The Houston Rockets made a move at the trade deadline that could lead them to a championship. With the trade of Clint Capela, the Rockets have embraced “super small ball”. However, not everyone is convinced it will work. With Capela gone, the Rockets have employed a starting lineup of Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Robert Covington, PJ Tucker, and Danuel House.
While no player in the starting five is taller than 6-10, does that really mean that they can’t win?
In their first game since the trade, the Rockets defeated one of the teams many picked to come out of the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Lakers. While it’s just the regular season, that win proved that it’s possible to stake a claim as one of the best teams even with an undersized approach.
Think, as good as the Golden State Warriors were before their injury-riddled 2019-20 season, they didn’t have a true force in the paint. While Andrew Bogut, Zaza Pachulia, and JaVale McGee played a vital role, they each averaged just around 21 minutes per game.
The Warriors were at their best when they played small ball so why can’t the Rockets take that same approach?
Many believe they’re asking for failure when the playoffs start. What the Rockets are doing is forcing the action. The motto for the playoffs is that teams like to slow it down and force halfcourt offense. But what happens when a team forces their opponent’s hand and puts them in a position where there is no option for a halfcourt attack?
Think about what the Rockets have at their disposal. Westbrook is the fastbreak leader. He can secure rebounds and take it the distance. The same goes for Harden who is possibly the best offensive guard in the NBA today. Then you add in a player like Covington and that changes things. Covington is athletic enough to play three different positions with the ability to score from each. Tucker is an underrated scorer whose not afraid to mix it up in the paint.
What this small ball approach does is place their opponents on alert. If Tucker or Covington is playing the 5, then what center can keep pace with them up and down the floor? The Rockets have been able to stretch the floor unlike any team in the league. Then you take into account where the real damage will be done. The Warriors were a great shooting team but the Rockets, they love contact.
Say what you want about James Harden but he’s been atop the NBA in free throws attempts for the past four seasons. The Rockets are a dynamic perimeter team but with no true center in the paint, the Rockets have been able to exploit many defenses and force teams to run the floor more.
Now, we can throw out stats that will prove that the Rockets made the best decision. But the truth is, those stats prove nothing when playoffs start. Remember, the Warriors and their 73-win season? They took the NBA by storm with a high-scoring offense, a stout defense and then turned around and let another team take their championship.
What the Houston Rockets have done in their last 12 games has been remarkable. But can they do it when it matters most? Westbrook is playing some of his best ball and Harden has no need to score 50 points every night for the team to win.
The Houston Rockets are not setting any new trends here. Teams have employed this tactic during the regular season before for them. It’s what happens during the playoffs that matter. Only then, would we really know if what they’re doing is working. It was a smart move, but how smart, only time will tell.