Composite image by Jack Brame.
This past weekend James Harden and Russell Westbrook combined for a total of 135 points after two tough wins. The Rockets went up against the Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks and because of Westbrook and Harden, they were able to pull off two close wins in the 4th quarter.
Harden recently just surpassed Calvin Murphy for second in all-time scoring for the Houston Rockets. He is now trailing behind only Hakeem Olajuwon. Harden also passed up David Robinson on the all-time scoring list. Making him the all-time scorer for lefties in NBA history.
Besides Harden passing up legends in scoring, he was able to lead the Rockets because of his defense too. Even though Harden had a grand total of 73 points last weekend, he had a total of nine steals but six of them came against the Bucks. Harden had a 118.2 rating against the Mavericks by holding Kristaps Porzingis 1/7 in the post. He also played great defense against Luka Doncic too. Another thing Harden did, was being able to steal the ball from Giannis Antetokounmpo and hold him down for the last two possessions of their matchup. He caused Giannis to turnover the ball by throwing the ball to Danuel House in the corner. That allowed the Rockets close the game out.
In February, Giannis said his team was looking to score on Harden during the All-Star Game. Last night, The Beard… https://t.co/wV3ODZmWyC— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) 1596480166.0
James Harden told Kelly Iko of The Athletic his thoughts on his defense.
James Harden on whether his defense on Giannis should prove a point to those who doubt his ability on that end: “… https://t.co/gsevqj394W— Kelly Iko (@Kelly Iko) 1596426564.0
When Harden got doubled by the Mavericks and in foul trouble against the Bucks, Westbrook was big with 31 points in each game. Westbrook shot 45% from the field by being relentless. He attacked the basket no matter what zone each of those two teams were playing. By Westbrook continuing to attack the basket, he was able to find his teammates out on the perimeter for open shots. This allowed Robert Covington and PJ Tucker to have better looks at the basket. Westbrook's biggest statement was when he made four big free throws to close game out against the Bucks.
“Adversity showed up and we showed out.” https://t.co/D3WH8pkT8K— Houston Rockets (@Houston Rockets) 1596428723.0
February brings about the end of one NFL season and the beginning of another. The Super Bowl was on the 11th. The Scouting Combine starts on the 26th. Out with the old, in with the new. As part of a being a copycat league, the NFL has been known to duplicate itself. Teams will often go into their offseason plans trying to emulate things other successful teams have done.
The Chiefs have gone from an offensive juggernaut, to a defense first team. It helps to have the best quarterback in the league to assist with those changes. The 49ers have had different defensive coordinators over the past few seasons because the prior two have left for head coaching jobs. One happens to have an office on Kirby Drive now. Despite things shifting and changing, these are the same two teams that met in the Super Bowl four years ago!
So what lessons can be learned by the Texans to apply to their organization to help get them to this level? Here are some that I had in mind:
Depth: One thing about both the Chiefs and 49ers, both teams have great depth. And I'm not just speaking on the players. Both teams have lost players, coaches, and front office staff between Super Bowl appearances. The thing that's kept them both on top of the food chain this long is quality depth. Having a great 53-man roster, 16-man practice squad, and keeping an eye on talent around the league to add is tough. Being able to continue that success for multiple seasons is elite. Add to that, coaches and front office personnel taking other opportunities, and you can lose some recipes. These two teams have done a tremendous job with the “next man up” mentality. This will require DeMeco Ryans, Nick Caserio, and the rest of the gang to identify not only future players in drafts and whatnot, but also personnel in meeting rooms and the office building.
Defense: The 49ers have had a stout defense as their calling card since they were under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch's control. DeMeco was a large part of that. He helped develop several of the guys we all saw on that defense. The Chiefs have used their defense as their calling card this season. While Will Anderson Jr. won Defensive ROY, Derek Stingley Jr lived up to the hype, and Christian Harris has stepped up. But it's C.J. Stroud who has garnered most of the attention. He and Tank Dell were seen as the prized young stars on this team. DeMeco's side of the ball will get developed quickly. He's already got numerous key pieces in place. His and his staff's ability to develop guys will be crucial. This means they can use mid to late round picks/low-end free agency money on defense and higher draft capital/big free agency money on offense.
Weapons: Stroud needs more weapons. Brock Purdy has no less than four guys that scare defenses and can line up just about anywhere. Pat Mahomes has less weapons than he's had in the past, but he's still got Travis Kelce and others that he uses to stretch defenses. Give Stroud more weapons and more versatile guys. Deebo Samuel and Christian McCaffrey are almost interchangeable for the 49ers. Kelce can stretch the field from the tight end position. Add in Isaiah Pacheco as a power runner, Skyy Moore, MVS, and Rashee Rice, and you give Mahomes guys with different skill sets that Andy Reid can deploy at different times to execute their offense.
Consistency: As much as things have changed, they've stayed the same. With all the turnover they've experienced, the main pieces have stayed in place. Head coaches, general managers, and main players have stayed the same. Of course a franchise/face of the league quarterback like Mahomes isn't going anywhere. Neither is Stroud. Keeping some synchronicity in the brain trust and finding/keeping franchise guys at key positions is key. One of the main things in consistency is keeping the right people. You can often find one you think is right, and it ends in disaster. Finding and keeping them is crucial.
These are just a few things I've observed from the Chiefs and 49ers over their runs the last few years. I have faith so far in what Caserio and DeMeco have managed to put together. I think they'll continue to put things together. They have the faith of the McNair family and the fans. Coming out the gate 10-7 and winning the division raises the stakes. Time to go all in!