AKA - Will it still be a Preview before it's finished, or just a "View". (Sadly, life intervened in the form of business, sick child, sick me, etc. But I'm back and ready for more. More!)
When last we left this series you, lucky reader, had just been gifted with 2,500 words on Kevin Martin. If, at any time before The Dreamshake, you had told me I'd be gladly, happily, writing 2,500 words on Kevin Martin I wouldn't have believed you. You're so very welcome.
The practically perfect second shooting guard. That pretty much sums Mr. Lee up in my estimation, but its not very effusive. I will therefore effuse.
Courtney Lee possesses decent size at the shooting guard spot, and while I've read elsewhere that he's athletically limited, I think I'd be gobsmacked at what those writers consider gifted. Is the bar set at Jim Thorpe? Michael Jordan? Carl Lewis? Bo Jackson? Where? When I watch Lee stick his man on D, run the break, and elevate for either a textbook form jumper or a slam, I pray I could be as athletically limited as that.
From what I have seen in the preseason (and I think form counts, and results do too, to an extent) Lee seems to have few flaws in his game. He moves laterally well, with very few offensive players going by him (hello, Manu) and those mainly due to assignment confusion, from what I've seen. He plays defense low with active hands, and is willing to mix it up with his opponent and control him physically to the extent allowed by the refs and his strength, which appears above average for his frame. Lee has managed several steals so far, as a result of good anticipation within the scheme of the defense, rather than gambles on big moves into the passing lanes.
Lee runs the break like a dream, and in the Indiana game had a couple of series where he and Chase Budinger exchanged alley-oop passes for slams to the delight of the rest of the team. Courtney Lee has NBA range from 3 but not the consistency you'd like to see from the line, at least not yet, his shot looks a bit more of a heave at that range. He saw a very good rookie 3pt% in Orlando fall in New Jersey, but that may be a product of circumstance - we'll see. Moving into the mid range and close in game, though, and you wonder how he ever misses a shot, his form is so pure and his elevation above his marker is so high. Some people may not be sold on him as an offensive producer, but I am. Courtney Lee can score. Paired with the aggressive second unit of Lowry, Budinger, Patterson and Hill, Courtney Lee may end up the "go to" guy of that unit, as he appears able to create and make at least a decent jumpshot opportunity for himself, if not always a good drive to the rim.
Lee's handle is solid, and his passing in the half court is good, if not always inspired. I've yet to see him dribble himself into trouble, or hold the ball too long. He appears capable, and fast/quick enough to deal with bigger PG like Deron Williams, Andre Miller or Chauncey Billups. He also appears able to tag team on D with Shane Battier for certain players, like Battier did with Trevor Ariza last season.
Ah, Ariza. That's the big question with Lee, for many at least. Was it worth trading Trevor Ariza to get him. Let's leave out the economic considerations, as those have been dealt with extensively. This issue at hand has been covered as well, but it's also on topic. While Trevor Ariza is many things, one thing I'm sure he's not after last season is a shooting guard. He may be able to defend them, but he's offensively not up to the demands of SG/Non Primary Ballhandler Wing, position. Courtney Lee is. When your starting SG is Kevin Martin it's worth thinking of contingency plans, and Lee is about the best insurance you can find, because he's capable of running starters minutes effectively. Lee is, in my mind, a reasonable NBA starter. If Lee should become the starter for some reason, then we'd see more of...
Jermaine Taylor is a scoring machine, one of those guys who can just put up numbers. Unfortunately, at this point, that's about all he is. I've seen flashes of inspired D, as in the game where he guarded Kobe Bryant for significant minutes, and we've seen some decent passing, (in VSL) but mostly off his drives. I think he's capable of more, and I believe the Rockets think so, too. The problem is finding him the minutes to learn how to expand his game. It's hard to see how Taylor will displace Martin or Lee, barring injury, as Martin offers a more complete scoring game, and Lee a more complete defensive game, and a scoring game that isn't far behind Taylor's.
Taylor suffers also from not having a reliable NBA 3pt shot. If he's ever going to become "instant offense" from the bench, or something more, he's going to have to be able to hit the 3 very consistently. As an undersized SG who can't move to PG, particularly one who will play for the Rockets, he has to be able to nail the open 3pt shot. He also needs to be able to pass within Rick Adelman's motion system. Again, I've seen flashes of him getting it, and then more of him being a black hole, pressing to hit shots, trying to impress, and to stay with the team.
Right now I see Taylor falling into the "back of the bench trap". Right now, he's between 11-15 on the roster, and he'd like to be higher. So whenever he comes in, garbage time, semi-garbage time, or non-garbage time, his goal appears to be to launch as many shots as he possibly can, and to make every drive a spectacular one. This is good, in that it shows off his core skill - scoring. It is bad in that it's what keeps players trapped at the back of the bench. When Taylor is gunning he can't show off any other growth in his game. When he's playing under control in limited minutes not much shows up in the box score. It may not be the way Houston's coaches operate, but most people remember a spectacular dunk more than a competent screen. There's no "black ink" on a screen.
The limited minutes remain a self-fullfilling prophecy. I can't blame Taylor, but it's not the way out of the trap.
I like Taylor and his game, and think he was good value where the Rockets picked him. I wonder where his future lies, and if it lies in Houston. There's no question in my mind that he's an NBA player, but just what sort of career he has depends almost entirely on the right opportunity. He's young enough to grow into a solid starter, particularly for a team that features a strong PG (I'm pretty sure he'd offer more offensive punch than Ronnie Brewer in Chicago, for example), or simply needs scoring (like Charlotte). In Houston there are more variables currently lined up against him than for him, but any team that commits to minutes for Taylor could be pleasantly surprised.