Mike D'Antoni, Rockets Eye Increased Pace in Orlando

Michael Shapiro

Mike D'Antoni is considered an NBA pioneer for unleashing the Suns' "seven seconds or less" offense in the 2000s, but the Rockets' head coach has led a much more patient attack in recent seasons. 

Houston finished 13th in pace in 2017-18 and a jarring 26th last season, featuring an offense heavy on lengthy isolation possessions. D'Antoni's offense in 2018-19 was unrecognizable to the attack he guided with Phoenix 15 years prior.

2019-20 has seen D'Antoni return to his roots, a move that can largely be attributed to Houston's blockbuster trade this summer. The Rockets were plenty successful with Chris Paul starting at point guard in 2017-18 and 2018-29, winning 118 games in two seasons. But Paul's tendency to walk the ball up the floor provided a fair share of frustrations, and a shortage of easy baskets in transition. Russell Westbrook has rectified the issue. 

Houston currently ranks No. 4 in pace in Westbrook's first season with the team. The 2016-17 MVP remains one of the game's most dynamic transition forces, serving as a one-man wrecking crew for much of the season. James Harden dampens Houston's pace to a significant degree (a more-than-acceptable side effect of his dominant isolation play) but his slowed style is balanced by Westbrook. D'Antoni is now looking to hit the gas more than ever in the 2020 postseason.

"The biggest thing is the speed of how we play. I think that’ll be a big point of emphasis as we go into the training camp," D'Antoni told the media in a Zoom call on Wednesday. "Not only the speed—every team kind of has a rhythm and each player has a rhythm—but the ability to be able to drive and kick, not hold it as much, will be big."

Rockets guard Austin Rivers agreed with his coach's sentiment on Friday.

“I think if we’re going to play small, we can’t play slow,” Rivers told the media. “That goes against everything that we’ve got going on. I think speed and ball movement are the two ways that we can really bother people with this small ball.”

The Rockets have made plenty of stylistic changes this season, headlined by their decision to completely excise traditional centers from their rotation. Increasing the pace isn't as radical a change, but it continues Houston's evolution as the league's premier pace-and-space team. Look for the Rockets to run with abandon as they look to reach the franchise's first Finals since 1995.