Rocket Science

How the Rockets small-ball rotation keeps working

Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Even though the Rockets got out rebounded this past weekend by the Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks, they still came out victorious. With the small-ball rotation, the Rockets are 8-2 against the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Milwaukee Bucks.

The Rockets are suffering on the rebounding side, but this offense has allowed them to score more points. They are much faster in transition because of Robert Covington and Jeff Green. This team can spread the floor more because of the space. This allows their shooters to get more open. With having Russell Westbrook on the Rockets, he can create plays for wide open shooters. As defensive zones collapse on Westbrook, he is able to get the ball out to James Harden, Ben McLemore, and PJ Tucker.

Before the All-Star break, the Rockets were averaging 118.2 points per game and their winning percentage was .630%. After the break, including bubble play, the Rockets are averaging 121 points per game and winning percentage is now .667% because of the small man rotation.

The Rockets are ranked number one in offensive scoring in the NBA. They put up 42 points in the first quarter against the Mavericks last Friday. The Rockets scored a total of 153 points to beat the Mavericks in overtime. They outscored the second highest team in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, to get win on Sunday night. The Rockets went on a 14-6 run with three minutes left in the game. Their best weapon as a team, is to outscore the opposing opponent.

With the Rockets small-ball rotation, they are able wear defenses down. Harden and Westbrook are always playing Mike D'Antoni's system at a high tempo. The Rockets are ranked third in transition offense this season. This allows them win close games because the other team is tired.

Daryl Morey about a week ago cracked a joke on the Denver Nuggets big man starting five.

Morey even still feels confident about the smallball rotation. He made a great statement on July 15, 2020. He believes it is helping Westbrook a lot.

"Obviously, we're playing small but people forget that unlocked Russell a lot on the offensive end and James on the offensive end. But it also unlocked us on the defensive end. Not many guards average in their career multiple times over 10 rebounds a game," as Morey explained to Anthony Duckett of FanSided. "And the fact that Eric [Gordon] is thick and strong and James allows us to play this way. Everyone makes it sounds like it's a gimmick but really [it’s]the best way to play. And what I love about coach [D'Antoni] is that he recognizes that and is able to optimize that."

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ROCKETS BEAT THUNDER

Rockets blast Thunder in home opener, 124-91

Rockets take care of business in home opener. Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images.

The Houston Rockets had an impressive outing versus the Oklahoma City Thunder after an embarrassing loss against the Minnesota Timberwolves Wednesday night. They took care of business at home on Friday night, which was a surprising blowout. The Rockets didn't have to worry about Karl-Anthony Towns screaming at Alperen Sengun or Anthony Edwards telling Coach Silas to call a timeout. Instead, they took their frustrations out on the Thunder (another younger core).

"We responded and bounced back from that game 1," Silas said. "I wouldn't say it was taking anything out. It was just learning and applying to what you learn and that's going to be us this year. Applying to what you learn and getting better and having some games like we had the other day. Veteran teams have some games when they don't play as well they want."

Christian Wood led the way, as he controlled the paint on all aspects with rebounding and putbacks. He played an incredible game after having a poor performance versus the Timberwolves. Silas showed complete trust in allowing Wood to open sets, as he walked the ball down the court several times, and in transition too. Wood became aggressive on the perimeter with open shooting and tough shots, and long strides towards the rim. He finished the night with 31 points and 13 rebounds off 66 percent shooting from the field.

The young core for the Thunder had a tough night defending Wood from every aspect. Hopefully, he keeps this play up. Silas loved the space that was created throughout the game for Wood, which included the help from Eric Gordon, as he continued to play better. Wood continues to develop underneath the Silas umbrella. He had a great feel for off-the-dribble shooting a few times. Wood becomes more dangerous when space is created on the court.

"It allows me to show what I can do. It allows the floor to be open and I can create for other guys and create for myself," Wood said.

As Gordon continues to impress, his teammate Kevin Porter Jr was amazed with his performance.

Gordon looked marvelous inside and outside of the paint, as it looked like a time ripple. The younger guards of the Thunder had a tough time staying in front of Gordon. His size and strength gave the Thunder a huge problem. Gordon is shooting the ball better too, as he is shooting the three-ball at 70 percent this season. Although it's a small sample size, Gordon is trying to overcome his shooting struggles from last year. Gordon finished with 22 points on 66 percent shooting versus the Thunder.

"EG is the biggest part of this squad," Porter said. He comes in and just scores. We need somebody off the bench to do that. He is our guy when me and J come out, it's EG time and he knows that, and comes in aggressive. So much energy on the bench, and we need that every night from him if we want a chance to win."

As I recently mentioned Porter, his facilitation did look better versus the Thunder than the Timberwolves. Porter had nine turnovers in his first game but managed to have two Friday night. He made great slip passes and found open teammates in the open corner. Porter forced a good number of passes versus the Timberwolves but looked more relaxed Friday night. The hardest position in the NBA is the point guard position, but Silas will not allow Porter to fail. Instead of nine turnovers, Porter dished out nine assists. Silas said:

"Bounce back right, going from nine turnovers to nine assists… I think he had two turnovers tonight, which is great. He is making plays for his teammates, and he was really focused."

Porter's shiftiness and creative ability allowed his teammates to get open looks near the rim. He had 18 points because of his step-back threes and first step going towards the basket. Thankfully, Porter is a great ball handler, which confuses defenders on different spots on the court. It's almost like watching a ballerina skate on ice in the Olympics. Hopefully, his confidence continues to get better throughout the year. Porter shot the three-ball at 50 percent tonight. Efficiency is key for Porter this year.

"I'm just trying to let the game slow down," Porter said. "I had a lot of turnovers last game and I just wanted to piggyback and learn from them and learn from some of my forced passes and reads. And sometimes I still force it a little bit. My guys hate that, and sometimes I'm still passive and I'm working on that. When to pass and score and bounce it out, and tonight I felt like I did a good job of that."

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