The Dream Shake's 2009-2010 Houston Rockets Preview

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Last year's record: 53-29
Playoffs: Beat Portland 4-2.  Lost to Los Angeles Lakers (epically, at that) 4-3.
Key losses: Yao Ming (injury), Ron Artest, Von Wafer, Brent Barry, James White 
Key additions: Trevor Ariza, David Andersen, Jermaine Taylor, Chase Budinger, Pops Mensah-Bonsu

From Lee Grammier:

1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?

Yao Ming's injury status in the offseason was not a "move" made by the Rockets but it clearly qualifies as season altering information.  The original prognosis was that he'd be out until training camp, with the revised prognosis being that he will be out for the entire season.  In the long run this could turn out to be best for Yao's health.  He has a signed NBA contract for his services that the Chinese National government agreed to and based on some of their decision making he has rarely been able to fulfill that contract.  In no way do I begrudge Yao for wanting to play in the Olympics for his country, but the other games simply have to stop. 

The Trevor Ariza signing was the most significant roster move of the off-season.   While I've been on record saying that Trevor Ariza wasn't someone I was interested in, that was prior to the Rockets gaining a second mid level exception.  Daryl Morey has not been wrong a single time as general manager of the Houston Rockets, so while this may not be signing Joe Johnson, it was a heck of a pickup.  Swapping Artest for Ariza made much more sense given the season the Rockets are going to have to endure, the generally low price tag and Ariza's age.

2. What are the team's biggest strengths?

From a position perspective the team's biggest strength is the power forward slot.  Few, if any teams in the NBA can boast a 3 deep rotation of starter quality players at any position.  The Rockets have Luis Scola, Carl Landry and Chuck Hayes.  Each brings something different to the table with Scola being the most complete player.  He is likely to be the Rockets biggest star this season.  My prediction is that he will earn a spot on the All Star team this year, but won't actually get in.  I also predict that he will be listed as the number one snub by every respectable writer around.  If Carl Landry can continue to add some shooting touch from beyond 12 feet he will take a huge step forward in his career.  At 26 years old, this is the season where he will define who he is as a player. 

From a team perspective defense will keep the Rockets in games that their scoring will say they have no business being in.   The carryover from the JVG years that has been the Rockets calling card could be as good as it's ever been this year.  While there is no Yao Ming holding down the middle, the rest of the defense should be even better making it a wash.  Every player on the team can play defense (contrary to popular belief, Scola is a solid defender) and just about everyone has speed, strength and athleticism.  The key question on defense is how with David Andersen plays his part.

3. What are the team's biggest weaknesses?

The Rockets weakest position going into the season is clearly center.  Losing the second best center in the league (and the best if health isn't factored in) will do that to a team.  Given the Rockets inability to sign a viable back-up in the last two seasons not named Dikembe Mutombo, this was inevitable.  Not, mind you, that I blame Daryl Morey, there simply are not many centers out there, and when you have the best, you just have to hope he can stay on the court.  The Rockets have not been very lucky in that department.  David Andersen and Chuck Hayes will likely vie for the starting position with Landry and Scola getting spot minutes and Joey Dorsey getting left-overs.  Regardless, Hayes will play, but not always at center.  If Andersen can put something together the Rockets can make the playoffs.  Luckily for the Rockets and us as fans, the NBA simply does not have a lot of viable, true centers, so if you are going to have either a weakness or a strength, center is a great place for it.

As a team, Houston is going to struggle scoring.  Morey drafted two players explicitly because of their ability to score in Chase Budinger and Jermaine Taylor.  They believe Trevor Ariza can step it up, though I am more than a little skeptical about that scenario.  The sooner Tracy McGrady comes back from injury, the better.  Simply put, the Rockets are desperate for scoring. 

In the meantime, Luis Scola and Aaron Brooks will most likely lead the team in scoring.  Scola will average 18-20 points a game this season - it's a stone cold lock.  He's extremely capable on the offensive end and needs to make sure he doesn't gamble as much on the defensive end.  Brooks, like so many other Rockets, has to step his game up as he did at times in the playoffs last year.  His size makes him somewhat of a liability on the defensive end, so he needs to use his speed to play the passing lane and create fast break points.  The Rockets biggest hope for scoring is the same that will allow them to continue to be great on the defensive end; speed and athleticism.  This team will run the fast break like they are the early 90s UNLV Runnin' Rebels.   Defense will have to lead to offense - it's as simple as that.

