The first glimpse of this team in action serves as early confirmation of what I think most of us already knew. We're in for an entertaining year of middling basketball. The obvious quickly jumped out to me, and Tom saw it too: This team is whip fast problematic for some of the more "seasoned" teams in the Western Conference with old legs. We have talented young players that have a very real chance at emerging, though tonight it was probably not the guy that we all expected.
Early on we saw exactly what we've been accustomed to in Rocket ball. Jeremy Lin and company had great ball movement in the opening minutes and Lin looked relaxed commanding the offense. He had a bevy of nice feeds to Asik and Parsons. His decision making is still something of a concern, as he had problems setting up outlet passes at times and committed three turnovers. I don't think that's a big deal though. That will sort itself out once these guys log more minutes playing together. Overall, for a guy that has only played a week of actual basketball since March, he held his own going against likes of Russell Westbrook.
Early in training camp Jeremy Lamb talked about how he sees his scoring ability as his major asset, but I was really impressed with the way he handled himself defensively. Every time you look at Lamb you're reminded that the guy is only 20 years old. He doesn't so much walk onto the court so much as he trots. He has these spindly legs that make his surname all the more fitting. At 6'5, 185 pounds, he's built like a Lego structure that you could topple with ease and you'd think that someone like James Harden (who has 30 pounds on him) will blow right by him but that wasn't the case. At. All. I counted four possessions where Harden was face-to-face with Lamb and every time Lamb was able to make him change direction and either give the ball up on a pass or put up an uncomfortable shot.
"Harden is quick and strong," Lamb confessed. "It's crazy because some of the stuff he was doing was some of the stuff that I saw him do on TV. Being up an close and personal, I'm not gonna lie, I was a little starstruck. But I just tried to compete. I'm trying to change my mindset and play good defense. Scoring is gonna come. I think I'll always be able to find an open basket but playing both sides can be big for this team."
I think the half-court game is gonna be rough this year. The Rockets are gonna play up-tempo early and often but they will struggle mightily against teams that play a slow, grind it out style. Perimeter defense also needs some improvement.
Donatas Motiejunas spent most of the night getting tossed around by Cole Aldrich (D-Mo played a lot at center, which I don't think is a good idea), who played 33 minutes to Donatas's 18. Yet, it was Aldrich who was outpacing Motiejunas up the court late in the game. In the Summer League we saw Donatas burn sneakers up the court to get back and play defense but he seems slow and sloggy and gassed late in the game. I didn't really see him go up for rebounds (he finished the night with four) which is kind of disconcerting. His You Tube fame highlight moves seemed to fall stale when he tried to post up Aldrich and at times he looked really lost when he was double teamed. I wonder how much that infection is cramping his style.
"[Aldrich] is a tough guy," Donatas said. "it was nice to play against him. He's really experienced. In the game you just try to learn every step against them but they learn it against you so the same moves don't work as good. I'm not really happy with how I played, But I know I can play better once we get more games. This is different of course, these guys are professionals and they have more experience and it was hard to play."
Carlos Delfino played 23 minutes and I think that is an atrocity. I honestly would've liked to see a guy like Gary Forbes get more time at small forward. Cabeza can shoot but he didn't do it well tonight. He missed his first six shots of the night, most of which were wide open threes before finally making one. And were this a regular season game, that would just be unacceptable. Is there anyone that thinks Delfino is gonna be a huge part of this team going forward?
Tom may disagree but I hate to admit that Omer Asik played almost 20 minutes and I hardly even noticed him. He pulled down seven rebounds and had nine points. He showed some hustle early on but my general impression was simply "meh." /shrugs shoulders.
Terrence Jones was impossible to miss. In 25 minutes he went 8-of-14 with six rebounds and a team-high 20 points. If Jones is the third wheel then he's certainly the front tire that pulls the tricycle forward (see what I did there?). Of all the rookies tonight Jones was by far the star. McHale and Morey both gushed over his performance.
Patrick Patterson still looks like a puppy at the pound looking for a home. And that makes me sad.
All in all we saw exactly what we expected from this roster. Speed, creative ball movement, youth, athleticism and promise. They certainly have a confident aura about them. The seem the type of team that is too young to realize what they are in for. The more we see this team in action the more we get excited over what may come but it's obvious that it's going to take (more) time.