Following the NBA trade deadline, many eyebrows were raised in response to the three-team mega trade which saw Darryl Morey’s Houston Rockets trade away franchise centre Clint Capela. In return, the Rockets received highly coveted wing Robert Covington, the Atlanta Hawks 2024 second-round pick and Jordan Bell.
Morey and head coach Mike D’Antoni chose not to pursue a replacement big man, instead opting to go all-in on the mad science experiment that is the ‘Pocket Rockets’.
This trade meant that Houston was left with 6’5 P.J. Tucker as the team’s starting five. Although it may seem borderline crazy that the Rockets are playing without a centre, if you look around the league, the height differences aren’t that severe. For example, the Boston Celtics centre – Daniel Theis – is only 6’8. That’s one inch taller than newly acquired wing Robert Covington (6’7).
Clippers starting centre – Montrezl Harrell – is, again, only 6’8. Tristan Thompson, an elite offensive rebounder, is also 6’9. The NBA’s next star centre – Bam Adebayo – is only 6’9. Steve Kerr won three rings playing 6’7 Draymond Green at the five. For two of those three rings, Green at centre proved a pivotal component of the Golden State Warriors‘ ‘death line-up’.
Literal size aside, the ‘Pocket Rockets’ pack enough punch and power that the height disparity may not play that much of a factor. Russell Westbrook, Covington and Tucker, Westbrook in particular, are all physical players who echo the hard-working grit filled ethos of 1990s ball.
Speaking of Westbrook, ever since the ‘Pocket Rocket’ experiment began back in early February, the former MVP has enjoyed a return to form as a result of the added spacing. Since the trade, Westbrook has played three (Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz and Boston Celtics) out of a possible five games.
In the win against the Lakers, Westbrook shot an incredibly efficient 60% from the field and finished with 41 points, 5 assists and 8 rebounds. At home to the Jazz, Westbrook continued his good form, making over half his shots and scoring 39 points in the process. Up against the Celtics, Westbrook made it three good games in a row; finishing with 36 points, 5 assists and 10 rebounds.
So far, so good. With Westbrook on the court, the ‘Pocket Rockets’ are 2-1 against three strong playoff teams. That one loss against the Jazz coming on a last-second game-winner by Bojan Bogdanovic.
OKC struggled for years to surround Westbrook with talent and a system that best suited his skill set. He has come to personify hard-working, dedication and grit. He will just keep coming at you until the final whistle blows. In Mike D’Antoni, Westbrook has met an equally strong-willed, stubborn individual who is willing to die by his philosophy.
Yes, Westbrook may have bad shooting nights, yes, the Rockets may have bad shooting nights. But both D’Antoni and Westbrook are going to keep getting up from the canvas until they inevitably break the opponent’s will. A soul-sucking strategy that is sure to prove dividends due to the elongated nature of the regular season.
However, whilst the ‘Pocket Rockets’ are well equipped to grind out a solid regular-season finish, there are a number of hazards awaiting Westbrook and co. come playoff time.
An injury to Tucker, the small bodies of Houston being worn down and over-exerted over a seven-game series or the math betraying D’Antoni resulting in Houston missing thirty-seven straight 3s.
18th-century Scottish philosopher David Hume once said, ‘A wise man proportions his beliefs to the evidence’. If the Rockets were to fall short yet again this season, that may be all the evidence we, and Mike D’Antoni, may need to see. Although, Hume couldn’t dunk a basketball, so make of that what you will.