-- As coach and executive, Mike D'Antoni and Daryl Morey have two of the league's most distinct styles. Now, with Morey's Houston Rockets reportedly set to hire D'Antoni as head coach, next season will feature a merger of "Seven Seconds or Less" and "Moreyball."
And James Harden is a shoot-first, ball-dominant guard, not exactly a Steve Nash pass-first type. Yet D'Antoni wants the ball, and the players, to move.
Can this work? Let's look at where it might, and where it might not, including on the defensive end.
Common ground: pace and space
Speed is the most obvious overlap between D'Antoni's coaching philosophy and Morey's analytically informed method of running a team. Beginning with the Phoenix Suns, who won an average of 58 games during his four full seasons at the helm, D'Antoni has encouraged his teams to seek out good shots before the defense is set. His desire for them to shoot within the first seven seconds of the shot clock ended up the brand for D'Antoni's style.
Based on the statistical evidence that teams shoot better early in the shot clock, Morey evidently came to a similar conclusion about pace. After playing a relatively slow place with 7-foot-6 Yao Ming in the middle, the Rockets have played faster than league average each of the past seven seasons, leading the league in 2012-13. And Houston's D-League affiliate in Rio Grande Valley, something of a testing ground for the Rockets, has been faster still.
Surely, part of what appeals to Morey about playing in transition is the opportunity to launch unguarded 3-pointers. If speed is the defining characteristic of D'Antoni's teams, 3-point shooting has become Houston's hallmark. The past two seasons have seen the Rockets fire more of their shots from long distance than any other team in NBA history, part of their emphasis on scoring the most efficient ways possible: 3-pointers, shots at the rim and trips to the free throw line.
While the same kind of analysis might not have driven D'Antoni's philosophy -- "We didn't use analytics," he said during a panel at the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference -- his offense has emphasized the same kinds of shots.
Under D'Antoni, the Suns led the NBA in the percentage of attempts from 3-point range in both 2004-05 and 2005-06. In 2006-07, they slipped to second ... behind Houston. (D'Antoni's New York Knicks were also second in 3-point attempt percentage in both 2009-10 and 2010-11.)
The challenge for D'Antoni will be to boost the Rockets' 3-point accuracy. With two-time MVP Steve Nash setting up shooters and hitting a high percentage himself, Phoenix shot better than 39 percent from 3-point range each of D'Antoni's four full seasons. D'Antoni's Knicks teams were closer to league average beyond the arc, much like Houston has been the past two seasons.
Question mark: How does Harden fit D'Antoni's system?
For all the similarity between the Rockets' offense and what D'Antoni prefers, there's one enormous difference. Where D'Antoni's teams ideally feature constant movement around a playmaker (Nash with the Suns and a variety of different point guards in New York, including Jeremy Lin), in Houston the ball has generally been in the hands of shooting guard James Harden with everyone else patiently spotting up.
The Rockets ranked third in the league in the percentage of plays finished with either a shot, a trip to the free throw line or a turnover from an isolation this season, according to Synergy Sports tracking, nearly all of them for Harden. He finished more than 150 more plays on isolations than any other player in the league. By contrast, Phoenix ranked in the NBA's bottom 10 in isolations in each of D'Antoni's four full seasons at the helm, including the league's lowest rate in 2006-07.
We have seen D'Antoni bend his offense to the strengths of his roster before. After New York acquired Carmelo Anthony at the 2011 trade deadline, the percentage of his plays coming off isolations actually increased from where it was with the Denver Nuggets. And Kobe Bryant led the league in number of isolation plays during 2012-13, D'Antoni's one full season coaching the L.A. Lakers.
Still, expect D'Antoni to encourage Harden to be more of a facilitator and less of a ball stopper. Bryant's 2012-13 campaign might serve as a template for how Harden could play under D'Antoni. Bryant averaged 5.6 assists per 36 minutes that season, his most in a full season. With Nash out of the lineup, Bryant increased that average to 8.4 per game (6.6 per 36 minutes) during the seven games before he ruptured his Achilles tendon.
Defining question: defense
Whether D'Antoni and Harden butt heads over how much he handles the ball, the Rockets should have a good offense. They've ranked in the NBA's top 10 in offensive rating three of the four seasons since adding Harden (they slipped to 12th in 2014-15) and D'Antoni's teams have scored 2.6 percent better than league average over his career.
Among coaches who have spent at least five seasons on the sidelines since the ABA-NBA merger, just two (K.C. Jones and Phil Jackson) have coached better offenses on average.
The question, then, is how well Houston can defend. The Rockets slipped from sixth in defensive rating in 2014-15 to 21st last season, costing Kevin McHale his job and interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff his opportunity to become McHale's full-time replacement.
In that regard, D'Antoni is a curious choice for Houston. Though his defenses aren't as bad as their points allowed per game might indicate, because of the fast pace, they haven't been elite either. Only in 2011-12, when Mike Woodson replaced D'Antoni midseason, has one of his teams ranked in the top 10 defensively.
As a result, the most important new addition to the Rockets' coaching staff might be the assistant coach tasked with overseeing the defense. According to a report by ESPN.com's Calvin Watkins, Houston hopes to hire former Memphis Grizzlies assistant Jeff Bzdelik for that role.
During Bzdelik's two-plus seasons as head coach of the Denver Nuggets in the early 2000s, the team was above average defensively, including ranking eighth in defensive rating in 2002-03 with little NBA-caliber talent on the roster.
Oddly, as much as the Rockets have emphasized good shot selection on offense under Morey, they've struggled to apply the same principles on the defensive end in recent years. Opponents have attempted 3s at an above-average rate against Houston each of the past four seasons, including attempting high-value corner 3s at a league-leading rate in 2015-16.
So as simpatico as D'Antoni and Morey appear on offense, for their partnership to succeed at a high level they're both going to need to break new ground defensively.