Raptors. Expect Sengun's opportunities and field goal percentage to increase next season in pick-and-roll situations.
As mentioned earlier, it won't be just VanVleet who will help the Rockets pick-and-roll next season. Green and Porter Jr were the best at scoring out of the pick-and-roll. Green ranked 10th in points scored (8.6), and Porter Jr. ranked 21st (7.1) in points scored off pick-and-rolls. Both could score from the perimeter and drive to the basket after the screen was set.
Green significantly improved from his rookie season as he better grasped what you must do coming off picks to get a good shot. As you can see at the 42-second mark of the below clip, Green did a much better job this season of running his man off the screen and staying low until he was ready to shoot from the mid-range.
Another element of bringing in VanVleet is his ability as a screener—something you don't always see from point guards. Vivek Jakob of Locked on Raptors told me this is something VanVleet does well.
“The fit with Green will be interesting to see play out, but I will say that VanVleet is a very good screener, and so Udoka should seek opportunities to free up Green using VanVleet as a screener and possibly get a switch onto smaller players as well. The Raptors ran some 1-4 pick-and-roll with Siakam handling the ball and VanVleet as the screener, so that could be an option for both Green and Sengun when they’re up top with the ball.”
This is something Udoka should implement into the Rockets offense. Too often last year, the Rockets did not run enough sets where the guards could get the ball on the move or make the defense react instead of making the Rockets respond to them. VanVleet setting screens for Green or Porter Jr. gives the Rockets multiple options out of that set.
VanVleet could slide to the three-point line off the pick, opening up the lane for Green or Porter Jr. because VanVleet has expanded his range the last couple of seasons. It will rotate the defense, opening up opportunities for players like Jabari Smith.
The below clip of VanVleet and Siakam is a play the Rockets can run with Sengun or Smith. It is a quick action play where VanVleet slips the screen and fades to an open three-pointer.
With a player like VanVleet, who has a high basketball IQ, the ways you can use him in pick-and-roll is limitless. Add in Sengun, who already has a high basketball IQ, and players like Green and Porter Jr., and you could have one of the best pick-and-roll teams in the league.