The Houston Rockets have been one of the most entertaining teams this season, mostly due to their status as the NBA’s resident hustle junkies. Tracy McGrady barely played and Yao Ming barely practiced, but an outmatched group of confident role players took to the court with excellent effort and great team chemistry.
The only problem is that in the NBA, effort isn’t good enough. You need talent, and lots of it. The Rockets have had some, but at the end of the day they’re still leaning very heavily on Trevor Ariza and Chuck Hayes, and that’s a problem.
As a result, the Rox, despite the blue-collar approach and playing the Adelman version of the “right way,” ranked just 17th in the league in defensive efficiency. That’s despite having Kyle Lowry, Shane Battier, and Trevor Ariza, some of the more impressive perimeter defenders in the league, and the aforementioned Hayes, a technical master of post defense despite his relatively diminutive stature.
Incorporating Kevin Martin isn’t likely to help, because for all of Martin’s strengths as an offensive player (and he has many), he’s a bit of a defensive sieve. His defensive instincts just don’t light a candle to his scoring ones, and while it’s hard to complain about incorporating a terrific scorer at minimal cost, it doesn’t change the fact that Houston’s defense will need to improve around him if they’re going to excel on that end of the court next season.
Yao Ming’s return should help, supposing he’s ready to roll, but a huge part of team defense is stopping point guard penetration on the perimeter. It saves the entire defense from having to shift and rotate to compensate, and allows the entire crew of strong individual defenders to do what they do best. Rick Adelman has pinpointed the defense of his starting point guard, Aaron Brooks, as a critical threshold for Houston’s improvement. From Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
A matchup against 6-8 Washington point guard Shaun Livingston put a priority on Aaron Brooks to be more disruptive defensively, an improvement Brooks and Rockets coach Rick Adelman said he needs to make next season. “(Brooks) cannot be put in that position where there are bigger players playing and it puts us at a real disadvantage defensively,” Adelman said. “He’s got to find ways to be effective, whether it is fronting, being more active, picking up full court. “That’s a stage he has to go through if we’re going to become better as a team. And I think he’ll do that.”
I’m not sure Shaun Livingston is the best example of an offensive threat to Brooks, and he finished the game in question with two points on 16.7% shooting and two assists with two turnovers to match. It doesn’t change the importance of Brooks’ defense though, and right now it’s one of the weaker facets of his otherwise solid game.