Rockets Positional Comment 2009-2010

This is part of a (believe it or not) longer piece I'm working on.  I decided to break it out to help along discussion. I just couldn't take any more threads that feature that four letter word:  B O S H.   I'd rather talk about what we have, not pie-in-the-sky. Feel free to disagree, or agree, but state your case.  I am assuming we re-sign Lowry and Scola.

Rockets by Position:

1.     PG – There are only two possible cavils here.  Brooks and Lowry aren’t tall, and can therefore give up points to the, what, 3 tall PGs in the league.  On the other hand, Brooks is emerging as an elite scoring point, with the ability to burn the opposition with 3pters, mid-range pull-ups, and drives into the lane.  Now that he’s "established" as a player I expect he’ll get more calls when driving.  Also, about 3 guys in the league can hope to stay in front of him.  His assist rate isn’t that bad, and he could turn pro in bowling as well.  Makes at least one "holy crap!" shot per game.

 Lowry is a better distributing point, a better defender, rebounder and draws contact like few others.

  Lowry is not the scorer that Brooks is, though.  Lowry is a tenacious player in all respects, and reminds me of an NFL free safety playing PG, but for all that, he’s only slightly slower than Brooks, and his handle is excellent.   Brooks and Lowry spent a lot of time on the court at the same time, creating matchup havoc because Lowry is capable of defending SG by virtue of superior quickness and strength, and because most SG today have nothing resembling a post-up game.  (A favorite comment from Blazer’s Edge (paraphrased): ‘Is there any Blazer you’d pick in a cage match with Lowry?’)

 I view the position overall as a strength, though I think a bigger, defensive-minded combo guard would be very useful.

  There’s this kid in Spain…

 2.     SGKevin Martin is an elite scorer.  He is.  You might not know it by his rep, but look at the advanced numbers.  No, I'm not kidding.  Martin's career True Shooting Percentage is 59.8%.  Tracy McGrady?  52%.  eFG for Martin?  50.7%, for McGrady 47%.  Usage for Martin is lower at 23% than McGrady's 30%.  Say what you want about Martin, but don't say he isn't hyper-efficient. He also puts the opponent in foul trouble with ease. 

Speed Racer actually shoots a couple of different shots – people say he doesn’t elevate on shots, but he does, when he’s open.  Otherwise he uses a set shot to fake and drive, or draw a foul where the shot goes up almost no matter what.  His shot may look a little odd, but it works fine, and that's what matters.  

His D, well, let’s see how it is after a summer and training camp.  There were claims that he just didn't play D in Sacramento, but I think defense is more of a team thing, and it often looked like nobody was playing D in Sacramento.  In Houston "Thou Shalt Play D".  I think that's inscribed on the pedestal of the Olajuwon statue in front of the TC.  You may be bad, but by God, you're going to try.

 Martin has gotten a rep for being fragile but fragile SG seem to be a given in Houston.

  Whatever the case, it appears that Morey and the Rockets looked at the FAs out there this summer, and then they looked at the insane amount of money that will be chasing those FAs and decided that it was better to buy early and beat the rush. Martin was the best value by a mile given the Rockets desperate need for a scorer at SG.  (Advanced stats look to be pretty much a dead heat between Martin and Joe Johnson, btw.  Martin is a better scorer by advanced measures, while Johnson has a much better assist rate.  Who do you think will be cheaper by the end of the summer?  Martin is two years younger than Johnson, by the way.)

 By the way, is anyone noticing how many extreme foul-collecting players the Rockets have?

  Yao, Martin, Lowry all collect fouls at an alarming rate, and I expect Brooks to join them.  Morey is a big believer in the easy points that teams get when they put the opposition into the penalty early and the Rockets have some of the best in the league at drawing those fouls, and better yet, nailing the FT.  Fouling Martin and Yao is the definition of a lose/lose situation for an opponent.

 Is 2

nd rounder Jermaine Taylor a future NBA regular?  It’s hard to tell so far, but overall, I’d say yes.  He showed more offensive polish than I expected, with a good handle, and good passing.  Taylor, it has been suggested, is a guy whose greatest strength may be a lack of weaknesses.  I honestly think there’s more to him than that.  His defense needs to improve vastly for him to stick around, as he’s not the instant offense source that Budinger proved to be.

