Rockets' small ball is product of Warriors, 'Hamptons Five'

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The Warriors obviously aren't in the NBA playoffs this year, but a product of their recent greatness is.

Throughout the course of Golden State's run to five straight NBA Finals, the Houston Rockets stood in the way four separate times. The Warriors prevailed in each of those series, but the third one helped create the unique style the Rockets often have played with since.

Houston employs a starting lineup in which each player is 6-foot-7 or shorter. Instead of a large, hulking center, the Rockets have taken small ball to the max. P.J. Tucker -- who takes on many of the traditional center responsibilities -- is both tough enough to fulfill them, and agile enough to create a mismatch against the bigger and slower counterparts he often is matched up against.

Consequently, the Rockets can throw multiple wings out on the floor along with All-Stars James Harden and Russell Westbrook. It has proven to be tremendously difficult to defend, just as it was when the Warriors used their own version of it.

In fact, that's where the Rockets' version was born out of.

In tracing the genesis of Houston's small-ball offense, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey directed ESPN's Tim MacMahon to the 2017-18 Western Conference finals.

"The so-called 'Hamptons Five,' the Warriors' starting lineup with sixth man Andre Iguodala replacing the center, had been dominant enough to be widely known by nickname status," MacMahon wrote. "(Steve) Kerr was selective about how often he used it, not wanting to wear out 6-foot-6 Draymond Green by playing him at center too much, but that lineup often went on thrilling, game-changing runs.


"If Houston couldn't match up with the "Hamptons Five," the Rockets really had no chance to get past Golden State."

So, to match up, the Rockets did just that.

"Sticking with center Clint Capela (minus-49 in the seven-game series) clearly wasn't the solution," MacMahon continued. "But the Rockets were plus-26 in 91 minutes during the series when 6-foot-6 P.J. Tucker played center with James Harden on the floor, a look Houston had dabbled with throughout that season.

"By the summer of 2019, the belief had grown within the Rockets organization that scrapping a traditional starting center could be beneficial under the right circumstances." 

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Months later, Houston traded Capela to the Atlanta Hawks, opening the way for the Rockets to jump into small ball with both feet. In diverting from what had been so long viewed as the only way to win, the Rockets' decision drew plenty of criticism and doubt. But Kerr, who experienced its' potency in pushing the Warriors to the brink in a tightly-contested seven-game series, appreciated their commitment to the idea.

"When they just said, 'Screw it, let's go all small,' I admired it," Kerr said. "I like people that go for it. Who knows if it's going to work or not? I do know it's really difficult to guard."

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Golden State isn't in the playoffs, but the Rockets' presence can be viewed -- at least in part -- as yet another way in which the Warriors changed the game.