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Q&A With J.B. Bickerstaff

Rockets assistant coach discusses the importance of assuming a grinding, attacking mentality

McALLEN, TEXAS - After a wild, whirlwind offseason, training camp is officially underway for the Houston Rockets. This is the time of year when coaches can truly begin to make their mark upon a team, so to get a feel for what the Rockets' staff has planned for the next few weeks, Rockets.com's Jason Friedman will sit down with each of the club's assistant coaches to find out what they're focusing on with this particular roster.

Taking his turn in the hot seat today is assistant J.B. Bickerstaff. What follows is a transcript of the conversation that ensued.

JCF: In your opinion, what are the most important things this team needs to accomplish on the defensive end?

JBB: I think the most important thing for us is we need to become a great team defensive-minded group. We need to understand the importance of not only being able to guard your man, but also being in the right spot to help your teammate. A lot of times people think of selfish and they think of offense, but you can be selfish on the defensive end of the floor, too. If you don’t uphold your end of our schemes and your responsibilities within those schemes, then you’re being just as selfish.

So each indivudal guy has to buy into the team concept and sell out for the team – I think that’s the most important thing, and if we become really good at that, that will separate us from other teams and that gives you a couple wins here and there.

JCF: And I assume that's where the importance of instilling Coach Mac’s grinder mentality comes in?

JBB: Yeah, exactly. This team will become a reflection of the things that we emphasize. If you look at the way Mac played and the type of person he is, that’s what he was – he was a grinder, and that’s what he wants our team to resemble. It’s not something that you have to be extremely talented or blessed to do.

Grinding is a mindset and a willingness and commitment to work at it. It’s hard to argue with a coach who says I just want you to work. What can you say to that without making a fool of yourself? We’re putting them in a position to succeed and hopefully it will work out for us.

JCF: Is it tougher to instill that mindset in a young team?

JBB: I don’t think it’s necessarily old or young, I think it’s a willingness to be coached. You can have old guys who aren’t willing to be coached just like you can have young guys who aren’t willing to be coached. I think we have a very good group of guys who are willing to be coached and I think they’ll do and become what we emphasize. So if we continue to put that pressure on them to work and compete and to grind every possession, then I think that’s the group that will come out.

And with so many young guys and so much opportunity to play, the guys who do those things are going to be the ones who play, so there’s even more incentive. You’re not coming into an old team where the rotations are set and people have been playing the same position for four years. This is brand new for eleven guys so there’s opportunity there which helps us as well.

What do you want the defining element to be of this team’s offensive style?

JBB: I think tempo is going to be the key for us. We want to push the basketball, we want to get up and down. Everything we do should have thrust to it, whether it’s in the half-court and we’re cutting hard to the basket or it’s in the full-court and we’re running hard to our spots. We want to be a very unselfish offensive team. We want to see the basketball move. We want to, as a group, try to be in the top of the league in assists. We want to play a style that people want to play in and people really want to watch and it should be fun for everybody. You’re open, you take your shot. We want to put pressure on the rim which should get us free throws. We just want to be a high energy, enjoyable team to watch.

And I guess, going back to your original point about defense, the only way you can play uptempo is by consistently getting stops on the offensive end.

JBB: Yeah, but at the same time we don’t want to use made baskets as an excuse not to run. You think about how many times somebody comes down and scores and they’re celebrating, so we want to get the ball out quickly, push it and make them pay. So obviously the more stops you get the better, but we’re not using made baskets as an excuse not to push the basketball. So if the ball goes through the net, our big guys are trained to get the ball out and convert from defense to offense as quickly as possible so we can keep putting pressure on the other team’s defense.