4. What are the goals for this team?  What will make this a successful season?

The goals for this team are very straightforward:  Develop the young players, play hard every single night, and to do whatever it takes to make the playoffs.  The team is not bad en ough to do any worse than the back of the lottery, so with the added revenue of a playoff team, it is a no brainer to take a shot at the playoffs.  Night in and night out they will play hard, focused defense.  If at any point in the season they are not hustling they will get run off the court.  There is not enough scoring on this team to play anything but all out, all the time. 

There are two ways to look at the Rockets series versus the Lakers in last year's playoffs:

1. The Rockets are a very good team and are capable of beating anyone on a given night, even without Yao.

2.  The Rockets got lucky playing against a lackadaisical Lakers team. 

Neither of them is right in full.  It was really a combination of the two. 

The Rockets are a very well put together team, thanks to Daryl Morey.  Not one player, on down to the last guy on the bench, is a quitter.  They all work hard during the game, in practice and in the weight room.  Every player has at least one extreme strength and, with the exception of Chuck Hayes' offensive game, is capable of every facet of NBA level basketball.  And that's not a knock on Hayes, as his defensive skills more than make up for his lack of offense.  For anyone thinking this team is a 50 game winner as it stands today, I just don't have that leap of faith ability in me.  They will be a good team and no one will want a game against them at any point in time this season.  However, they will struggle to score and it will be very ugly at times when they do win.  Typically going into a season like this most would think there wasn't a lot to look forward to, but with the Rockets that's not the case.  Every game should have someone new step up - that's the great thing about having a true 12 man team.

Three underrated players/stories on this team

1. Luis Scola.  He's a one improved season away from becoming one of the top power forwards in this league.  It's not just about the box score with Luis - he hustles more than any player I've ever seen.

2. Rick Adelman.  It's no accident that our offense often looks smoother without our stars.  While it may not work as well in the late game situations, the Rockets always keep themselves in games when undermanned.  This is in large part due to Adelman's ability to adapt.

3. Trevor Ariza is an upgrade over Ron Artest...for this team.  Yes, we lose a terrific defender in Ron-Ron, but as far as that category goes, Ariza is not too much of a downgrade, and most importantly, his usage rates are far lower.  I don't know about you, but I got tired of seeing Artest chunk up horrible shots in the playoffs and waste possessions.  The Rockets should be much more efficient with Ariza in the lineup.

Predicted Record: 41-41.  It could be lower, but in all honesty, could be higher as well.  A good chunk of it depends on Mr. McGrady.

Tom's individual player previews after the jump...

Individual Player Links from 2008-09

 

From Tom Martin:

Tracy McGrady - SG #3

Tracy McGrady - Houston Rockets Picture_1_medium

Strengths: It's obvious: Tracy McGrady is one hell of a basketball player when healthy.  While he has lost speed and somewhat regressed athletically over the last few years, he can still drive to the rim effectively, can hit the open jumper (as difficult as he makes it look), and has a knack for hitting clutch shots, assuming he's marginally open.  Tracy's most undervalued quality is his ability to pass; when he decides to play unselfishly, he can make looks that few others can.  It's always been unclear as to what kind of leader Tracy is.  His teammates insist that they like him, and yet, you can sense a lack of team chemistry whenever McGrady struggles. But make no mistake: a healthy McGrady is absolutely an asset.

Weaknesses: He's a nutcase and of little worth when he tries to play through nagging injuries.  We saw how it affected the Rockets last year in embarrassing losses to Milwaukee, Philadelphia and Toronto, among others.  Tracy would skip the second game of each back to back, which completely threw everyone out of sync.  McGrady finally elected to have surgery, and whaddayaknow - we went on a second half tear to make the playoffs quite easily.  The sad part is that it's not Tracy's fault that he's constantly injured.  He's been in the league for a long time now, and his body has taken a beating.  His athleticism has decreased over time, and his presence on the court, at least whenever he's fighting through another injury, has proved to be a handicap.

