Russell Westbrook
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Why the Rockets’ D’Antoni System Will Never Win them a Championship


The Mike D’Antoni system has been debated between fans of basketball for years. Ever since becoming the head coach of the Houston Rockets, the definition of the D’Antoni system has not been any clearer.


Photo Credit: ABC13 Houston

It merely means attempt as many threes as possible, prioritize offense over defense, and let the stars of the team play isolation ball. You rarely see the Rockets utilizing plays with a lot of ball movement. They use isolation with James Harden or Russell Westbrook, then either shoot a layup or chuck three-pointers for the whole game. Some fans say today’s game of basketball requires threes on top of threes, while most are entirely against the D’Antoni system. In this article, I am going to prove why the D’Antoni coached Rockets will never win a championship.


Statistics do not show the entire story of every team’s reasons for winning or losing, but the D’Antoni system is entirely based on statistics.


It has been mathematically proven that the three-point percentage average in the NBA adds up to more points than the average two-point percentage. The formula has resulted in teams shooting more threes in their offense, especially the Rockets. They have attempted more threes per game than every team for the past four seasons without a championship to boot. There is no way they will reach that success this year or in the future because their three-point percentage is worse than it was last season, which was a season where they were eliminated in the second round of the playoffs.


Photo Credit: NBA

This year, they currently attempt 44.7 threes per game, and their three-point percentage is 34.9, which is 22nd in the league. Last year, they attempted 45.1 threes per game, and their three-point percentage was 35.7, which was 9th in the league. The .4 attempts per game between the two seasons is not a significant difference because they still lead the second team in three-point attempts per game by a longshot both years. This year, the second-place team in that category is the Dallas Mavericks, who shoot 41.4 threes per game. The season before that, it was the Milwaukee Bucks who shot 38.2 threes per game.

That proves that the attempts per game difference is not much different than it was last season. The difference that matters here is the three-point shooting percentage. While attempting nearly as many threes per game as they did last season (a season where they did not make it to the finals), they are making a severely lower percentage of them. The .8 percent difference may not seem like a huge difference, but in the grand scheme of things, every three-point shot is a big deal in the NBA. There is a reason that the .8 percent difference moved them from being the 9th best team at threes to the 22nd best.


The Rockets also do not have a center taller than 6” 5’ this season like they did last season, meaning their defense suffers on top of shooting worse from three.


They have allowed 114.9 points per game this season but allowed 108.7 points last season. To sum it all up, it makes no sense to keep sticking with this system since it had never won before, and they are worse at it than they were last year. They attempt nearly the same number of threes as last season but shoot at a lower percentage while allowing more opponent points per game.

The team is repetitively doing the same thing that has not worked in the past and that they have gotten worse at it. It will not lead to a championship. Attempting slightly fewer threes per game would balance out the percentages, meaning it would give them a somewhat higher chance at a championship, but not by much.


Another problem with the D’Antoni system is that the Rockets do not shoot a great free throw percentage.


Even though Harden shoots 86 .1 percent from the free-throw line, the team’s free throw percentage is 78.6, 12th in the league. That is not bad by any means, but with how their offensive playstyle consists of them either shooting threes or driving to the basket, which draws many fouls, it is not the ideal situation to be in.

Balancing out the percentages by shooting fewer threes would help them, but if most of the twos they shoot end up at the free-throw line, 78.6 percent is not high. Drawing fouls is typically good, but the best way to fix this problem would be to utilize more ball movement-based plays that end up with the players being able to hit open layups. Not having the players use isolation or charging in on the defender in the paint most of the time.


Photo Credit: ClutchPoints


One counterargument to what’s been stated above is that the Rockets were going to make it to the NBA Finals if Chris Paul did not get hurt in the 2018 Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.


They only shot 74.2 percent from the free-throw line that series, yet they still managed to win three games. The counter to that is that the Rockets attempted way fewer threes per game than their average. That year they attempted 45.1 threes per game, but in the series against the Warriors, they attempted 39.6 threes per game. The one time they got as close as they have ever been to the finals, they changed the D’Antoni system a bit by attempting fewer threes.

They have not tried to do that this season and their defense has gotten significantly worse. That series ultimately proves my point that attempting fewer threes per game will increase their chances of making it to the finals. The typical D’Antoni system has not led them to a championship and won’t ever do so if it stays the same.

Since attempting fewer threes per game brought them the close NBA finals, would it work if they switched to the kind of style they ran during the 2018 Western Conference Finals at this point of the year? The answer to that question is most likely no. The Rockets caught heat that series and were a better team than they are now. The main reason replicating that kind of style would not work is because they don’t have a real center. Ever since they decided to trade Clint Capella and put P.J. Tucker, who stands at 6″ 5′, at the center, their defense has gotten worse.

Even though they score more points per game this year than the 2017-2018 season, they allow 11.2 more points per game this year. They only score 7.3 more points per game this year than they did during the 2017-2018 season, meaning they do not make up for the difference between points scored and points allowed. It’s hard to compare because in the 2017-2018 season, they still attempted 41.9 threes per game, they just lowered it during the one series against the Warriors. In that series against the Warriors, they only averaged 98.4 points per game and still managed to win three of the games.

I do not see a team that allows 114.9 points per game-winning any games due to defense as they could slightly do before. Even though Russell Westbrook has a better on floor percentage this season with the Rockets than Chris Paul did, the defense is still such a liability.


 So even if the Rockets changed their playstyle to shoot fewer threes and utilize more ball movement-based plays, it would be too late to fix the D’Antoni system to be a championship-caliber squad. They would need to get a genuine center, shoot fewer threes, and catch the same amount of heat they did during the 2017-2018 season. With how stacked the Western Conference currently is, there’s most likely no way they could make it to the NBA Finals.


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-Kyle Randolph – Franchise Sports Media


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