Houston Rockets: How the team has morphed into an elite unit of defenders

PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 16: Ryan Anderson
PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 16: Ryan Anderson /

The Houston Rockets have been tearing through the competition like tissue paper and a big reason as to why is the spectacular defensive performances that we haven’t seen since the days of Jeff Gundy era.  Here’s what’s factoring into this.

Throughout this season for the Houston Rockets, we’ve seen precision at a whole new level.  Just about everything is clicking now and it frankly doesn’t matter who this team faces — they now have the ultimate weapons in ensuring that they try to win each and every game.

There’s always room for improvement with any team that’s shaped but for the Houston Rockets, that’s an understatement.  I honestly didn’t think that this team could get better on the defensive end of the basketball but they have certainly done so.

The Houston Rockets have elevated themselves to a Top 5 defensive team this season with a lot of that defense coming from Trevor Ariza himself.  The team is now 5th in defensive efficiency, allowing a paltry 101.6 points per 100 possessions which is an outstanding trend upward.

When one compares to last season, the Rockets were 17th in that same category, allowing 106.4 per 100.  The team has effectively shaved off allowing 4.8 less points per opponent this season.  That may not sound like a lot of points on the surface but when you had that up over the 24 games that this team has played thus far, that equates to a hell of a performance in regard to this team’s efforts.

The team’s average scoring margin is tops in the league — ahead of the Golden State Warriors — beating teams by an average of 11.2 points which is more than double than

the 5.2-point margin they achieved in 2016-17.

First and foremost, I have to give tremendous credit to Mike D’Antoni for effectively delegating the defensive coaching duties to assistants Jeff Bzdelik and Roy Rogers, who was once a good defensive NBA player himself back in his playing days.

Chris Paul‘s presence has been a tremendous shot in the arm to the team’s success in this category as he’s a reigning All-Defensive first team honoree and knows how to keep this team line.  He’s a player that emanates the characteristics of being stalwart, heady, as well as being every bit of what an elite floor general should be. I’d also like to note that the team hasn’t lost a game since No. 3 has been at the helm in the 10 games that he has appeared in so far.

Let me tell you — although Paul is an effervescent factor in this trend upward, it’s Ariza’s unchanging, defensive hands that has allowed them to ascend to this level.  When many would think that a guy with specific skill set like his would start declining, he has been better than ever.  He was second behind James Harden in defensive win shares (3.2) in 2016-17 and there’s no doubt that he’ll be in that elegant fray between Harden and Paul.

I know it’s early but I propose that the Houston Rockets re-sign Ariza in the off season to another fair deal as he’s on the last year of his four-year, $32 million deal that he signed back in 2014.

Ariza is a bruiser, it’s rare that he misses games and is always good for at least a steal or two a game.  His tussle with Meyers Leonard last night was nothing short of inspiring as he demonstrated that although he’s usual not the most vocal out on the court, if you mess with him, he’ll make you pay.  Plus it was also entertaining to see the two go at it on both ends of the floor.

Take a look at last night’s performance against the Portland Trail Blazers for instance.  The team had trailed by as much as 14 points but they rallied hard and they were able to get a hard-earned 124-117 win over a gutsy but still up-and-coming team.

Even James Harden has gotten better on defense — gone are the days where he’d lag around on the other end but he’s actually making a notable effort out there.

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Part of this is because he can rest a bit now that they have Paul to bring the ball up but the other part is that he seems committed to a skill set that needs to be held near and dear if they want to contend for a title.  Harden led the team in defensive win shares (3.6) in 2016-17 and things are looking toward him doing the same for this season.

Clint Capela has his moments where some of the better offensive machines get the best of him but he has been instrumental in the Rockets post game and his always good for a lob or two EVERY GAME.  The additions of the gritty P.J. Tucker and the defensively-finessed Luc Mbah a Moute has paid excellent dividends to this team’s rise on defense.  Nene’s veteran presence on that end has been a boon as well.

To be honest, this isn’t some flash in the pan trend, I think it’s here to stay and it will be the ultimate defining factor if this team will be final team that stands among the rubble when the dust settles in June.  They’ve got a long way to go but it certainly seems as if they’re headed in that direction.

Next: Why Tilman Fertitta is seeking a new practice facility

I know this topic is debatable but I think they’ve REACHED ELITE STATUS because of all what I’ve mentioned.

We’ll have to see and until then, I’m going to have fun watching my guys do work!

Go Rockets!