Rockets Look to Push the Pace in NBA Restart

Michael Shapiro

The Rockets underwent a serious stylistic overhaul in 2019-20, part of which has been fueled by Houston's devotion to small-ball in recent months. James Harden and Co. have largely excised the pick-and-roll from their offensive diet, while Houston's defense now relies almost solely on a switch-everything scheme. But the Rockets' trade of Clint Capela wasn't the only reason for their stylistic switch. 

Daryl Morey provided the true catalyst for Houston's alteration in July as he swapped Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook. Perhaps dealing Capela marked the official turning point of Houston's season, but the Westbrook addition truly set the changes in motion. Houston's offense in stretches is nearly unrecognizable to the 2018-19 version. 

Westbrook and Paul share few similarities despite playing the same position. Paul is a technician in the truest sense, sporting virtually no holes in his game. Perhaps he's a step below league average athletically at this point in his career, but Paul is still plenty effective. The Point God remains one of game's the most impactful floor generals

Westbrook isn't exactly as precise. His jump shot wavers between passable and broken, though there are few more menacing athletes in transition. Houston has adapted accordingly in 2019-20. The Rockets rank No. 4 in pace this season after finishing No. 27 last year, taking an advantage of their superstar point guard. For a team so used to milking isolation possessions, upping the tempo has been a tide that lifts all boats. 

“We're moving the ball better and we’re trying to play faster because I think if we continue to move the ball at a good pace, guys get good shots,” Rockets guard Eric Gordon said in May. “It makes the game easier when the game gets harder.”

An increased pace has largely been to the benefit of Westbrook, though it could also help James Harden in the postseason. The Rockets made a point to push the pace in their trio of scrimmages, even springing Harden for a rare off-ball triple. Harden isolations remain Houston's bread and butter, though the Rockets' offensive diet could use a dash of variance. Running the floor adds a valuable dynamism to Houston's attack. 

The Rockets aren't exactly taking a page from D'Antoni's Phoenix playbook in 2020, and the upcoming postseason may naturally force a dampened tempo. But we should see a more diverse Rockets offense in the 2020 playoffs compared to previous seasons. As Houston rides an unconventional rotation, shaking up their style could pay major dividends.

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