With so many new faces in place for the 2013-14 season, the Houston Rockets are sure to undergo strategic changes during training camp. Head coach Kevin McHale should look to implement new techniques into his team's game in an effort to make it better than it was in 2012-13.
Last season's Rockets focused on uptempo basketball with few offensive sets and a ton of fast-break scoring. James Harden was the main focal point on offense, as his isolation plays were an enormous portion of the team's half-court sets.
While Omer Asik is serviceable offensively under the net, he is far from the offensive player Dwight Howard is. Asik was a safety option for Harden last season, but Howard will represent even more of one. As a result of Asik's unpolished game, though, Harden wasn't always confident to dish it down low to his big man.
The Rockets were also notorious last season for their inadequacies on defense. They allowed 102.5 points per game (28th in the NBA)—but the defense wasn't all that let them down in this regard. Houston led the league with 15.8 turnovers per game. This large number of turnovers led to easy baskets for the opposition on fast breaks, as Houston players didn't always have the time or speed to get back and contest them.
There are simple ways to correct these issues, and those corrections can come through some minor strategic changes.
Stop the Harden Iso
The Harden iso needs to be put to a stop. Sure, Harden is the most talented player on the roster, but that doesn't mean he should be allowed to waste possessions by waiting until the last seconds of the shot clock to make decisions.
This type of basketball was ultimately detrimental to the team's success, as players were often left open on the perimeter when Harden decided to drive to the basket and force up a contested shot.
Now, Harden has even more firepower on his side and should forfeit isolation play as often as possible. Howard can be relied upon down low, and give-and-go situations could become a staple of Houston's offense if Howard and Harden can build up that kind of chemistry early on.
Chandler Parsons is another year into his development as well, and he was already a useful option last season. Should he progress even further, the Rockets will be difficult to beat. Even Jeremy Lin is a safety net for Harden, as he has shown the ability to knock down open threes when left unattended.
Houston has a plethora of three-point threats (outside of Harden) that need the ball in their hands to be productive. While Francisco Garcia is a decent ball-handler, he's pretty much a stand-up shooter—as are guys like Reggie Williams and Omri Casspi.
McHale needs to get Harden to buy into the philosophy of looking for guys along the perimeter when he doesn't have options for himself readily available. This will work to make the offense more fluid and efficient.
Utilize Big Men
Last season, most of the Rockets offense focused on perimeter players. Lin, Parsons, Garcia, Harden and Carlos Delfino accounted for much of the offense. Asik, Donatas Motiejunas and Greg Smith didn't really have major impacts on offense. Even ex-Rockets Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris, who played for Houston in the first half, weren't overly effective.
This made the team extremely predictable, and were it not for their abilities on the fast break, it would have been easy for opponents to defend them. By sticking multiple defenders on the perimeter and leaving only what was necessary down low, other teams may have been able to stop some of the Rockets' shooters.
It would be foolish for McHale not to call plays that include Howard. He was the biggest acquisition of any team this offseason and has the playmaking ability to add an entirely different dimension to the offense. With the same three-point shooters in tact, adding a capable big man on offense is really just the icing on the cake.
Howard has averaged 18.3 points on 57.7 percent shooting over his nine-year NBA career, and the Rockets didn't sign him to such a huge contract without expecting that he'd continue to do the same.
At power forward—a position that is still up in the air—options like Motiejunas and Terrence Jones figure to be improved. Even if there isn't a clear starter by the first game of the season, the two should be able to give Houston more than it had before. By working them into the offense, Houston will benefit immensely.
Move the Ball Around the Court
The best way to improve the team's turnover problems would be to swing the ball around the floor more than last season. The reasoning behind this is quite simple.
Because Houston utilized isolation so much last season, holding the ball and forcing things in the waning seconds of the shot clock caused many instances in which the ball was handled as carefully as it should have been.
With quick touch passes along the perimeter, not only can Houston keep the ball moving, but it can also find open shots and opportunities to drive to the basket.
Forcing passes will be something that comes with the implementation of this offense, but through practice and maturity, the Rockets should be able to make smart passes and set each other up for success. Finding Parsons and Lin along the perimeter will lead to points-per-game increases for both players.
Howard is also great at catching the ball with his back to the basket and dishing the ball back outside when the double-team comes. By constantly doing this, it would only be a matter of time before Houston caught the defense a couple of steps behind. When this happens, Howard should easily be able to back down his defender and get to the rim.
It would be wrong to cater the new offense to Howard, but having a specific number of plays that include him would be optimal. Encouraging his involvement in unscripted half-court sets would also be a great move by the players on the court. He is the X-factor heading into 2013-14.