P.J. Tucker Stresses Defensive Communication Before NBA Restart
Mike D'Antoni was asked last week how he plans to maintain social distancing guidelines while coaching in Orlando, and Houston's head coach had a quick response: "That's how we guard, anyway."
There's an undercurrent of truth in D'Antoni's joke. Houston hasn't been a top-15 defense in either of the last two seasons, spending significant stretches of 2019-20 in a true defensive rut. How can the Rockets ensure greater defensive results in Orlando? Center P.J. Tucker believes success will hinge on Houston's communication.
"The way we play defense, we gotta have communication," Tucker told the media in a Zoom call on Saturday. "[We have to] know our language when we're making switches, when we're staying, when we're getting crack backs. Every single term we have, we need everybody to know it and be able to speak out and say it."
Tucker and the Rockets made a slate of notable adjustments in February and March before the NBA's COVID-19 suspension. Houston traded for forward Robert Covington on Feb. 4, a move that forced Tucker into the center spot as Clint Capela was sent to Atlanta. The Rockets have embraced a switch-everything scheme with its collection of wings, creating a true emphasis on rotations and communication. When Houston is at its best, its new defense can wreak havoc in the halfcourt.
Covington has made the Rockets' defensive transition a smooth one. The 2017-18 All-Defense member has been fit perfectly alongside Tucker, providing considerable size and versatility. Covington can defend elite wings and even smaller guards, though with Houston, his value has come in the frontcourt. He's held his own battling the likes of Anthony Davis and Rudy Gobert, racking up 35 blocks in just 14 games. Covington has been better than advertised in his short stint with Houston.
The Rockets' pair of MVPs place them on at least the fringe of Finals contention, but to truly win the West, Houston will need a near-dominant defensive stretch over the next few months. D'Antoni leads an unorthodox unit, and one with legitimate size questions. But the talent is clear. With Tucker and Covington leading the way, an engaged Rockets' defense could cause serious trouble in Orlando.