It’s no secret that D’Antoni was the architect of the “micro-ball” line-up they employed this season. Without the brains of that movement, it’s more likely that the Rockets will deviate from that strategy.
Having said that, it won’t be easy for the Rockets front office to move some pieces around. The team doesn’t have any young talented assets to include in a trade package, and Russell Westbrook‘s bloated salary could just have become the worst contract in the league right now. But with rebuilding currently not an option for Houston, here’s a couple of avenues that the team could take to effectively build around James Harden.
Add more size to the frontcourt
With Anthony Davis dominating the paint during their semifinals loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, would it be a different series if the Rockets still had Clint Capela on their line-up? Although it’s true that the Lakers adjusted and did not field big men Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee in that series the Rockets still found it very difficult to match up against Davis.
This is not a knock on the courageous P.J. Tucker, but it’s just hard to defend a towering, mobile scorer like Davis if you don’t have the length in the first place. Moreover, Capela’s absence stripped Harden of a capable pick-and-roll partner. The Lakers pounced on this by employing their own version of the small-ball, which then negated the possibility of a big man switching onto Harden.
Harden usually takes advantage of big men switching on him as his speed and ball-handling savvy makes it easy for him to drive by the defender or pull back for his signature step-back triple. Furthermore, Capela has long been the recipient of Harden’s lob assists, another option in the Rockets’ offense that has continuously befuddled opponents as they are always put in a guessing game of whether the superstar guard will attempt a floater or go for the lob pass.
Bring in a creative playmaker
Harden will always be the focal point of this offense, but always having him as the primary ball-handler is not the only way to make the most out of his unique abilities. Imagine just how much damage Harden can inflict if he moves off the ball, forcing the opposing team’s defenders to scamper around in an effort not to give him any daylight.
Despite the fact that he could make the case as the best isolation scorer ever in basketball history, the Lakers’ defensive schemes exposed him in the playoffs. Harden doesn’t contribute much whenever he doesn’t have the ball on his hands, forcing Westbrook or Eric Gordon to try putting up a bucket on their own.
But if the Rockets bring in a natural playmaker and encourage Harden to buy into a system where he needs to move around and slip off screens before he gets the ball, then the team will become more difficult to guard.