 3.     SF - Mix and Match, pick your poison, available in wide variety of styles, and other clichés apply here.  The Rockets feature Shane Battier, Trevor Ariza, Chase Budinger and Jared Jefferies at this position.  Surely there’s something there to like.  For me, there’s a ton.  We’ve got guys who shut down opposing wings, and we can play as many as three of them at once, particularly using JJ against "spacing bigs", as he’s a legit 6’11".  Battier can still bring it, when rested and healthy as the reigning ROY can attest.  Ariza is long enough, and quick enough, to guard almost any SG in the NBA and he’s one of the best thieves in the NBA.  We’ve learned that Trevor doesn’t have a great handle, and is not a primary scorer.  But his contribution as a 4th or 5th option?  That can be very powerful indeed.  Ariza, when used correctly, fills the box score, scores efficiently, and drives opponents crazy.

 Chase Budinger, a 2

nd round rookie (though predicted as a lottery pick until U of A enacted some weird college basketball version of "King Lear" his last two years) can shoot it, and throw it down with the best of them.  He’s also a decent 2nd ball handler, and a stronger rebounder than you might expect.  His defense will improve, mainly because it must.  He has the intelligence and the physical attributes to be a good defender, it is now about will, technique and practice.  I think Budinger can become an average defender and could end up an above average starter in the NBA. 

 Let’s also note that Martin, Budinger, Ariza, Battier and Jefferies are all above 6’7".

  Taylor is 6’5".  The PGs may be small, but the wings are not.  The SF position may not look glamorous, but it is a huge, huge, source of flexibility.  The ability to run out one stopper after another (though none are physical beasts like Artest was) lead to what remains the worst game of LeBron James’ career, for example.  It’s not an accident that the Rockets are collecting lots of tall wing defenders with a Western Conference that features the likes of Dirk Nowitski, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony et al.

 4.      PFLuis Scola is the craftiest and most creative PF in the NBA.  His moves around the basket recall the days of Kevin McHale, and despite hating the Celtics with a deep and abiding passion, I respected McHale.  Who in the NBA spins three times off his pivot, fakes three times, and then lofts in a soft scoop for two?  Who has, literally, dozens of moves like that?  As the season wore on, we saw that the limit to Scola’s scoring was basically how much he shot the ball.  And remember, without any scoring threat at center, teams could double, front and generally harass Luis with little fear of reprisal from Hayes.  Scola’s mid-range jump isn’t totally reliable, but is extremely effective when on, and creates open driving space for the guards.  He’s one of the best defensive rebounders in the league and always, always, runs back on D, or on fast breaks.  He’s proven very durable thus far, as well.  And despite his soft-spoken demeanor, I’ve yet to see anyone want any sort of altercation with Luis, so he gets respect.  There are those who worry about Scola aging, but I am not one of them yet.  His game relies on strength, hustle, guile and skill – not speed, hops and general athleticism.  I worry more about not signing him, than him running out of gas before his deal ends.  Hey, he even dunked this year.

 

Jordan Hill.  What a revelation.  This guy looked like a throw-in when Daryl Morey drove to New York with Tracy McGrady tied up in the trunk of his car.  I was of two minds when he got here "He was the #8 pick, how bad could he be?"  (Adam Morrison says ‘pretty damn bad’)  and "at least he’s tall, and seems to be able to jump, that’s worth something." 

 Never did I suspect that Jordan Hill was playing the rookie draft pick role of the frumpy woman in music videos who only needs to take off her glasses, let her hair down, and smile to be revealed as a supermodel.

  I guess that’s my way of saying I have a mancrush on Jordan Hill right now.  When Daryl Morey goes on the radio and says the sky is the limit with Hill, that he’ll be as good as he wants to work to be in the NBA, well, that is a little scary to me.

 

Carl Landry, it hurt to see you go.  One of my all-time favorite Rockets, Landry’s just a good guy, and an amazing talent.  I hope Sacramento figures out how to use him better.  Having everyone on the team constantly clear the runway for a Tyreke drive is not the highest and best use of Carl Landry.

 5.     C – Anyone want to tell me how Yao isn’t one of the most valuable players in the whole NBA now?  Well?  Anyone?  Simmons?  Cat got your tongue? 

