The Houston Rockets have greatly exceeded expectations this season, and Kevin McHale’s coaching has been a major reason why. Remarkably gifted offensively as a player, McHale has continued to effectively orchestrate the plan of attack as a coach.
Though plenty of critics target McHale for Houston’s lackadaisical defense and inconsistency, there is no denying that the former Celtics star has done a great job coaching the Rockets this season.
But which decisions have truly marked him as a high-caliber coach this season?
Upon arriving in Houston following a trade from the Oklahoma City Thunder, James Harden was promptly given the reins to the Rockets offense and told to fire away.
McHale put his full trust in Harden from the beginning, and this proved to be a very good decision.
Harden dropped 37 and 45 in his first two games with Houston and has since solidified himself as a superstar, averaging 26.4 points and 5.6 assists per game.
While Jeremy Lin has endured some struggles as a result of this decision, his shortcomings are more than made up for by Harden’s incredible emergence. Harden has surfaced as both a fearsome scorer and a clever distributor, and his mastery of the pick-and-roll has been one of the major reasons for Houston’s offensive success this season.
The Rockets currently rank second in both three-pointers attempted and made per game, trailing only the New York Knicks in both categories. And with 10.6 makes per game, Houston averages about 32 points per game just from makes from beyond the arc—a very significant chunk of the team’s scoring.
Not only does Houston attempt a lot of threes, but it connects on a very high percentage of them. The Rockets currently rank ninth in the league in three-point shooting percentage at a solid 37 percent.
McHale has given his shooters the green light, instilling in them the confidence required to knock down 23 three-pointers in a rout of the Golden State Warriors, tying an NBA record and solidifying this offense as one of basketball’s most explosive.
There are a number of reasons for Houston’s offensive dominance, but team’s dangerous shooting from beyond the arc may be the most significant.
James Harden hasn’t been Houston’s only breakout player this year. After an impressive rookie campaign, Chandler Parsons returned after the summer boasting an improved outside shooting stroke and an upgraded all-around game.
Parsons has since developed into one of the league’s most versatile small forwards, and this versatility has allowed him to switch to the power forward position when needed.
Doing so allows Houston’s best outside shooting threat, Carlos Delfino, to play alongside the starters, making the Rockets even faster and even deadlier offensively.
Though he is best suited to the small forward position, Parsons has proven to be highly effective at the 4 as well, and as a result he often finishes games at that position.
Kevin McHale is perfectly aware of the changing climate in the NBA, and he has responded accordingly by making this Rockets team highly effective while utilizing small-ball lineups. Parson’s ability to play the 4 has been a major factor in that success.
While it is always important for NBA teams to develop their young players, the process of converting talented prospects into productive professionals is often a lengthy one. And though there are obvious benefits to developing young talent, there are also major risks and drawbacks in giving extended minutes to rookies.
With these dangers in mind, Kevin McHale has wisely chosen to limit the playing time of Houston’s rookie power forwards, Donatas Motiejunas and Terrence Jones, this season.
By allowing these young players to grow mainly through practice and brief D-League stints, McHale has kept his team highly competitive and successfully milked the production of two more seasoned 4s, Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris.
Though the front office apparently disagreed with this approach (as evidenced by the recent departure of Patterson and Morris in exchange for yet another rookie power forward), McHale was wise to favor experience in attempting to lead this team to the postseason.
Expect the rookies to get a lot more run now, with Motiejunas moving into the starting lineup and Thomas Robinson sure to get plenty of minutes. Fortunately, Houston’s first-year players are much more prepared now than they were a few months ago, so the Rockets should have little trouble staying afloat despite the roster changes.