Wed., Nov. 21 on ESPN: Mavericks at Rockets, 7:30 p.m. ET

10 Differences From Last Season's Rockets to This Season's Rockets

1) Yao’s Role in the Offense

He is still getting touches in the post, but a lot of teams front or double him. In the offense this season he can get the ball in a lot of different places, not only in the post, but all over the court. Rick Adelman is using him as a high-post passer and a pick-and-roller, which is a bit different from last season. Amazingly enough, Yao has been getting some easy fast break layups. You wouldn’t think a guy 7-foot-6 could get out on the break, but he’s shown that so far and his teammates are looking for him.

2) The New/Same Tracy McGrady

He is still handling the ball as a playmaker at times like he did last season (5.1 assists per game in ’07-08 as compared to 6.5 assists per game in ’06-07), but now he is playing off the ball and moving without the ball a lot more. So far this season, T-Mac is receiving passes for layups which he didn’t do at all in the past. There is a lot more room for him to penetrate to the basket and he is getting a lot of easy hoops on the fast break like Yao.

3) Strengthening of the Guard

It seems as if Rick Adelman’s offense highlights the strengths of each of his guards, from hitting spot-up threes (Mike James), to making back cuts for layups (Luther Head), to running the break (Rafer Alston), to opening up more room for penetration (Steve Francis). All of the guards are being asked to move without the ball and have been learning how to do it more effectively.

4) Happy Bonzi = Effective Bonzi

Afer a season in which he was a non-factor under Jeff Van Gundy, Bonzi Wells is playing very well within Rick Adelman’s offensive system, a system he is comfortable in going back to their days together in Sacramento. Bonzi is posting up, scoring easy fast break buckets, and just getting his points in a variety of ways, including second chance putbacks on the boards. Overall, Bonzi is healthy (lost some weight) and happier, which has translated into his play.

5) The Glue Guys – Shane Battier, Chuck Hayes and Luis Scola

Every team needs guys to do the dirty work and Houston has three in Battier, Hayes and 27-year old rookie Luis Scola. They’re getting a lot of offensive rebounds – nearly 4.5 offensive rebounds per game despite Battier being the only one to play more than 23 minutes per game. Coach Adelman has also asked them to be passers, which they are quite capable of. They’re getting a lot of back cuts and open jumpers and have shown some nice offensive skills, especially Scola (20 points in each of his last two games).

6) A Plethora of Points in the Paint

This season the Rockets are scoring the bulk of their points in the paint and are surprisingly struggling from the three-point line (31percent this season as compared to 37 percent). Luther Head has been off to an especially slow start from behind the arc – 32 percent this season as compared to 44 percent last season. Under Jeff Van Gundy last season, a huge percentage of the offense was from the three-point line which is a total reversal from their play so far.

7) Defense Wins Championships

Coach Adelman made a point that he was not going to install his defensive system after seeing how well the team was playing in training camp, instead leaning on his guys to teach him what they had done so well in the past. They’re using the same team defensive principles as last season, specifically the help side defense. However, while they’re ranked sixth in points per game allowed (93.5 points per game), they’re near the bottom of the league in opponents’ field goal percentage (45.5 percent - 22nd).

8) Taking Charge

Last season, Shane Battier and Chuck Hayes were routinely hitting the floor to draw charges, an aspect of their game which they have repeated this season. However, it seems as if Scola and Yao are catching the fever as well, especially Scola. The only one who seems to be immune to drawing charges is Dikembe Mutombo, who makes up for it by continuing to block shots and wag that finger.

9) The Great Wall of China

At 7-foot-6 Yao is an intimidating presence on the court and this season he has increased his impact defensively around the basket (2.1 blocks per game). Last season Van Gundy had him jumping out on the pick and roll trying to double team. Rick changed that, telling Yao he just wants him to drop back in to the paint and clog it up. It’s a big difference and one that I agree with. Yao has been playing close to 40 minutes and has not been tiring as much, even going so far as to attribute his newfound stamina to not having to chase guys on the double team.

10) Defensive Rebounding

They were very good last season and they’re still very good so far in addition to their improvement on the offensive glass. That is a huge key as far as being a successful team all the way through the playoffs. You have to be a good rebounding team.

Matt Bullard made the Houston Rockets as an undrafted rookie free agent in the fall of 1990. He played four years with Houston and won an NBA Championship with the Rockets in 1994. He spent the next year playing in Greece for PAOK of Thessolaniki. He returned to the NBA with the Atlanta Hawks in 1995-96. He then rejoined the Houston Rockets and played with them for the next five years. He finished up his basketball career with the Charlotte Hornets and retired in 2002. Matt started his broadcasting career with the WNBA’s Houston Comets, then took the TV analyst job with the Houston Rockets. He shares the analyst duties with Clyde Drexler. He lives in Houston with his wife, Paula, and two children, Sara and AJ.