Houston Rockets’ improved defense going a long way to securing McHale’s future
Kevin McHale is in the last of a four-year contract as coach of the
Houston Rockets and it remains a stark possibility that if improvements
in the playoffs aren’t made this season, he won’t be receiving an
McHale has never slipped below .500 in any of his previous three
seasons on the Rockets’ sidelines, but hasn’t made it beyond the first
round of the playoffs in that time either and, with the club arming him
with two superstars of the game for the past two seasons, there are
only so many occasions that that can happen.
Statement of intent
Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey sent a telegram stating his intentions to make Houston an NBA Championship contender
to the rest of the league some years ago. A number of big swings in
free agency missed though, until he managed to secure a trade for
then-Oklahoma City Thunder shooting guard James Harden for the 2012/13
The following year, Morey managed to convince All-Star centre Dwight
Howard to ditch a bigger-money offer to return to the LA Lakers and
team up with Harden and McHale in Texas instead. The move was seen as a
huge coup for the franchise, who had not only persuaded the best
big-man in the league to wear their uniform, but did so relatively
So, armed with a runaway scorer in Harden and an explosive, defensive
machine in Howard, the job fell to McHale to guide them to glory,
except it wasn’t that simple.
In their first season together, McHale,
Howard and Harden earned the number four seed in the Western
Conference, and drew a first-round playoff matchup against the
fifth-seed Portland Trailblazers. They were dumped out 4-2 and allowed
a number of worrying errors to slip into their play, not least in a
tone-setting Game 1, in which they led by 11 points with four minutes
remaining of the final quarter, and lost.
It wasn’t just in the pressure cooker environment of
the playoffs where alarm bells rang, there were problems in the regular
season too. Their defense, well, specifically Harden’s,
was a league-wide joke even though their squad had the three-time NBA
Defensive Player of the Year among their number in Howard.
This 11-minute video showing every lazy defensive play the Rockets’
number 13 made last season has over one and a half million views on
YouTube. Harden’s lethargy was a well-known fact, yet McHale allowed
such comical shoddiness from one of his supposed leaders to continue
all year long and that reflected badly on the coach.
So, coming into this new season, things had to
change for the sake of the Rockets’ Championship chances and their
coach’s job security, and for the most part in this early stretch of
the season, it seems like they have.
The Rockets sit at fourth spot in the West, and just one game back from the Memphis Grizzlies in top spot of their Southwest division, with a 12-3 record.
But while their standing in the league may not look to have changed much, their defensive numbers drastically have.
No team is allowing their opponents to score fewer points than the
Rockets, while they sit second in opposition field goal percentage and
top on rivals’ success rate from three-point range.
The difference? McHale.
Dwight Howard indicated as much when he spoke during training camp prior to the start of the season:
“Everybody is paying attention to detail and everybody is doing the
little things that will make a big difference especially late in the
season,” he said.
That shift in emphasis doesn’t come from anybody else but the coach
and, if the Rockets can carry their improved defence into the
postseason, then McHale should hold that position a while longer.