The Houston Rockets made a very interesting decision this off-season by hiring Mike D’Antoni as their head coach. This decision, while not exactly addressing the defensive concerns from the 2015-16 season – a year in which they were 21st out of 30th in defensive efficiency, seemed to fit their pieces well as a whole. D’Antoni’s fast pace of play allows for James Harden to have a better role on this team than the guy who had to do everything last year, and for the team that played the 2nd fastest pace in the league during their 56-26 2014-15 season to play this fast again.
In the two games the Rockets have played this preseason, the results of the D’Antoni hire, the addition of some more versatile offensive players like Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Nene, Kyle Wiltjer, and Sam Dekker‘s return from injury have been excellent. The Rockets won their two games against the Shanghai Sharks and New York Knicks 131-98 and 130-103 respectively.
The level of competition is not the highest – the Shanghai Sharks are not even an NBA team, and the Knicks were without starting center Joakim Noah and played their first game under new head coach Jeff Hornacek, but the Rockets are at an equally low level of time to develop chemistry, and their starters are not playing big minutes, nor are they going 100% with their effort.
The fact that D’Antoni’s team is putting up 130 points on another NBA team is still impressive. For a team that relied so heavily on James Harden last season, he “only” had 28 points of the Rockets’ 130 against New York. D’Antoni got 26 points in 29 points from Ryan Anderson, and 50 points from the bench. Last year’s bench was much less coherent, and players would be in and out of not just the rotation, but the team entirely, as last year’s Rockets signed and/or released Josh Smith, Ty Lawson, Marcus Thornton, Chuck Hayes, Michael Beasley, and Andrew Goudelock during the middle of the season last year. This season, Nene, Corey Brewer, K.J. McDaniels, Montrezl Harrell, and Eric Gordon look to compose a talented and balanced bench mob.
So far this pre-season, only Real Madrid has been able to score more in a win than the Rockets’ 130 and 131 points over a 48 minute game. They only did this once, and they did it against an Oklahoma City Thunder team that scored 137 points on Real Madrid themselves.
This Rockets team is looking an awful lot like the 2014-15 Rockets that made it all the way to the conference finals. What separated that team from the 41-41 Rockets team last season, was how involved the role players were. Harden had 13.3 win shares last season versus 16.4 in 2015-16, so the other Rockets players combined for 27.7 in 2015-16 versus 39.6 in 2014-15. It is very encouraging that Harden has been a great play maker thus far in preseason play – Harden has 11 assists against New York and 10 against the Shanghai Sharks.
The Rockets have looked really good thus far, and if the preseason is any indication of what is to come in the regular season and playoffs, this team has potential to make it multiple rounds into the playoffs.