Las Vegas (SportsRadio 610)- Improvement has been a buzzword thrown around by Rockets brass over the course of the summer, but no one has been able to really define what that looks like for a team with the NBA’s fewest wins over the last two seasons, though head coach Stephen Silas scratched in an interview with SportsRadio 610 on Monday.
“I've been thinking a lot about that, it's hard to say,” Silas said. “You don't want to put a number of wins on it, but improvement to me means we're not going to be 29th in the league and defense. Improvement to me means we're not going to be last in the league and turnovers.”
The Rockets allowed a league-worst 116.4 points per 100 possessions last season, just slightly worse than Portland’s 29th best defense, but their 16.2 percent turnover rate was last by a wide margin. Silas wasn’t ready to say on Monday where he’d like his team to be in those categories next season, but he believes the Rockets can’t take real steps forward.
“You're not going to go from 29 to top 10, but you can definitely improve a bunch with just a few possessions here and a few possessions there.”
A big reason why the Rockets were so poor at the defensive end of the floor last season was that they simply were not big. After Daniel Theis was banished from the starting lineup right before Thanksgiving, the Rockets rarely played two players taller than six-foot-six, and struggled mightily when they did.
With Christian Wood and Alperen Sengun on the floor together the Rockets were outscored by 84 points in 323 minutes, or -12.9 points per 100 possessions. They were -1 in 27 minutes when Sengun and Usman Garuba shared the floor. With a lack of size, the Rockets allowed a league-worst 53.2 points in the paint per game, and finished 25th in defensive rebounding. The addition of the six-foot-10 Jabari Smith Jr. helps fill the team’s size void, and Silas revealed he plans on starting him next to Sengun when the season starts in October.
“If you're gonna be a good defensive team, rebounding team, you have to have size,” Silas said. “Jabari brings that, and then also having (Sengun) out there and whoever else, whether it's Eric (Gordon) or (Jae’Sean Tate) or whoever. It fits together really well.”
Improvement won’t just come from additions the Rockets have made to the roster this summer; it will also come from the guys returning off last year’s team. Almost the entire roster has spent significant time working out at Toyota Center, and Silas says he can already notice a difference.
“They'll all be a little bit stronger. They've all been in the weight room, working on their bodies, so hopefully, you'll see a little bit more definition, you'll see a little bit more core strength, you'll see a little bit more pop, when they're changing directions. That was one of the main things that we really wanted to improve to take that next jump for this coming season.”
But the work this summer hasn’t only taken place in the weight room.
“They've all been working on their games, and they've all been shooting a bunch of shots, a bunch of threes,” Silas said. “They've all been working on their ball handling, John Lucas has done a great job with the group, so hopefully, we'll be a little bit more skilled. Hopefully, we'll cut down our turnovers a little bit as a result of all the work we've done this summer, and I think the thing that you hopefully will see, is we are a stronger, more physical group.”
Last season’s Rockets were worst in wins, worst in defensive rating, worst in turnover rate, 29th in net rating, 28th in rebounding, and 26th in offensive rating. Silas expects to see gains in those metrics this season, but he believes even if the numbers don’t change it doesn’t necessarily mean improvement wasn’t made.
“Improvement to me means that you'll see a product on the court that's more connected on both ends of the floor than you saw last year. You'll see guys being able to anticipate plays instead of waiting for the play to evolve, and then they react to it, so it can be nuanced at times.”