- Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN Staff Writer
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Goran Dragic | Courtney Lee | Chandler Parsons | Luis Scola | Samuel Dalembert
Minutes Played: 157
Offensive Rating: 112.6 points per 100 possessions
Defensive Rating: 96.4 points per 100 possessions
How it works offensively
Very well, thank you.
The biggest challenge is finding court time together now that Kyle Lowry has returned to action after suffering a bacterial infection. Now that Lowry is back, this unit hasn't seen any time together over the past couple of games, even though it's largely responsible for Houston's success during Lowry's prolonged absence.
It's important to offer a disclaimer on Lowry. He's a unique talent at the point, an incredibly efficient fireplug who has led the Rockets in adjusted plus-minus over the past two seasons. His presence at the top of the floor has often saved the Rockets' defense from calamity, and the success of any lineup sans Lowry should in no way be regarded as a denigration of his skills.
Goran Dragic is a different sort, a whirling dervish of a point guard whose hunger to pressure the defense is perfectly suited to the Rockets' offensive imperatives.
Dragic is always on the attack, and most of the action in the half court plays off his dribble penetration. Here's where Dragic is so dangerous: Trap him and he's likely to create a 4-on-3 game. And once he gets free off the dribble, he'll instantly identify where the help is coming from. Houston invites or, at the very least, tempts the defenses with high screens from Dalembert. This drags Dalembert's defender up top, usually in the right slot. If, rather than blitzing, teams feel compelled to fight over these screens, Dragic's quickness can leave defenders trailing him, biting his ankles as he zips through the lane.
Once Dragic finds daylight, teams often help off Dalembert, but if that big defender steps up, Dragic will guide Dalembert to the rim with a bounce pass for the easy flush. If the defense leaves Chandler Parsons open, he will lift to a spot on the perimeter, where Dragic will find him with a kickout for an open shot. Parsons isn't a knockdown shooter, at least not yet, but give him a wide open look from beyond the arc, and the Rockets can live with that.
In addition, much of the secondary action off Dragic's initial attack is designed to get Luis Scola open along the baseline for a midrange jumper, often via a two-man game with Courtney Lee, an underrated shooter and creator who doesn't make a lot of mistakes and can do a little bit of everything. Scola will also see his fair share of entry passes off the mid-post right from the outset.
Don't you dare help off Scola along the baseline! Dragic will find him, even in traffic. Much of the offense is focused on setting Scola up just off the right block and putting the defense in a position where it has to make an impossible choice. Dragic will drive right, forcing Scola's man to slide over to collapse on a driving Dragic. When that happens, Scola is left open for an uncontested baseline jumper on the right side, a shot Scola has nearly perfected.
And that's the thing about playing with a speed demon who has a tight handle. You can be an obscure second-rounder, or unathletic, or a not terribly skilled center. In many ways, Scola is the closest thing this lineup has to a complete player. As long as you can read the action and move to a spot on the floor where you know you can do some damage, the offense will profit, because Dragic will make the defense pay.
How it works defensively
Comme ci, comme ça.
Houston runs more of an ad-hoc defense than a systematic one, and for the personnel in this unit, that's not a terrible thing. Coverages on pick-and-rolls, whether they occur up top, at an angle or on the side, tend to be situational. This unit will gamble as a group (e.g., aggressively double bigs from the top side). They trap most side pick-and-rolls, knowing they can entrust Dalembert to provide a strong last line of resistance at the rim if the defenders get split.
Dragic isn't big, but he seems to take high picks personally and will try to fight mightily over every last one. This is a good thing, because Scola needs time to get back into a play, and can afford to wait around all night for his guard to bust through a screen. This defensive unit isn't always ferocious at the point of attack on high ball-screens, but the three guys behind the action know where to be when action is initiated. Each is smart and aware. The wings know when to collapse and when to protect the perimeter and let Dalembert do his thing. As a side note, did you know Dalembert occasionally likes to eat goat before a game when he needs a little boost? Says it gives him strength.
Even though this quintet doesn't have any overwhelming strengths as a unit (aside from Dalembert's shot-blocking), it performs almost every defensive task as a marginally above-average level relative to the rest of the league. They protect the glass and avoid fouling. Opponents shoot well, but not exceptionally. Most shots are contested because the rotations are prompt and this group makes a point to chase shooters off the arc.
Parsons has a lot of versatility as an isolation defender, and any 6-foot-9 forward who can match up against perimeter scorers comes in extremely handy. He uses his lateral movements to wall off the paint against even the most lethal wings in the league, and concerns himself with guarding the space in front of his man as he does bodying up. His height affords him the luxury of rarely falling for a ball fake and, off the ball, he'll lock onto his assignment. The Rockets will often cross-match Parsons and Lee, if the opponent's 2-guard is the most dynamic threat on the floor. This will occasionally leave Lee vulnerable to bigger guys who are hungry to post him up.
In many respects, the defense operates under the same general premise of the offense. Apart from Dalembert, everyone knows his role, which isn't all that explicit. That role is simply to not make mistakes and to be mindful of where the defense might be exposed. If you can't address it one-on-one, make sure you know where Dalembert is stationed.
It doesn't matter if it bends, just so long as it doesn't break.
8hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
9hMatt Walks, ESPN.com
13dJustin Rao and David Rothschild, Special to TrueHoop