Will Small Ball be the New Wildcat offense?
Overcoming obstacles: The new era of Rockets small ball
What is the definition of insanity? According to Albert Einstein insanity is "Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results." Being a Rockets fan is exactly that. During the trade deadline, Houston traded away their starting Center Clint Capela out East to the Atlanta Hawks. Subsequently the founder of "Small Ball," Mike D'Antoni could go back to his old ways of playing with five perimeter players at once to spread the floor and opening up the opportunity to shoot more threes. Although this style of play is fun to watch and caters to his personnel, this will not bring sustainable success. Since the small ball experiment has begun, the Rockets are 2-2 and have had impressive wins over the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics. However, how long will this last?
Let's start with the facts there are a bunch of good teams in the Western Conference, but for the Rockets standpoint, it's really a three-team race. The Nuggets have a good team, but will not likely outscore or be able to defend Houston, unless the Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray P&R is too much to handle. Then there is Utah who I believe is a little better suited to match up with Rockets, but will eventually fall in six to seven games. Finally, there are the LA teams. With this small ball lineup to work its best the floor has to spaced properly and you have to make a high percentage of your threes. However, the two LA teams have something most teams don't, and that is mobile big and versatile defenders.
The Lakers have the best power forward in the league who is a legit DPOY candidate every year in Anthony Davis. Davis also can give you 25 point double-double night in and night out. The Brow is agile enough to move around defensively and contest three-point shots while being disciplined and athletic enough to hold is own against perimeter players. Keep in mind the Lakers have versatile defenders that can get in a stance and guard. If Davis learns to be more patient in the post when he catches it and find the open shooters or seals off defenders under the basket instead of taking contested fadeaways. The Lakers could beat the Rockets in six games.
As for the Clippers, they are all about defensive versatility and have interchangeable wings that are 6'7 and taller. I know the Rockets are 2-1 against the Clippers this season, but the addition of Marcus Morris makes them a lot more dangerous on both ends of the floor and is the piece they need to win a title this summer. With so many switchable defensive players they can switch everything and not worry too much about getting beat off the dribble. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are the best two defensive wings in the NBA and playing small ball against them could be an issue. The Clippers, in my opinion, are the last team Houston wants to face in the playoffs.
Going forward, the Rockets will win around 55 games a year, but this new lineup will not bring long playoff success. They will be lucky to make it to the WCF consistently. This style of play reminds of the Miami Dolphins in 2008 when they brought in the wildcat offense. For about a year this offense seemed impossible to stop, the Dolphins even won the AFC East division. Soon after teams began to figure it out and catch on sending the Dolphins back to drawing board once again. Yes, they are making more threes but it won't matter when the opposing teams are getting 20 more shot attempts due to Houston's inability offensive rebound. This lineup change will wear them down eventually, it is hard to bang down low when your body isn't used to it. Both LA teams are ranked in the top 10 in NBA Team Opponent three-point percentage, Defensive Efficiency, and NBA Opponent Effective Field Goal Percentage. Since 2012 when James Harden has become a Rocket he hasn't had much playoff success and there is always some excuse. He hasn't played with several future Hall of Famers, a coach that created a system around him and an organization that has backed him when he comes up short. It's time to put up or shut. Get the job done or continue to be on the list of seven NBA MVPs to never win a championship.