Under former head coach Jeff Van Gundy, the Rockets were #3 overall in points allowed last season -- only the Spurs and Pistons gave up fewer points per game.
While critics may dismiss that as a byproduct of a slow, halfcourt offense, they can't ignore that Van Gundy's Rockets were the best team in the league in opponent field goal percentage that season by a sizeable margin, holding teams to 42.9% shooting.
"Last year Jeff did a great job of whenever they shot the ball, they were always back on transition defense," said new Rockets coach Rick Adelman.
But the man who replaced the defensive-oriented Van Gundy knows that the new offense has to change the defense.
"That's always a problem for us because guys are never in the same spot [on offense]," said Adelman of the type of transition defense Van Gundy instilled. "It's not as easy when you just have three spot-up shooters -- when the shot goes up, those three run the half-court (defense). We're not in that situation. I want to take what they did really well, and they did a lot of things really well in the halfcourt defense, and we're going to keep that, but right now we're more concerned with getting them acclimated with what we're trying to do."
For his part, Rockets star Tracy McGrady said he wasn't concerned about the Rockets weakening defensively.
"Not at all," said McGrady. "It's up to the players to be defensive-minded, to go out and execute whatever defensive game plan that our coach gives us. We have the talent to do it. I think our guys have basketball IQ out here, so it's really up to us to go out and execute the game plan."
Rafer Alston, who led the team in steals last season at 1.6 a game, said he thought over the summer about how the change might impact the defense, but that Adelman has reinforced to them that he doesn't want the Rockets to take a step back from what they accomplished defensively last year.
"That's on us as individuals," said Alston. "We got to step up to the challenge defensively and be able to keep the ball in front of us. Also we have to help and finish it with a rebound. I think a lot of us who were here last year, we understand what it takes to win and you got to stop some people."
Adelman didn't see any reason why the Rockets couldn't be strong defensively this year, but cautioned that with the new up-tempo offense, points allowed per game will almost assuredly rise.
"Obviously they defended well last year and I don't see any reason why we can't, but there's going to be more possessions," said Adelman. "It's going to be a little bit different and guys are going to have to understand that we're going to give up a little more sometimes, but hopefully we'll get more."