The Houston Rockets were rather opportunistic in the 2013 postseason – forcing the Russell Westbrook-less Oklahoma City Thunder into an elongated first round series. Though they enjoyed this modicum of success, they’re clearly a few pieces away from being true contenders. With their massive cap space, they have been rumored to pursue Dwight Howard. This would make them immediate contenders in the Western Conference, following an excellent model for success. This model was executed this postseason by a streaky Golden State Warriors team, but the Rockets could conceivably have more talent in the same form.
The Warriors upset the Denver Nuggets – and almost the San Antonio Spurs – by playing small balls and shooting a large number of three-point shots. The Warriors were without power forward David Lee, so they were forced to play Harrison Barnes as a “small ball” power forward. It was very effective, as they played generally with just Andrew Bogut at the five. Their success could be primarily attributed to the unconscious performance of Stephen Curry, but their lineup manipulation actually created a model for success.
The Rockets have a similar setup. With elite shooting guard James Harden, they’re in a great position to build an offensive juggernaut. With point guard Jeremy Lin, small forward Chandler Parsons and others, they have a number of three-point shooters. This spreads the floor and allows for Harden to penetrate and get to the free throw line at an amazing rate. The addition of Howard would take this team from an intriguing offensive squad to a true contender. Though all metrics value three-point shooting and penetration, the defensive analytics value rim defense. With Howard to defend the rim and rebound on both sides, the Rockets would take the leap forward.
Harden was a much better defender with Oklahoma City than with Houston, and there are a few obvious reasons for this. He plays a greater number of minutes and with a higher usage rate than ever before. This strenuous responsibility on offense is obviously fatiguing. With an elite rim defender and interior option like Howard, the schemes could help Harden be more effective and efficient on both ends of the floor.
Gabe Isaacson is a writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @gabeisaacson.