What to expect in 2009-10: A possible return to form, or something close to it.  Reports out of McGrady's rehab camp have been startlingly good.  Not to say that we all thought T-Mac was finished, but apparently, his progress has been revolutionary.  Nick Freidell of ESPN caught up with Tim Grover and David Reavy, who have been working with Tracy in Chicago.  Needless to say, this is some excellent news:

"His whole body was imbalanced from basically his shoulder blades down to his feet," Reavy says. "He was developing a lot of back problems ... He was developing strength in an imbalanced fashion. And what I see in Tracy, in general, he had no core strength, he couldn't hold a plank."

So Reavy and Grover devised a rehab plan that would help bring it all back -- the work is already paying dividends.

"[Tracy] took a hard fall seven years ago in 2002 and he said he was never able to dunk off his left leg [since]. We got him dunking off his left leg four and a half months post micro-fracture, which is basically unheard of," Reavy says. "The results that we get here are basically unprecedented because we take the force off the injured area, we make the body absorb the force equally, so that it can heal properly and faster without the loading that it's constantly getting before."

Anyone else excited?  Some media folks have been whispering that McGrady could be back in game-shape by the start of the season.  While that would be great, the team doesn't want him to rush it; he won't be playing until the end of November.  

Luis Scola - PF #4

Luis Scola - Houston Rockets  Picture_2_medium

Strengths: The Argentinian Slayer caught the public's eye last year with his consistently solid play, earning his hilarious, yet fitting nickname from Superman himself, Dwight Howard.  In just a single season, Scola transformed from a hustle/layup machine to an imposing scorer and team MVP.  His defense also improved, as evidenced by his fantastic performance against LaMarcus Aldridge in the playoff series against Portland.  Scola has developed a mini-arsenal of confusing post moves and bank shots that make you scratch your head for a while.  Then you notice how effective they are, and in turn become awed by the Slayer's greatness.  He had an extremely productive showing at the FIBA championships for Argentina this summer, leading many to suspect that 2009-10 could be a career-best year for Luis.

Weaknesses: Scola is going to have to adjust to playing without Yao Ming in the lineup. He's going to see more double teams in the post, and when he gets beat on defense, he won't have The Great Wall to protect him.  Yes, Scola has had a great offseason and is looking improve his statistics this year, but it may be difficult with all of the attention that he is going to receive from opposing defenses.

What to expect in 2009-10: Something near 18/10.  Perhaps even 20/10.  If the Rockets manage to shock everyone and remain in the playoff hunt, Scola's name will become even more respected.  It would be well-deserved.

Trevor Ariza - G/F #1

Trevor Ariza - Houston Rockets  Picture_3_medium

Strengths: Air Ariza can fly like few others can.  If he's got a path to the rim, look out, because his feet may clip you in the face.  Not only can Trevor dunk, but he's got a nifty three-point shot too.  He should thrive in the loose, up-tempo offense that the Rockets will run without Yao Ming.  His defense is stellar as well, thus making the loss of Ron Artest much more bearable.  And by the way, The Dream Shake is currently open to any suggestions for possible nicknames of the new Ariza/Battier defensive duo.  It's not going to have the star-power that "White Pills" had, but it should be formidable nonetheless.  As far as I know, Ariza's old nickname was "Cobra."  I like it.  Somebody make it work.

Weaknesses: Can he create his own scoring?  Can he be a legitimate threat offensively without a star like Kobe Bryant commanding double-teams?  Can he continue to improve like he has in past years?  I'm...Ron...Burgundy?

What to expect in 2009: An increase in his offensive statistics, but only because of his surroundings.  Ariza is a great fit in Houston, but he's not the explosive wing scorer that the Rockets have been lacking with Tracy McGrady's absence.  Fortunately, with an offensive mastermind in Rick Adelman running the show, he shouldn't have to.  What should excite Houstonians most about Ariza is that he turned down the chance to play third or fourth fiddle to LeBron in Cleveland in order to make a greater impact on a team.  He's a proven winner, but in signing with the Rockets, Ariza challenged himself to become a team leader, as opposed to being just another swingman. That kind of motivation makes me giddy.

Shane Battier - G/F #31

Shane Battier - Houston Rockets  Picture_6_medium

Strengths: A vocal leader, smart defender, and effective three-point shooter, Shane gets it done on a nightly basis without making much of a scene.  Ball Don't Lie's Kelly Dwyer summed up Shane's defense nicely when he named him the second best defender of the past decade:

If you watch this guy, on any given possession, you'll understand. Just take your eye off the ball and watch Battier work - the guy acts as if he's in his own reality show, as if the cameras were on him for the entire 24-second turn, even if his man never gets the ball, while appearing deathly allergic to letting people down. Battier just does everything right. It may not mean he'll get the rebound, block or steal - and his guy might still nail the shot - but I've never seen someone pitch as many perfect games defensively.

