Another name for read and react is zone offense. The creators and marketers of read and react probably didn’t want to use “zone offense” because the name implies that it’s offense for dummies just like zone defense is. Of course, the other reason is probably because the zone offense is either not trademarkable or it’s not marketable.
Nevertheless, read and react seems to be the system gaining traction with youth leagues and reason for its growth and application is because it’s designed for players with limited physical basketball skills sets and is easier to learn.
What this translates to is your team doesn’t require specialized position players for the read and react system to work. In fact, I’ve heard read and react being described as a point-guard-less system as there’s no one single point guard who controls the ball unlike traditional offensive systems.
So, this begs the question why is Houston running a system that doesn’t require a ball dominant point guard which is Jeremy Lin and why does the ball always get sticky towards the end of the game by none other than James Harden?
Before trading away Pat Patterson and Marcus Morris, Houston was dominating with the read and react system. The ball was flowing in a labyrinth like non-patterns that my eyes were struggling to follow the ball when the read and react is implemented. However, this excludes the games where the ball stopped flowing during each of Houston’s long losing streaks and after Patterson and Morris were traded away.
Although “zone offense” is supposed to be easy to learn, the new additions to the team didn’t know how to run the system effectively. I recall reading that Aaron Brooks never understood the system and, perhaps, this is why he never got any minutes even though, in my opinion, he’s a vastly superior point guard compared to Patrick Beverley.
I came across a Houston’s assistant coach Chris Finch’s interview and found that it answered a few of my pondering contradictions.
Regarding why the ball was so sticky during the fourth quarter, here’s some relevant comments by Chris Finch:
I would counter this by saying that our late-game situation was the antithesis of our offense; it wasn’t a byproduct of our offense. We actually abandoned our offense too much to go to late-game isolation situations and you see what happens when you have players in isolation or in simple NBA sets where the defenses, which are at heightened intensity at that point in time, are locked-in on game plan and taking away what you do best: they’re forcing your best players into hard shots and then when you have other players who aren’t able to create their own offense the way a James Harden can, it becomes even tougher.
I interpret this to mean that isolation plays were never planned for. However, it is hard believe that Houston didn’t plan for isolation plays because it seems every Houston player on the floor knew exactly when to spread the floor and allow for Harden to go into isolation mode.
The other contradiction is why is the team implementing a point-guard-less system when Houston was featuring Jeremy Lin as their star player before they landed James Harden 3 days before the start of the season? Well, the article doesn’t explain why this is, but Chris does touch on the difficulty of adding a new star player into the mix:
Yeah, so last year we had new philosophy, new players, and then at the very last moment before the season starts you plop in a high usage guy like James, who you want to give a huge role to in the offense without having to disrupt everything we just built, so that took a while. It’s like when you drop a rock in a small pond you get a big splash and that’s exactly what happened. So this year we have a foundation of guys and I think we’ll be able to get to the next level of offense that we were never able to get to with just more intricacies and reads and little actions that we can encourage.
And, it seems to me that Chris Finch is silently protesting Houston’s Rocket’s propensity to utilizing isolation plays in lieu of the read and react offense. When asked by the interviewer how Houston’s offense can improve next year, Chris diplomatically responds by saying the team should stay within the read and react offensive sets longer before abandoning it for isolation plays:
We’ve got to become a better late-game team, there’s no doubt about it. We’ve got to have better execution there, stay with our flow a little bit longer. I think we’ve got to get James on the move and in more creative situations rather than just handing him the ball and expecting him to make a play all the time – that gets hard for anybody, even superstars. Then we obviously have Dwight as well to include in what we’re doing in late-game situations.
Further reading: Bickerstaff Interview by Jason Friedman