After adding several quality defenders to the roster in the offseason, can the Houston Rockets jump into the top 10 defensively this season?
When you thought of the Houston Rockets last season, I can almost guarantee you thought they were a run and gun, 3-point chucking team that doesn’t care about defense. And to a certain extent, you would be right.
You probably also assumed that they were towards the bottom of the league defensively. But you would be wrong with that assumption. There’s no shame in believing that. After all, the media narrative around any Mike D’Antoni team (especially one with James Harden on it) is that they must be terrible defensively. But that simply wasn’t the case last season.
It is overlooked that the Rockets actually finished 18th defensively last season with a defensive rating of 106.4. For reference, the Dallas Mavericks finished at 15th (league average) and their defensive rating was 106.3. So in the end ,the Rockets were essentially in the middle of the pack on that end of the floor last season.
More importantly, gone are Lou Williams, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, who are not known for their defensive prowess. Enter Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute.
Houston now has several defenders to throw at opposing wings each night. A lineup of Paul-Harden-Trevor Ariza–P.J. Tucker–Luc Mbah a Moute could be the Rockets’ version of the “Death Lineup.” All players in the lineup can shoot (to an extent) and can switch defensively.
When you consider the fact that the Rockets already had quality defenders in Ariza, Clint Capela and Nene, adding tough and physical defenders to the bench will do wonders for the team’s defense this season.
However, there should still be concerns about players such as Harden, Ryan Anderson and (to a lesser extent) Eric Gordon, as all three have been negatives on defense throughout their careers. For Harden it comes down to the effort he exerts on that end of the floor. It’s clear that when he is focused and trying on defense he can be an average defender (and dare I say above-average for stretches).
For Anderson, it really comes down to his lack of mobility of physicality. He struggles to move laterally, making him a complete liability when attempting to guard pick-and-rolls (or pops). No matter how much energy he puts in on defense, Anderson will always be a liability that Houston will have to account for.
Finally, Gordon can be a passable defender at times, but struggles to keep up with quicker guards. Gordon’s best defensive advantage is his stout frame, making him hard to push around on defense. But overall, you know what you’re getting in Harden, Anderson and Gordon, and it’s not quality defense.
Having Tucker and/or Mbah a Moute to fill in at power forward when the Rockets need a stop is a luxury the team didn’t have last season. The Rockets can now boast a very capable (dare I say elite) defensive lineup including some combination of Paul, Ariza, Tucker and Mbah a Moute. The Rockets can have a lineup for all matchups, and most importantly, a lineup to guard the various small-ball lineups around the league.
It’s clear that in order to truly compete for a championship, teams must be elite on both ends of the floor. Having a top three offense and middle-of-the-pack defense simply won’t cut it. That’s why Houston must make the jump into the top 10 defensively.
This season they actually have enough quality defenders to make the jump, but should also maintain their elite offense at the same time.