Battier causes the game's most talented players to falter.  His talent does not lie in his physicality, quickness, or quick hands, but instead in his ability to force bad shots.  And they aren't just guesses - they are statistically proven to be bad shots.  Shane is also a man's man, a true professional.  When the team is down, he doesn't panic, at least not to the public.  Unlike our old nemesis Rafer Alston.

Unfortunately, Michael Lewis had to go and expose the Battman to the world, so he's no longer our little secret.  But he's still really, really, ridiculously good at what he does.

Weaknesses: While his defense is always appreciated, Shane sometimes disappears offensively.  It would be nice to see some better offensive production from someone who is on the floor for 35 minutes per game.

What to expect in 2009-10: A return to effective three point shooting.  If it wasn't emphasized before, it will be now; Shane has got to make his threes.  He did just that over the second half of last season, shooting 40% after opening the year around 36%.  In a season in which the Rockets are expected to be shooting even more three pointers than in years past, Shane will be counted on to make his.  It's a role that is really his primary purpose on offense, so there's no reason he shouldn't thrive.

Aaron Brooks - PG #0

Aaron Brooks - Houston Rockets  Picture_8_medium

Strengths:  Brooks shocks you with his ability to drive, especially given how midget-ish he is.  He's practically addicted to the paint, which in turn makes his three-point shot all the more lethal.  If defenders start respecting his outside stroke, Brooks will have no problem throwing up a shot fake en route to becoming a dribble-driving Pinball Wizard.  

While Aaron doesn't have a huge assist numbers, he is a reasonably good passer.  This bodes well for newly acquired David Andersen, who will be working the pick-and-roll with Brooks whenever possible.  Whether it gives Brooks more space to drive, or the Aussie more space to shoot, it's one hell of a pick and pop combination.  Aaron's also quite the underrated defender.  He shut down Chauncey Billups and Chris Paul last season, holding them well below their averages.  And to top it all off, Brooks is able to run that funky in-bounds alley-oop play.  It's an automatic 2 points in less than a second.

Weaknesses: Aaron often has trouble finishing against taller defenders.  He'll work his magic every once in a while and make a crazy bank shot, but more often than not, he'll have his shot swatted away.  This means that Brooks must work on improving his paint vision.  Once on the drive, he'll need to be looking for open options either in the corner or on the opposite block.  

Brooks also has yet to be a consistent scorer.  Some outings will yield 20-30 points, and others will result in single digits.  This was especially apparent in the playoffs.  Brooks averaged 26.3 points per game in 3 wins against the Lakers, and averaged 11.8 points per game in four losses.  Not only does Brooks' production help his own cause, but it plays a significant role in deciding the outcome of the game.

What to expect in 2009-10: Increased scoring production, which will likely lead to a higher turnover rate as well.  The presumed other point guard to sport the number zero may have a better 2009-10 than the original Agent himself.  In considering Brooks' potential outburst in 2009-10, I can't help but think back to that scene in Spiderman when Uncle Ben tells Peter Parker that, "With great power comes great responsibility."  It's the same deal for our lovable Midget.

 An explosive playoff campaign put Brooks into the national spotlight, and assured him the starting point guard spot entering this season.  Now, with no T-Mac or Yao for presumably the first half of the season, Brooks will be our perimeter threat.  Not Trevor Ariza.  Not Shane Battier.  Brooks is going to have to step up and prove that he can carry the bulk of the scoring.  If not, he'll have to show that he can distribute the ball to everyone else instead.  My money is on the first option. 

Kyle Lowry - PG #7

Kyle Lowry - Houston Rockets Picture_9_medium

Strengths: The Bulldog is your prototypical Daryl Morey point guard. Lowry is efficient, loves to get to the free throw line, and can draw a foul at will. He's also a tenacious defender who can body up the bigger point guards that often cause trouble for Aaron Brooks. His finishing ability around the rim, while not automatic, is solid, thus turning many of those fouls into three point plays. While he doesn't shoot the ball particularly well, Lowry still managed to put up a 47.5 FG% last year; in other words, he limits his shot attempts to layups or wide-open looks. If the Rockets intend to run more in 2009-10, like they say they do, Lowry will be one of the biggest beneficiaries.

Weaknesses: Yeah, Lowry knows how to limit his shot selection, but it would be nice if he could extend his range beyond the three-point line, where he has struggled mightily.  Against the Los Angeles Lakers in last year's playoffs, Rick Adelman chose to leave Lowry in with Aaron Brooks and Shane Battier.  When Brooks or Battier would drive to Lowry's side of the court, the defense would instantly collapse, knowing that Kyle was not a threat to catch and shoot from deep.  Our offense sputtered during these periods, since the three point shot was, quite frankly, our only hope against the healthy Lakers at times.  Lowry also has a knack for overloading and getting out of control.  It's nice to see him draw fouls, but sometimes it's better to work the ball around the perimeter, rather than to drive like there's no tomorrow...again and again and again.

What to expect in 2009-10: Increased assists per game.  Now that Lowry has had a full off-season to work with Coach Adelman, he should become more comfortable and assertive on the offensive end.  Don't be too quick to confuse "assertive" with "drive-every-single-play-and-try-to-get-fouled."  That's not what Adelman wants.  

Rather than merely moving the ball to Ron Artest or Von Wafer, Lowry will have a chance to drive and dish in the half court and on the break, thus creating more kick-out assist opportunities, a staple of an Adelman team when in even flow.  The Bulldog may not make a name for himself just yet, but he and Brooks should be one of the more competent 1-2 backcourt punches in the entire league.

Carl Landry - PF #14

Carl Landry - Houston Rockets  Picture_11_medium

Strengths: Cuddly Carl becomes a monster of a man upon entering games.  His tenacity around the rim, as well as his hunger for lose balls has helped him build up a reputation of being "a guy you want to have on your team."  Landry has been able to put up excellent per-minute statistics, and his ability to dunk over, around, and through defenders is well-documented.  He's developed a reliable jump shot, and for the most part, he is incredibly consistent.  Most impressively, Carl has never complained about his role as a bench player.  Though he has been accepting of his place on the team, he'd better not get too comfortable as a mere seventh option.  Not with Yao Ming on the sidelines.  

Weaknesses: Up to this point in his short career, Carl has been the under-appreciated fan favorite who loves to hustle and get scrappy points.  While that's fantastic and all, it's time for Carl becomes a more polished scorer.  The most encouraging sign we've seen so far is his relatively new jump shot; as long as he keeps knocking those babies down, he'll be helping himself out immensely.  It should draw defenders out towards him more, thus allowing him to shot fake and drive to the rim.

But is Carl consistent on the block?  We don't know yet.  It remains to be seen if we can toss him the ball, give him space to work, and expect production.  He, like in all other areas of his game, sweats beads of potential as a low-post scorer, potential that won't be realized until he consistently performs at a high level.

What to expect in 2009-10:  Increased minutes, hopefully increased statistics.  There is not a shred of fairness in raising the expectations of Landry.  It's nit-picky to demand improvement from a virtually unknown second-round pick who has not only struggled to find significant minutes when he wholeheartedly deserved them, but has also had to deal with the physical and mental effects of a gunshot wound stemming from an early morning incident last season.  You'd think a Jazz fan would feel bad for him (well, maybe not).  Despite all this, the bar has been raised for 2009-10.

It's Landry's own fault that his leash is getting shorter.  If he had not been so impressive during his first two NBA seasons, we would not be having this discussion.  But whenever Carl sees action, he makes an impression.  Rarely will you find such a reliable big man with youth, explosiveness, and a reasonable price tag.  Unfortunately, we never get to see Landry on the floor for more than five or ten minutes at a time.  That should change very, very soon.

It's a case of cause and effect.  Cause? Yao Ming is out for the year.  Effect?  Chaos ensues at the center position.  While it would be nice for David Andersen to be the de facto starter, we haven't seen him against NBA competition yet, and word on the street is that he doesn't play much defense.  This should mean increased minutes for both Landry and Chuck Hayes.  

On top of playing an undersized center, Landry will still be called upon to spell Luis Scola at the power forward position.  While Landry won't be starting, his minutes should shoot up one way or another.  And let's face it: with the Rockets looking for scorers this season, Landry should be comfortably above the Chuckwagon on the depth chart.

The only major question is whether higher usage will translate to lower efficiency.  Landry's PER has been among the highest in the NBA over the last two seasons, but if he suddenly sees 25 minutes per game, will he lose that efficiency?  I don't think the drop off will be drastic by any means.

Chuck Hayes - PF #44

Chuck Hayes - Houston Rockets Picture_12_medium

Strengths: The Chuckwagon is a wall of a defender, and it's really the only reason that he has a contract.  Because of this, Hayes puts all of his practice and dedication into his defense.  It's what drives him, and it's the kind of mindset that a team welcomes with open arms.

Weaknesses: All elements of offense, aside from reverse layups.  I've seen the man make ten straight threes in warmups, but for some reason, his offensive brilliance does not translate well to game speed.  Yet, somehow, Chuck will always end up with the ball with three seconds left on the shot clock.  It shocks him as much as it shocks you and me.  And we won't mention those free throws.

What to expect in 2009-10: More of the same.  I can't think of anything Chuck will do differently.  Maybe he'll try out one of those three pointers.  Hopefully not.

David Andersen - C #13 (Rookie)

Strengths/Weaknesses: I have yet to see Big Dave play basketball, so I'll leave it to Gersson Rosas, who interviewed with Adam Wexler of Sports Radio 610 back when Andersen's rights were acquired.

"Longtime target....one of most accomplished Aussies...impressive background...won championships in Spain and Italy...wins everywhere...special talent...skilled 7 footer, can shoot, moves well, good face up game, good fit for Adelman's offense...could have been a good compliment to Yao, but now can feature him...offenisvely, no question it will be a strong translation...defensively: size, which helps, and can play in our scheme...hasn't been involved in the NBA for a long time becausehe was well-paid in Europe and really had no reason to leave...leaving money on the table to play in the NBA...time was right for him contractually and career-wise...mirrors Pau Gasol's versatily on the high post, in terms of shooting and dribbling...skilled passer on the high post...can play pick-and-pop and space the floor as a 7 footer...a little bit like Bargnani, but not quite as athletic...similar in the type of game and style...not great defensively, but Chuck's presence will help that...smart player...good team defender...physicality is an issue...studied him for past 3-4 years...big credit to Les Alexander for providing resources for the upcoming season..."

In case you didn't feel like reading that, here's my summation.  Big Dave...

  • Can shoot well from anywhere.
  • Can pass and move, something Rick Adelman values in his big men.
  • Is a smart player and is a winner.
  • Is relatively cheap.
  • Can play team defense and help effectively.

And his cons are that he...

  • Isn't very physical.
  • Will struggle with individual post defense.
  • Doesn't rebound well.
  • Has yet to face proven NBA competition.
What to expect in 2009-10: Smooth transition to offense, struggles on defense.  Just based off of Rosas' analysis, Andersen will have a tough time adjusting to the physicality of the NBA.  However, the good news for the Rockets is that Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry are available to step in for defensive purposes in case Andersen falters.  Eventually, it would be nice if Andersen could stay on the floor and at least become a competent defender.  And even if Big Dave doesn't have a standout year, he'll always have next year, where his expectations will be lowered upon becoming Yao Ming's backup.  For now, though, he'll have to amount to much, much more.  In Andersen's favor is Rick Adelman, who will find ways to emphasize the stronger elements of Andersen's game.

Jermaine Taylor - SG #5 (Rookie)

Summer League Recap Notes: 

I liked what I saw from Jermaine Taylor the minute he touched the ball in his first game.  He possesses the ball with strength, and he attacks the basket with the determination of a scorer.  From what I've heard, Taylor can shoot it well from deep.  He may not have lit the nets up this week, but you can see why the Rockets spent a couple million to get him.  He's got plenty of tools to succeed on both the offensive and defensive end.  Unfortunately, they didn't translate to points this week, so I'll give him a B.  But don't let that discourage you about the talent that Taylor has.  He's got just as good of a chance to make the team as anyone else on the summer squad.

What to expect in 2009-10: Not a whole lot...yet.  Now that Rashad McCants and Will Conroy have been brought in to scare the living hell out of any over-confident rookies, Taylor will have to work to make the team.  Assuming he does, he'll provide good scoring off the bench in the same way that Von Wafer did last season, though with predictably lower outputs.  Defensively, he still needs work, but there's no denying that he can put points on the board.  His minutes will be low, so he'll have to be money when he does see the floor, but there's a lot to like about Taylor.  He's one of the most NBA-ready rookies out there.

Chase Budinger - SG #10 (Rookie)

 

Summer League Recap Notes:

What was the most impressive aspect of Chase Budinger's Summer League performance?  He improved from each game to the next.  As his role on the squad became clearer, Chase adjusted swiftly and without any problems.  You could tell that Bud Light was much more comfortable with the offense in Game 5 than he was in any other contest.  His catch-and-shoot plays were much smoother, and he began to attack the basket with more grit than he had shown earlier in the week (if you didn't see a couple of his dunks, they were really nice). 

Chase does need to work on his defense, especially against the drive, but with his athleticism and quickness, it should only be a matter of motivation and committment.  That's good news for us, as Budinger, once projected to be a lottery pick, is already playing with a chip on his shoulder.  If he can prove to Daryl Morey and the Rockets that he is capable of being a reliable, but not necessarily imposing defender, Budinger should have no problem finding a spot on the active roster.

What to expect in 2009-10: Plenty of jump shots.  Chase is a perfect "system" player.  He's big, athletic, and can shoot the ball well.  If you send him through screens and get him open, he'll knock down the jumper.  But Bud Light isn't quite as good on the isolation, as he has a tendency to be a bit soft on the drive.  Luckily, Budinger won't be asked to do such things.  He'll be fighting to see any minutes, but he picked the right year to be a Rocket - any scoring will be welcome.  If he can find a niche on the team, he'll play.

Joey Dorsey - PF #15

Joey Dorsey - Houston Rockets

Summer League Recap Notes:

It was the perfect week for the Kraken.  The brunt of my praise doesn't pertain to the fact that he lead the Summer League in rebounds, blocked shots at will, and showed off his passing touch.  Instead, I was overly impressed by how committed Dorsey was to his role on the floor.  He didn't try to score against weaker competition; only when he was clearly lined up for a post move did he utilize the spin or the power dribble.  Every time Dorsey caught the ball, he would hand it back off to a guard, and immediately find position down low for a rebound or entry pass.  He played very maturely and very efficiently, and did what was asked of him: to rebound and play defense.  The passing skills were an added bonus.  Joey's performance should guarantee him a spot on the opening day roster.

What to expect in 2009-10: It's unclear how much Dorsey will play, and this is assuming he even makes the roster, something I considered to be automatic a month ago.  While we'd all love to hear more of his ruminations from the bench, this is the first time that Joey has been healthy, and it would make sense for him to see the floor whenever defense, rebounding, and ferocious gorilla dunks are in high demand.  However, the signing of Pops Mensah-Bonsu complicates Dorsey's situation a bit.  It's unclear at this point whether or not Pops is a better fit for the Rockets than Dorsey.  The former Memphis Tiger brings a tough, physical presence that the Rockets need in the paint, but Pops' athleticism may be too much to ignore.  It's going to be an interesting camp battle.

Brian Cook - PF #43

Brian Cook - Houston Rockets  Picture_13_medium

Strengths: Cook's 6'10 frame has absolutely nothing to do with his strengths.  He is a shooter - you might as well consider him a guard with extremely delayed reactions.  Cook is also an effective contract negotiator and clusterf**k extraordinaire.  He exercised his 3.5 million dollar option in the offseason, thus, for lack of a better word, screwing us.

Weaknesses: If you're lucky enough to spot Cook inside the three point line, you won't see him doing much.  He'll grab a rebound if it comes to him.  He'll block a shot if the ball is hanging in front of his face.  Otherwise, Cook is probably one of the more useless big men in the paint.

What to expect in 2009-10: Morey should be feverishly trying to trade Cook throughout the season (consider the following Tweet to be a head start: "Cook: in good shape & shooting well").  If Brian somehow manages to stay in Houston, he'll be sitting on the bench.

Star-divide

Non-Guaranteed Contracts

 

Pops Mensah-Bonsu - PF

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From Adam of RaptorsHQ, SB Nation's Toronto Raptors Blog:

Pops was one of the lone bright spots for the team last year. Similar to Jamario Moon the season before, Pops quickly became a fan favourite as a player who came out of no where and provided the team with a lift where it needed it most (on the glass in this case.)

Simply put Mensah-Bonsu is an athlete. He's extremely raw still offensively (although his shot and low-post game have come a ways since his days at George Washington) but he can make plays that many other players in the league can't because of his strength and athletic ability. He's a terrific rebounder, solid shot-blocker, and great addition defensively in help situations. Individually on defense he gets a bit over-anxious at times and tends to foul, but in limited minutes off the bench that shouldn't be too much of an issue.

I really wanted the Raps to hold onto Pops. He's still very young and could turn into a nice 8th or 9th man off the bench for a club. And best of all, unlike many other players in the league, Pops just simply knew his role. When he was out there, you didn't have to worry about him trying to go one-on-one or fire up jump shots unless the clock was winding down. He stuck to his rebounding and defense role, and did an excellent job in limited minutes.

What to expect in 2009-10: A fight for playing time.  From what I've read and heard about Pops thus far, he sounds like a perfect fit in Houston.  We like athletic guys who "know their role."  Unfortunately for Pops, there are two of them who are sitting comfortably on the current depth chart in Chuck Hayes and Carl Landry.  Joey Dorsey is also in the running for playing time.  While Pops comes off as a fantastic addition, he may have to act like a running back and act fast when something opens up.

Romel Beck - SG

From Wayne Vore of Pounding the Rock, SB Nation's San Antonio Spurs blog:

He's a rail-thin scorer. He has good range on his shot. But he didn't strike me as a spot up shooter so much as a scorer. Meaning I got the impression that he just knows how to get the ball in the hole in a variety of ways. His shot selection was really pretty bad. Even games when he got on fire he would end up 7-15 because he would force a few really bad shots.

I don't think he can play much defense. He's very thin and didn't strike me as extremely quick. A decent handle but definitely not a point guard.

What to expect in 2009-10: After that glowing review, I'm not sure what to think of Beck.  Unless Morey is desperate (and I mean really, really desperate) for scoring, I don't see Beck fitting in on our roster.  I'd much rather have a big body in Pops as opposed to a scoring guard in Beck.  Unless something catastrophic happens during camp, like if Taylor or Budinger were to be cast off despite holding guaranteed contracts, Beck will be playing D-League ball in 2009.

Will Conroy - PG

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Summer League Recap Notes:

Will Conroy, aside from piling up a bunch of three point plays, didn't dazzle anyone in Las Vegas.  To begin with, there wasn't much hype surrounding Conroy, and for good reason.  He, much like our own Kyle Lowry, is hardly noticeable in the boxscore and even on the court at times.  But he doesn't do anything wrong.  In total, Conroy turned the ball over only six times - Jonny Flynn had seven turnovers in his first game!  Conroy ran the offense well and jumped at every chance to drive at the bucket.  I don't remember anyone easily beating him off the dribble, and his toughness and dedication to hard-nosed basketball surely impressed the Rockets' front office.  I thought he did just enough to earn consideration for a roster spot, and while he may not find any room  initially, there is a chance he could receive a call-up or two during the regular season.

What to expect in 2009-10: A call-up later this season.  Conroy is certainly worth his non-guaranteed contract, but his likely position on the depth chart (third point guard) isn't going to help his case over shooting guards such as Taylor and Budinger, both of whom received guaranteed contracts.  However, at some point, depending on who falls victim to injury, Conroy could see a brief call-up and get some minutes.  He's done all that he can at the D-league level.

Garrett Temple - PG (Rookie)

Summer League Recap Notes:

There wasn't a whole lot to expect from Temple in the first place, but with a 6'6 point guard on the market, the Rockets decided to stick him on the SL roster.  He's very athletic, very long, and can get to the basket against smaller guards.  But Temple didn't look comfortable as a point guard.  He only had two assists in the 62 minutes that he played this week, to go along with nine turnovers.  He won't be playing for the Rockets this season - his game, at least at the point guard position, isn't ready yet.  Yet, I do think he will eventually find a way into The Association.  Just not sure when that's going to be.

What to expect in 2009-10: A long season in the D-League.

And there you have it.  Go Rockets!!

(photographs courtesy of Yahoo! Sports, NBA.com, and Google.com)

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