Breaking Down Rockets Early Preseason Success

By Salman Ali on October 13, 2016.
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The NBA season is just around the corner and we finally have real Rockets basketball to talk about instead of speculating what this team is going to be.
The Houston Rockets have gotten off to an early 4-0 start in the preseason and have turned a few heads in the process.

Overall, the Rockets have been clicking on all cylinders under this new Mike D'Antoni/Jeff Bzdelik regime. James Harden and the rest of the team have been able to grasp coach Mike D'Antoni's new comprehensive spread pick-and-roll heavy offense. Interestingly enough, they've also been able to successfully defend at a respectable level under head associate coach/defensive coordinator Jeff Bzdelik and the numbers bear that out.

Houston Rockets through 4 preseason games:

Offensive Rating: 118.3 (2nd in the NBA)
Defensive Rating: 96.9 (12th in the NBA)

Net Rating: 21.4 (1st in the NBA)

Most knew Houston's offense going into this season was going to be great with Mike D'Antoni and James Harden at the helm with new additions Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. However, the defense is something that's really encouraging for Rockets fans concerned about holding their heads above water on that end of the floor. It's a valid concern as to whether or not this is sustainable or not, but so far there hasn't been much in the preseason to indicate it'll be a legitimate concern going forward.

Something quite apparent in the preseason - the offense looks amazingly fluid under D'Antoni.

James Harden's switch to the point guard had many wondering if this was a role suitable for the former shooting guard. However, he's shown early on in the preseason that he's more than capable of handling that role.

James Harden's passing these past four preseason games has been out of this world. He able to probe the defense and use his threat as a scorer to draw help defenders and get the ball out of his hands as soon as there's an opening as shown above. His assist numbers have also been off the charts.

James Harden through 4 games:

11 assists per game (1st in the NBA)
48.9% assist percentage (1st in the NBA - 2nd is Chris Paul)

He's been dishing out great passes left and right and it's had a direct impact on how the Rockets' offense is run.

As mentioned before, the Rockets are 2nd in the NBA preseason in Offensive Rating (118.3 - only 2nd to Real Madrid). However, this number doesn't represent how truly refined the Rockets offense is under Mike D'Antoni. The Rockets are moving the ball more, running around more when they don't have the basketball, and finding each other in ways that would not have happened last year.

Let's look at a few plays by Trevor Ariza as an example of this:

In this play, Trevor Ariza oddly enough runs the pick-and-roll with Clint Capela and finds him for the easy lob at the basket. Ariza seldom ever handles the basketball and creates plays like this. This is something that's clearly different in the D'Antoni regime as role players are getting a chance left and right to generate offense.

Here's another out-of-the-ordinary play by Ariza.

In this sequence, Ariza runs the pick-and-roll again, this time with Nene. As Nene rolls to the basket, Ryan Anderson shifts to the top of the arc where Ariza's able to find him for an open three.

Players like Trevor Ariza didn't get chances to create like this under the old Kevin McHale regime.

Let's look at one more play that displays how much more the basketball moves in this new offense.

This was just a smart play by both K.J. McDaniels and Nene Hilario. McDaniels posts up from the mid-range area, finds Nene who has deeper post positioning, and cuts receiving a handoff pass from Nene that leads him to finishing an easy layup at the basket.

While this play isn't really that sophisticated. This kind of action just didn't happen under the former iteration of the Rockets. The Rockets are effectively utilizing the passing ability of players like Nene and the cutting ability of players like McDaniels, who previously didn't see the floor because Houston just didn't know how to use him.

The numbers bear out the improvement in the offense too.

Houston Rockets last preseason:

Offensive Rating: 101.6 (8th in the NBA)
Assist to Turnover Ratio: 1.33 (10th in the NBA)
Assist %: 58.3 (22nd in the NBA)
Assist Ratio: 15.6 (19th in the NBA)

Houston Rockets this preseason:

Offensive Rating: 118.3 (2nd in the NBA)
Assist to Turnover Ratio: 1.88 (1st in the NBA)
Assist %: 61.9% (11th in the NBA)
Assist Ratio: 18.8 (6th in the NBA)

The offense is just much better overall. The Rockets have cleaned many of their deficiencies (moving Harden from SG to PG), the moving the ball more, there's more player movement, and everything is just performing like a well-oiled machine.

Of course, it's still the preseason and we have yet to see if this is play is sustainable or not. However, it's still an encouraging sign that the Rockets could thrive under Mike D'Antoni's system and James Harden running point guard. There's still 4 preseason games left and 82 regular season games left to be played so nothing concrete should be taken away from this, but it's nice to know things are at least moving in the right direction in Houston.

Stay with us here at Red Nation Hoops as we prepare for what should be a compelling regular season.

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