In the first edition of a series of occasional breakdowns of the Rockets’ offense, let us look at the Rockets’ primary baseline out of bounds set (short “BOB” or “BLOB”) that was in the Houston’s playbook last year and is again this year.
It’s quite simple to run and yet not particularly easy to defend, which is why many teams, including last year’s Rockets, occasionally utilized similar sets in their half-court offense based on screen-the-screener action, starting out with a flex cut.
It may take a bit to get an open shot out of this particular BOB set at times, which is why the Rockets don’t go to this set with less than nine seconds on the shot clock. With more than nine seconds, however, it is the Rockets go-to set from baseline out of bounds.
Take a look:
This compilation obviously is not indicative of how often the Rockets score or get fouled out of this set (surprisingly, it does not work 100% of the time!), but I’d like to think that you get a pretty good visual of what it looks like when the Rockets execute the set well and how the Rockets are progressing from one option to another.
So let’s break it down (this particular example can be seen at the 0:11 mark of the video).
It starts off in a 1-4 flat alignment — one inbounder and four guys across the baseline. One guard/wing in each corner. One big man on each block.
The big man in line with the inbounder, which almost always will be the Rockets’ center, releases high, while the inbounder (usually James Harden) passes him the ball.
The center then goes on to pass the ball over to the power forward, who released high himself as soon as the center caught the ball.
The inbounder then proceeds to set a “flex”-screen for the player standing in the near-side corner, who cuts through (making a “flex” cut).
The power forward looks for the quick hitter to the guy cutting through, which, if successful, would look like the first two clips of the video compilation.
If that pass is not there, the center simply goes on to set a down-screen for the player that set the flex screen, who can either pop out for the jumper or curl off the pin-down towards the paint.
Harden is exceptionally good at reading his defender and adjusting accordingly, i.e. fading out and looking for the jumper if the defender goes under the screen or curl towards the basket if the defender fights over the screen.
Perhaps more importantly, Harden rarely does what a lot of players tend to do out of this action whenever the defense goes under the down-screen, which is settle for the 18-foot jump shot.
With Harden, it’s almost exclusively drives to the rim or three pointers whenever defenders — like, in this particular example, Paul George — go under the screen to avoid Harden curling towards the basket.
How Howard and Asik Change This Set
Every now and then, opposing defenses will manage to take away both the drive and jump shot (see 2:14-2:38 in the video compilation), in which case the Rockets can let the guy coming off the down-screen post-up, isolate or go into some sort of two-man game with the center.
I suspect that this season we will also see the Rockets go to Dwight Howard in the post in these situations, especially when Harden isn’t in the game.
If the opposing defense is somehow taking away the pin-down/curl option like the Magic and Sixers do in the last two clips of the video compilation, the Rockets will usually swing back to the center, who will likely find himself wide open for a jumper.
When it’s a non-shooter like Omer Asik or Howard playing center, the Rockets will have the guy who made the flex-cut go on to set a flex-screen for the player in the opposite corner, with the center looking to hit this player cutting to the basket, as Asik does in the last clip.
If that’s not there either, there are several things the Rockets could do next. They could post-up Harden if he’s being fronted, like he is by Jrue Holiday in that last clip. They could swing it to the power forward on the opposite wing, if his defender leaves him to clog to the paint as Thad Young attempts to do in that last clip.
They could also go into the same screen-the-screener action on the opposite side, in which case Marcus Morris — rather than fading out to the three-point line — would set a down-screen for Toney Douglas.
This is something you may see the Rockets do when Howard and Asik are playing alongside each other.
Really, though, it’s not worth talking about what the Rockets may do at that point since teams rarely have been able to force Houston’s offense to go to as many progressions.
There’s a good reason the Rockets chose to keep this set in their playbook, after all — they’ve been quite successful at getting quality looks out of it, while mostly avoiding having to go to their secondary options. You can’t ask for much more.