“Just how bad is Houston’s defense going to be?”
This was a question posed by renowned NBA writer Zach Lowe in his 2016-2017 season preview when talking about the Houston Rockets. Questions about the Rockets defense were shared by many before the season, and rightly so with head coach Mike D’Antoni’s history of being much more of an offensive minded coach. So 39 games into the season, how bad is the Houston Rockets defense?
Not bad at all.
The Houston Rockets match one of the best offense’s in basketball with a surprising middle-of-the-pack defense (ranked 16th in the league with 105.3). A defense ranked better or close to other “contenders” like the Boston Celtics,Toronto Raptors,and Cleveland Cavaliers. The stat that has blown me away is that since December 1st, when the Rockets 19-2 run began, they have the 4th best defense in the league. Not only do they have the 4th best defense in that time span, but they also have the number one offense. Yes, those numbers are due to regress some, but the Houston Rockets have been the best team over the last month.
So, how have the Rockets turned themselves into one of the best defenses in the league? The return of elite defender Patrick Beverley to the rotation is a huge boost to the defense as he ranks as the second best point guard defender this season on ESPN’s Real Plus-Minus stat. Patrick Beverley’s antics by getting into his opponents heads has frustrated his opponents and his tenacious defense makes him one of the best defenders in the league.Trevor Ariza is the other elite defender in the starting lineup being the 8th highest ranked small forward this season.
Clint Capela has been injured since December 20th and while he was the center on the starting lineup and shows lots of promise for the future, his absence actually improves the Rockets defense. When Clint Capela is on the court the Rockets have a 107.8 defensive rating, but when he is off the court, the Rockets have allow 3.8 points less at a 104.0 defensive rating. This can be attributed to both Nene and Montrezl Harrell seeing more time on the court and being better defenders than Capela, especially Nene who is one of the top big-man defenders in the league.
A better than decent defense playing like the NBA’s best over the past month and a high-powered offense have the Rockets fans abuzz nearing the halfway point in the season.