It was on February 4th, two days before the trade deadline, the Houston Rockets got involved in a 4-team, 12-player trade deal. They gave away their most valuable defender in Clint Capela and got sharpshooting wing Robert Covington on the board.
Covington provides the squad with both exceptional defensive abilities and the potential to knock down three-pointers at a consistent clip. By letting Capela go, Houston have gone small-ball with PJ Tucker acting as the main man in the paint for the team.
This strategy is not new, as it has been tried and tested by a lot of NBA teams previously. Golden State are a perfect example of utilising this line-up to change the momentum of games in the latter stages. However, it was dependent on in-game situations and not a long-term strategy - the Rockets though are adopting it as a tactic for the rest of the campaign.
Since Capela's last appearance in Houston, the Rockets have played nine games and outperformed expectations, being the talk of the town in recent weeks. Today, we discuss three main reasons for the Rockets' small-ball line-up proving to be boon rather than a bane at present:
#3 Individual defense has improved
We have seen James Harden being lazy on the defensive end a lot in recent years. This behaviour might be because his offensive abilities allow him to cover up the same number of points by scoring on the opposite end, but most of it was due to Clint Capela providing dependable cover.
Whenever anyone on the squad used to miss a man they were defending, Capela was always there at the rim or outside to cover up. With him being traded though, the Rockets have needed to apply extra efforts on the defensive end. The team are more responsible and everybody has raised their individual level of defense, Harden included.
Covington's arrival has, in the early going, proven a welcome blessing to a team packed with ability but one who equally needed an extra cog in the machine to take them to the next level.
Very active on the wings, he makes life tough for opponents - regardless of their size. Harden's defensive role has shifted more deep, but their franchise star has responded positively by delivering his best defensive display on a nightly basis.