 Despite a roster that improved*, (Brooks and Lowry came into their own, Landry and Scola did damage despite no center, Martin came aboard late, 3 promising rookies appeared) the Rockets finished 42-40.

  Record with Yao (and essentially nothing resembling TMac) 53-39 in 08-09.  That’s an 11 game swing, folks.  That’s the difference between the playoffs and watching LA dispatch Utah in 4 games. 

 Now the usual, painful, Rockets question- health.

  Does Yao come back at all?  Can he stay healthy?  Will he be at the same level?  All I can say is, I’m hopeful.  I’m hopeful that by the end of the season next year, Yao will be a better player.  That’s right, better.  This is the first significant rest Yao has gotten since he was a teenager.  (And the Mings went and had a baby, so there goes the rest, but still.)  Yao strikes me a guy who will keep learning, keep improving.  If his body allows it, Yao will get better.

 

Yao Ming turns out to be a vastly important defender, and a source of easy points and rebounds.  The Rockets lacked a guy to lean on in tough spots (though Scola did some of that towards the end of the season, as did Brooks and Lowry).  And we also got to see what happens when an opponent no longer has the terrifying prospect of guarding Yao, because guarding Yao WILL leave other things open.  The Rockets now have a team that can cash in on the promise, if Yao is ready.  With a healthy Yao, the Rockets are a championship contender with the roster they have right now.

 

Chuck Hayes really should be commended this year.  He’s clearly the best 6’5" NBA center ever.  Honestly, Chuck is an intelligent, elite defender who is (understandably) miscast as a starting NBA center.  When the Rockets resume with normal center play (soon, let it be soon) Chuck can go back to what he does best; making opposing PF and C very, very, miserable in short stretches.  An underrated passer, and able to guard C, PF and slower SF, Chuck is one of the hidden gems of the NBA.

 

David Andersen.  I had higher hopes for Mr. Andersen, and there were flashes of an excellent scoring game.  Until his injury Andersen’s biggest problem was an inability to stay out of foul trouble.  That’s partly because the NBA in general calls a softer game now than the one they play in Spain.  (It’s true.) It’s also because Andersen isn’t a good defender and ended up fouling when out of position. 

 Also Andersen, at 29, was a "rookie".

  The "rookie big man whistle" is one of the dumber things in a league that abounds in dumb things.  I really hate that fouls are conditioned by experience and fame.  I hate that big men get called for crap that never gets called on smaller guys.  I hate that Yao seems to have a totally different whistle than anyone else in the league.  Anyway.  Andersen looks to be a useful change of pace player, with a good shot, and scoring game, and could be very helpful when supported by a strong defensive big man.  I had hoped he would be more, but all is not yet said and done.

 Putative Strong Defensive Big Man – At long last, a draft that features not none, not one, not two, but about 7 worthwhile C and PF/C types.

  I truly hope that the Rockets draft one, and that he ends up being the big athletic shot blocking defender with a serviceable 4th scoring option game we so desperately need.   Yao could use the help, and we’ve needed a guy like that  forever.  (Having a Mutombo you can only use in the playoffs isn’t the same thing.)

  

*Yes, it was an improvement to have Ariza over Artest.  Setting aside the fact that Artest chose to sign with LA rather than Houston, Ron Ron would have been a horror show this year without Gasol, Odom and Bynum to bail him out on the many, (many) guys blowing by him.  He’s strong, and clever at defense, but he’s no longer fast enough to contain any player faster than average.  He only bothered Durant because the refs sometimes turned the Way Back Machine to 1994 when it came to Artest/Durant (for reasons best known to David Stern. And Durant still got to the FT line roughly 700 times.)

 Artest also would have jacked 20-30 shots a game for the Rockets.

  You think Ariza’s offense drove you crazy this year?  Artest would have been worse. Trevor was simply doing what he was asked to do.  (When Ariza was (apparently) asked to back down his shooting when Martin came aboard, guess what?  He did.  And his whole game improved markedly.)  Artest, despite the formidable presences of Bryant and Jackson, remains a black hole when he thinks he has a mandate to score.   He refuses to do what he’s good at – posting up, shooting short jumpers off screens – and won’t stop doing what he’s (at best) erratic at – 3pters, and my favorite, long, contested, 2pters. And while Crazy Pills is not getting any younger, he’s also not getting much wiser.

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