The Rockets led the league last season in a stat called pace, a measure of how many possessions per game they averaged. It's used to get an idea of how fast a team plays (more possessions = more chances to score = more points, regardless of efficiency). So a fast team may average more points because they play at a fast pace but not score as efficiently.
Anyway, the Rockets played fast.
But they got Dwight Howard this summer. A big man with superb athleticism (when healthy), Howard is sure to help their troubled defense (16th in points allowed per possession, 28th in points per game --again, that pace metric reveals a more accurate picture; the Rockets were mediocre, not bad). He has the ability to reshape the team in dramatic ways.
But higher-pace teams naturally surrender more points, and not just per-game, but per-possession. Play faster, the opponent is able to catch you in transiton, catch you out of position, catch you winded. There's a cost to the increased offensive efficiency that traditionally comes with faster offensive play.
Are the Rockets going to keep playing fast with Dwight Howard, who wasn't a fan of Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo style last year? Is that going to limit how much their defense can improve? Because Kevin McHale says the team is planning on playing fast again.
"I think we're going to play basically the same style. We have to get better defensively, and with Dwight we have to have more of an emphasis on trying to get the ball in the post. Through Dwight running and Dwight doing different things, I think we can do that without really having to change our identity. We still want to get the ball up and down the floor. We still want to be aggressive and run and attack offensively. I think we have two of the top rim protectors in Dwight and Omer, so we have to use those guys. I'd like to use them together. It gives us a chance to have a defensive presence and run off our defense a little more. Our style will change a little bit because our personnel changes, but it won't change dramatically. At least I hope it doesn't."
Now, the Rockets are planning on playing both Asik and Howard together for at least some of the time. You can imagine their defensive efficiency will be pretty stellar if they can figure out how to use the twin towers together effectively. But there's also no chance of them playing fast with those two lumbering up and down the court.
The Rockets will almost definitely play slower than last year when they were an elite offensive uinit. But Jeremy Lin, James Harden, and Chandler Parsons all excel in the open court. It's going to be a tough balance for McHale to figure out and may contribute to some bumpy results for a while with Houston. But it's not about this year, it's the long term, and in trying different things, which McHale is clearly willing to do, he'll be able to find the right answer to a lot of these questions.
Still, an interesting conundrum to consider as the Rockets open training camp.