Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/15/11
Rockets first-year coach Kevin McHale will not relent. As frequently as he discusses the Rockets' need to improve defensively with assembled media after practices, McHale pushes the Rockets during workouts in an attempt to get them to make those required strides for superior results. The Rockets inability to alter their roster as to better meet McHale's needs hasn't impacted his course of action. General manager Daryl Morey was stymied in his acquisitions of Pau Gasol and his younger brother Marc while maintaining pursuit of free agent Nen with the aim of getting bigger and presumably better on the interior, yet McHale continues to persist. The takeaway from that activity is that the Rockets as presently constructed are insufficient at defending the rim. However, all the responsibility for defensive improvement doesn't fall on the bigs. "With the way the rules are five men have to guard the ball," McHale said. "So everybody is going to have to be over, everybody is going to have to shrink the floor. It's going to be a lot of help-and-recover. "It's always easier when you have rim protectors. I don't care what defense you're in: if you have two 7-footers that can block shots your defense looks a lot better because they cover up a lot of mistakes. Not having that we're going to have to get over early, really protect the paint en masse because we're really not going to be able to do it in the lane." Last season the Rockets were 22nd in points allowed per game (103.7) and 23rd in opponent's field goal percentage (46.8). Their defensive rating of 109.0 (via basketball-reference.com) was ranked 19th. Despite featuring a top-5 offense, the Rockets placed last in the Southwest Division. They must improve defensively with an unchanged roster. As spectacularly as Chuck Hayes defended taller centers individually, his ability to provide help defense was negligent. Power forward Luis Scola isn't regarded as a plus defender. Second-year forward Patrick Patterson emerged during the second half of his rookie season, but his renown developed through his scoring touch and rebounding energy. Currently the Rockets are depending upon forwardcenter Jordan Hill and center Hasheem Thabeet to man the middle in some combination. Hill (6-foot-10, 235 pounds) is athletic and spry and young at 24, but his reputation doesn't portend to defensive might. Thabeet (7-3, 263) was regarded as a potential defensive force out of Connecticut, but he's failed to validate that description during his brief professional career. If Morey is unable to deliver to McHale an upgrade, McHale must make do with Hill and Thabeet. Are they capable of providing the final line of defense for a team laboring to change perceptions of its limitations? "They're big guys," McHale said. "You're going to get breakdowns; that's why the score isn't 2-0. They are a lot of breakdowns on the floor. That's what big guys do: they cover up mistakes. I think they both can do that, but again our job is to minimize our mistakes so we don't have to worry about all those covered out on the blocks." Said guard Courtney Lee, the Rockets' best perimeter defender: "Jordan, he's come a long way. He's focused on the defensive end. And Thabeet, he's in here working every day. You can see his progression as far as being able to get up and down the court, playing a longer amount of time, being aggressive around the rim and trying to challenge every shot." In grappling against each other in practice, Hill and Thabeet cover a range of defensive challenges. Thabeet presents the size that Hill must confront if he's to learn how to utilize maneuverability against bigger centers. Hill can challenge Thabeet with his quickness, a deficiency exposed in Thabeet the year he broke in with the Grizzlies as a rookie. McHale presents a direct line of communication regarding his desires of the Rockets' bigs. His expectations are clear and concise, and they offer a template for Hill and Thabeet to follow. For a team considered middling at best in rebounding margin (0.05) and blocks per game (4.52) and lacking reinforcements via trade or free agency, the responsibility falls on those present to do considerably more than what rsums suggest. "That's the main thing I'm working on is being a better defender," Hill said. "I know my guards can get me the ball and I can score, but he (McHale) relies on the bigs defending well and protecting the basket. "You've got guys like Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo that can get to the basket, and you'll need that big to go down there and work hard and help our guards out." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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