Daryl Morey: Criticism Of Harden’s Defense Unfair

Rockets general manager Daryl Morey dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Wednesday to discuss his franchise, which, at 14-7, is fourth in the Western Conference. Even more impressive, perhaps, is who the Rockets have defeated thus far this season.

Houston has wins over San Antonio, Golden State, Boston, Portland and Utah, among others.

“We’ve had the hardest schedule in the league through our first 21,” Morey said on CBS Sports Radio’s The Doug Gottlieb Show. “We’re very happy obviously. It’s still early, and I think our team is one that will face our fair share of injury challenges at some point, but through the first 21, this is ahead of where we wanted to be, to be in position to get home court in the West in the first round. That was our goal coming in. We’re pretty pleased. Most of our players are playing pretty well, playing at career levels, and our young players are stepping up. So far, so good. Knocking on wood here.”

The Rockets have flourished under Mike D’Antoni’s up-and-down system, ranking second in the league in scoring (111.1). They trail only Golden State (120.2) in that department.

Still, Morey expressed a bit of regret about firing Kevin McHale 11 games into last season.

“You don’t make a drastic move like that if you don’t think it can help turn your season around,” Morey said. “I think J.B. Bickerstaff did an incredible job for us, but we really did not turn our season around to the extent that we were hoping. I think midseason coaching changes are terrible. They’re not really good. It’s actually the first one I’ve ever done in my 15 years in the league, and we obviously felt like at the time – and I still feel like at the time with the information we had – it was a decision that I thought was the best thing. But if you know what you know at the end of the season – that we didn’t turn things around and we didn’t get a lift from the change – yeah, I think midseason coaching changes are a mistake almost always.”

In any event, Morey has been pleased with Houston’s offense but wants more from the defense. The Rockets rank 24th in the league in scoring defense (107.1 points). Morey wants them in the top 10.

Houston haters will say that’s impossible when James Harden is your best player, but Morey doesn’t agree.

“The criticism of James on defense, I think, is pretty unfair,” he said. “I think even he said, ‘Hey, I’m not the strongest defender.’ But if you compare him to the high-usage, offensive-burdened superstars, you’ll see he’s right there with almost all of those players in term of his defense. His on-the-ball defense is very good. His ability to create turnaround plays is very good. And people don’t realize defensive rebounding is a big part of defense, and he shores up a lot of our positions where we don’t have strong defensive players.”

Harden, who is averaging 7.6 rebounds, is fourth in the league in scoring (28.7 points per game) and leads the league in assists (11.6).

The Rockets host the Lakers (10-13) on Wednesday and will face the Thunder (14-8) in Oklahoma City on Friday. Tip-off for both games is slated for 8 p.m. ET.

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