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Can the Miami Heat copy the Houston Rockets style on offense to blast off without an All-Star?

Besides their well-known barrage of three-point baskets, the Rockets launch in another, little-recognized way.

NBA: Miami Heat at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets ascension to one of the NBA’s elite teams comes from more than making a ton of three-points attempts. They also make sure their big men get down the floor into the paint before the guards. Can the Miami Heat mimic that approach into one of their game plans, even if they don’t have a James Harden or Chris Paul on the team?

Houston Rockets Tracking Speed

PLAYER Both Offense Defense Differ
PLAYER Both Offense Defense Differ
Clint Capela 4.33 4.65 3.99 0.66
Tarik Black 4.35 4.64 4.06 0.58
Nene 4.29 4.57 4.02 0.55
Ryan Anderson 4.15 4.42 3.89 0.53
Bobby Brown 4.03 4.40 3.62 0.78
Luc Mbah a Moute 4.13 4.37 3.91 0.46
PJ Tucker 4.11 4.32 3.91 0.41
Chris Paul 3.92 4.31 3.52 0.79
Eric Gordon 3.99 4.30 3.69 0.61
Trevor Ariza 4.02 4.08 3.97 0.11
James Harden 3.72 4.02 3.42 0.60
AVERAGE 4.11 4.37 3.85 0.53

The NBA stats tracking data shows the Rockets’ centers have faster average speeds on offensive than their guards or wings. By the time Harden or Paul arrive at the 3-point line, the centers have established their positions.

For the Miami Heat on average, the guards speed down the floor way before the centers arrive at the scene. Hassan Whiteside and Bam Adebayo normally trail behind the other players on offense.

Miami Heat Tracking Speed

PLAYER Both Off Def Diff
PLAYER Both Off Def Diff
Goran Dragic 4.51 4.85 4.14 0.71
Wayne Ellington 4.39 4.76 3.99 0.77
Josh Richardson 4.41 4.68 4.12 0.56
Tyler Johnson 4.51 4.66 4.34 0.32
Derrick Walton Jr. 4.33 4.64 4.10 0.54
Jordan Mickey 4.39 4.64 4.11 0.53
Kelly Olynyk 4.35 4.62 4.06 0.56
Justise Winslow 4.43 4.62 4.22 0.40
James Johnson 4.29 4.57 3.99 0.58
Dion Waiters 4.19 4.55 3.81 0.74
Derrick Jones Jr. 4.49 4.53 4.44 0.09
Bam Adebayo 4.09 4.05 4.12 -0.07
Hassan Whiteside 3.96 4.00 3.90 0.10
AVERAGE 4.33 4.55 4.10 0.45

The approaches are 180 degrees different from each other: for Houston the centers arrive first and guards last, while for Miami the guards arrive first and centers last.

As a commentator astutely noted on a previous article, the Rockets score at extremely efficient rates around the rim using their approach. Data implies, not proves, the Rockets’ coaches tell their centers to run the floor faster than anyone else on the team, when on offense.

NOTE: The tracking data is an AVERAGE, i.e. includes Wayne running around screens while Hassan or Bam stands in the post. That said, the Heat power rotation players seem to arrive at the rim well after after defense has been set: not all the time, but the majority of the plays.

The video below shows Capela isn’t a center, but a power-forward who runs the floor well. If Whiteside is slow getting to the best spot in restricted area, Capela has the advantage with his foot speed.

The same data shows the Rockets don’t get back on defense quickly, as no player is quicker than 4.1, while the Heat have 8 players surpass that figure. Derrick Jones Jr. at 4.44 and Tyler Johnson at 4.34, excel at getting back for chase down-blocks. The win against the Toronto Raptors showed how valuable speed and leaping prowess can be for Miami when defending.

The Rockets’ game plan relies on their big men getting in position by basket for high-percentage scores, launching a lot of threes and getting to the foul line. The available Heat players on defense quick enough to keep up with Capela (4.65) sprinting down the court to the rim, may be Jones Jr. (4.44), Justise Winslow (4.22), Adebayo (4.12), Jordan Mickey (4.11).

The Rockets won their game the Golden State Warriors at the free-throw line. If the Heat can limit their unnecessary contested shot fouls and take advantage of Houston’s slow backcourt on defense, Miami might validate their recent rise into the playoff picture. Can the Miami Heat achieve success against All-Stars without one of their own on the team?

Hassan Whiteside In Select Company

Whiteside’s free-throw percentage has jumped up significantly since Jan 1. Matter of fact if I data-mine, i.e. cherry pick, his stats, the numbers put him in select company.

  • FG% > 50%
  • FT% > 70%
  • REB > 10
  • BLK > 1

Select Company

Hassan Whiteside 56.0 100.0 73.4 11.8 1.9
Anthony Davis 55.7 34.7 81.9 10.6 2.1
Giannis Antetokounmpo 54.6 27.9 76.6 10.1 1.3
Karl-Anthony Towns 54.1 41.5 83.7 12.0 1.6

If the standards were raised were raised higher to include 3P% > 50%, Hassan would be the only one in the NBA to qualify. Take that for All-Star data.