Rockets' New Additions Paying Dividends Already

Russell Westbrook is seeing all kinds of driving lanes thanks to small ball.
Russell Westbrook is seeing all kinds of driving lanes thanks to small ball. Photo by Eric Sauseda
Robert Covington stopped with the ball at the top of the key about three feet beyond the arc. He calmly took the shot and drained it. It was one of Covington's five made three pointers in the Rockets 135-105 laugher win over the Golden State Warriors Thuirsday night. Covington, who finished with 20 points, 5 rebounds and 4 blocks, was acquired in a trade that sent center Clint Capela to Atlanta and confirmed the team's commitment to its full blown small ball experiment.

Jeff Green, recently signed off the street to a ten-day contract, had 17 points in 24 minutes in his first game with Houston hitting the first three he took and adding three more in only five attempts. And DeMarre Carroll, who literally inked his deal with the Rockets after a buyout from the Spurs just hours before the Warriors game, even got some meaningful early minutes before mop up duty in a blowout.

Since the Rockets went with the small lineup, they are 9-1 and are not only playing fast and loose offensively, but a with a frenetic, swarming defense that is causing turnovers and resulting in easy baskets in transition.

It's easy to point to height and say the Rockets' new players are simply an extension of what the team was doing with Eric Gordon, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker joining James Harden and Russell Westbrook in the starting lineup. And, to a degree, it is. They aren't centers. But what they have in common is something the Rockets had lacked: length.

All three have huge wingspans, particularly Covington, and play bigger than their size. These aren't small, stocky guys like Tucker, who uses his bulk and strength to hold off guys he is guarding. They are rangy, athletic players with long arms and lateral quickness. With all the talk of small ball, this team now has guys with the kind of size and athleticism to guard nearly anyone.

Of course, the narrative surrounding the Rockets' diminutive status overlooks the fact that we aren't exactly living in the era of big man. Nikola Jokic and Rudy Gobert aren't exactly Hakeem Olajuwon and Patrick Ewing. Most teams don't have the kind of big men that require defending with other bigs.

Still, Covington, Green and Carroll do bring size, just not in height, that is appropriate for this era. It makes this less of an experiment than pundits might like to suggest. Sure, if you lined the roster up against a wall and marked off their heights like they were kids using a growth chart, the average might be a shade lower than most NBA teams, but measure again for wingspan and that's not likely the case. And recent results indicate the "experiment" is working.

It won't take long for these three to provide significant help to this team. If Thursday night in Oakland was any indication, they already have.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke