This was going to be published about an hour ago. Then Garrett Gilbert stole my attention.
Henry Abbott of TrueHoop had a post today concerning the Rockets' transition into the least difficult part of their schedule. You'd think the Rockets would be in good spirits approaching such an easy stretch. But as Abbott points out, in referring to an interview with Rick Adelman and Shane Battier conducted by Jason Friedman, that's not the case.
Except for one thing. The team is not feeling good. They're on a three-game losing streak, and worse, their starting unit simply has been ineffective of late. Daryl Morey has said the starters need to change their approach, and Rick Adelman and Shane Battier agree. Here's what they told Rockets.com's Jason Friedman:
"We’re not playing the way we’ve talked about playing," says Adelman. "We’ve walked the ball up the court. We need five people running up and down the court and we’re not doing it. We’ve got to change that. We can’t have one group playing one way and then the next group playing different."
Adds Battier: "We’ve had slippage in the chemistry department. You can just tell by the way we play. We haven’t been as unified at both ends of the court. You can say that with pretty good confidence because the second group that comes in, the guys off the bench, have great chemistry. They play together, they move the ball, they space the floor and they rely on each other to play good basketball.
"I think the tendency for the first group right now is to really try to do it themselves and try to carry the team out of the slump. We’re not doing it out of malicious reasons; every guy feels that they can help the team and raise the level of play. But we’ve gotten away from trying to do it collectively instead of individually and it’s resulted in some pretty bad basketball."
Everyone, from Morey to Adelman to Battier, is right. Our ball movement has sagged. Our shot selection has worsened. We can't seem use the post game effectively at all. A good first step would be to try to get Luis Scola more shots. When Luis takes 15 or more shots, the Rockets are 8-3. In our last six games, Scola has only averaged 11 shots per game, and we've gone 2-4.
When Luis gets doubled inside, it opens up room for either a kick-out pass and a shot, or a swing pass to the corner. If Luis makes a few shots from the elbow and draws a defender up towards him, it opens up the lane and gives the Rockets more space to work with, and if he misses, there is one less opposing big man at the rim to rebound.
So, if Scola is to be taking more shots, who is presently taking too many? That's easy. It's Trevor Ariza, who stunningly leads the Rockets in shots attempted.
Ariza was never going to fit well with this team as a featured scorer, and the Rockets knew that. He was never supposed to take that role, even with Yao and McGrady on the bench. Trevor is a complimentary player by definition, and yet, he seems to be trying to break into a mold that he's not built for. As of today, he is averaging 16 points on 16 shots per game. He took 14 shots in each of our three losses, with his highest scoring output being 19 points. This is not a formula for success.
If you want to talk about ball movement, here's a play that will sure stagnate an offense: Ariza dribbles into either the corner or into the lane, picks up his dribble, and awkwardly pivots while trying to find an outlet pass. This long pause allows the defense to rotate back into position, and basically brings the Rockets back to where they started, only with ten fewer seconds on the shot clock. If there's a bright side to this, it is that Trevor seems to have temporarily given up his dream of turning the up-and-under jump shot into a signature move.
It should be clear by now that Ariza is not a "pure scorer", as broad a term as that may be. He is a slasher, an athletic wing player who can get into the lane if there's a clear path for him to do so. He's the kind of guy who thrives in catching a pass (either off of a cut or by means of a pick and roll), taking one dribble, and finishing in the lane with authority. This translates to the transition game and to the fast break. It does not translate to isolation plays.
We have players who can create space for themselves to work. Ariza is the type of guy who should capitalize on what other players can create. If you watched last year's playoffs, you'll know that Trevor is an excellent spot-up shooter. He can knock down an open three if he his feet are set. This year, he has been working on a one-dribble pull-up jumper off of screens. If he's open off the pick, it's a very reasonable shot.
Let's be clear about one thing. Spotting up for threes, or running the fast break, or back-cutting are not ways of guaranteeing Ariza a certain number of shots... and that's the whole point. With Dwyane Wade or Kobe Bryant, you expect them to hit a specific number of attempts every game, say twenty. Ariza's situation is different.
Take Shane Battier, for example. He knows his limits offensively, and carefully caters to his preferences. On any given night, Shane may take four shots, or he may take twelve. If the defense gives him a preferable shot, he will take it - rarely will you see him force up an uncomfortable shot. While Ariza shouldn't limit his offensive preference to the degree that Battier does, it would be a nice model for him to follow.
So, while I do realize that Trevor is developing day by day, it wouldn't hurt for Coach Adelman to pull the reigns on him just a bit. Maybe he can get him to work off the ball more and run less isolation plays. It's not as simple as "more Scola, less Ariza." I love Ariza, and I want him on the court whenever possible. Rather, it's all about maximizing what each player is good at, and minimizing what each struggles with. A slight change in philosophy would surely aid the Rockets in overcoming their current struggles.