For all the success the Houston Rockets have had since head coach Mike D’Antoni took the wheel in 2016 (the Rockets have racked up the franchise’s most regular season wins over a three-year stretch under D’Antoni), questions remain about the viability of his iso-heavy offense in the postseason. Despite the Rockets being a couple made threes away from reaching the NBA Finals in 2018, they’ve sputtered out in the Western Conference Semifinals in both 2017 and 2019, leading to questions about just how successful an offense predicated on James Harden posting historic usage rates can be.
After swinging a trade that netted the Rockets Russell Westbrook in exchange for Chris Paul and picks this summer, that question becomes even more pressing. Both Harden and Westbrook have each led the NBA in usage rate at times during the past six seasons, with Westbrook doing it during 2014-2015 (36.8 percent) and Harden doing it this past season (39.8 percent). Westbrook also posted an absurd usage rate of 40.1 percent during the 2016-2017 campaign.
How will these two historically ball dominant players fit together on the same roster? That remains to be seen, but D’Antoni doesn’t plan on changing much about how his offense is run.
“We’re not changing much,” D’Antoni said on a recent appearance on Adrian Wojnarowski’s The Woj Pod. “We’ll tweak it, but to say you can’t win that way, that’s BS. Most games come down to one or two plays.”
D’Antoni also said it’s his job to figure out how to best utilize Westbrook and Harden, former teammates on the Oklahoma City Thunder, when they’re on the court at the same time.
“All we’ve got to do as an organization is look at their tendencies and see how we can maximize their talents, and it might be different for different people,” he said. “And we will look at that, and I will start looking now at tape and trying to figure out the dynamics between the two and how they played in Oklahoma City and how it’s change since then, in the Olympics. But it’s exciting. Whenever you have great talent, it’s exciting because it give you a chance to win, and that’s what we all want to do. But it’ll be my job to maximize their talents and what they do best, and it should be really good.”
The 2019-2020 Houston Rockets are going to be a fascinating case study on modern NBA offenses.