Well, fellow shakers, there it is. The end of one of the most exciting seasons Houston has seen since 2009. What made this season so much better then the ones that came before, even going all the way back to the early 2000's, can be summed up in one word: potential. This team, the youngest team in the league, is brimming with it. SO much potential in fact, that I could almost feel a palpable switch in people's attitudes during that final series. As Xaine wrote in his fantastic article, people across the country were in love with the Thunder. KD and Westbrook are two of the most exciting players to watch in the league, and since the switch from green and yellow to blue... and orange? or white? The entire nation has been enamored with this exciting young team. Well, I'm going to take it one step further and say that as many people who fell 'out of love' with OKC fell in love with Houston. I am from Vermont, which is about as far away from Houston as anywhere in the country, being a Rocket's fan up here can get difficult at times (Although when we beat the celtics in 2010, and were one of the few teams who managed to pull that off, it was sweet sweet joy). A lot of the bandwagon fans like Miami or OKC, a few are in love with the Clippers, you get the picture. Suddenly, I'm getting texts and phone calls during games with people singing praises about the high ceiling of our boys in red and white, about how they play the game when they are accomplishing their goals (ball movement, making 3's, ect). We made the entire basketball take notice this year 'shakers, and the rest of our division is ready to bow to the new big kids on the block.
The biggest kid is Harden, of course, he has taken the nation by storm. His game has slightly changed over the course of the season, from that crazy man I had dubbed 'Black Leonidas' pushing past you into the lane and being like a freight train diving down the lane ("This is HOUSTOOOON" with almost every basket), to being mostly a jump shooter. While he has lost some of the dominance initially, I think not only is he going to come back next season stronger, but also that his new style of playing the game will save his body over the long run, which is what we want him for. There are two things I would love to see him work on or change: DEFENSE and not expecting to draw a foul. Harden's defense, while he would make a fantastic free safety in football, is very below average. Most of this is his young age, but lack of effort plays a huge role. The expecting to draw fouls thing, I theorize that he was drawing so many fouls early on in his time in Houston, but then his game changed (right around that ankle or knee injury, can't remember which came first) and he stopped getting whistles as much because he was more timid. He still got whistles, because, well, he's Harden and there's almost no way he won't go to the line 10 times a game, but he has to still try to finish the play and expect he WON'T get the whistle, if he does it's just icing on the cake.
His backcourt mate, Jeremy Lin. I am not in the camp that thinks we should release him now that Bev has proven to be such a strong asset, or that he should be coming off of the bench. Lin has the ability to do math in his head like only a Harvard educated guy could. That laser bounce pass to D-Mo in transition (against the Grizzlies? Maybe? Don't quote me on that) was perhaps my favorite moment of the season. He's still playing timid because of his knee. As I said in a comment in one of the previews for this playoff series, I have suffered that same ACL injury, and it isn't just about your body being medically healthy. After something like that, you get changed. You go from exploding past people off the dribble and elevating (I used to be able to baby-dunk at 5'10") over people, to suddenly not trusting that that knee is going to be there when you plant or push or land. He needs to spend a full off-season at 100% to get his game back, to re-establish his basketball instincts, before I am willing to throw the 'average point guard' designation at him. I think he will always be a scorer first, and he shouldn't run from that. Take over JLin7. Take over.
Parsons.... Well, my favorite rocket honestly. That Drake song (as much as I hate drake) sums Parsons up perfectly, He came from the bottom and now look at where he is. He is an incredibly hard worker who's tough as nails and even got my girlfriend into watching the rockets for the first time in 2 years. His shot became fearless during this series, that deep trey he had last night was unbelievable, not to mention the baseline one falling over under pressure. I love the guy, I hope he is able to replicate those type of games for the rest of his career and becomes a walking triple double for us. Can you imagine? Both he and Harden can pass, shoot, drive and rebound, if he can play at the top of his game like we saw over the last two games, and Harden can as well, Houston fans are looking at the most dangerous 2-3 combination outside of Miami. Their abilities passing the ball also frees Lin up to be a scorer instead of a distributor, something I hope the realize this off-season and they free Lin up to score 21 a game like we know he can.Yeah, count that three-headed dragon slicing your entire team up Miami, the 2015 NBA finals can NOT get here soon enough.
Now the final piece of our core, Omer Asik. Yes, I'm calling him a part of our core because if Morey decides to replace him with the giant crybaby that is Dwight Howard I am going to fly to Houston and run around the Toyota Center parking lot naked throwing chicken feces at everyone's cars. I love the big O 2.0. He gets rebounds, he's tough, and everything about his game says he has a higher ceiling then people give him credit for. His hands have improved so much this year rolling to the basket, he's getting up and dunking over people and he's just an amazingly hard worker, which leads me to his biggest strengths, defense and rebounding. The numbers are out there, I don't need to throw stats at you, Omer Asik is one of the best defensive centers in the NBA today. He gets boards, gets good positioning and is amazingly fast (I wont use agile because he kind of lumbers around) and quick. Even if he scored zero points a game, he would still be the perfect center for this team. We have so many perimeter scoring options, and guys who can slash to the rim, even if his hands were legitimately made of stone, if he could still rebound like he can now, I would rather have him then D-12. We need a leader who will work his tail off and make everyone else feel absolutely terrible and guilty any time they decide to sleep instead of being in the gym learning how to decapitate their opponents with a broadsword from Dawson. Yeah, he has weaknesses. He's also 26 and I wouldn't replace him with a single other player currently in the league until he turns at least 28 and still hasn't improved to being a 15/12 guy (which isn't going to happen, because he's awesome). He averaged a double double this year folks. If our every player on our team averaged a double double in any two categories besides turnovers, we would have rolled through OKC in 4 games and left Durant asking for a trade to reunite with Harden.
That sums up my feelings on our core, We have an incredible team, capable of turning into a three headed monster that has been home-grown from a young age instead of bought like they did in Boston or Miami. I love McHale, he's the perfect coach for this team, he will eventually become a hall of fame coach like he was a hall of fame player because he knows the game so well and is so well respected by his own team. I dont care if your name is James Harden, Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, you would leap at the opportunity to be coached by a guy so legendary, we get him on a daily basis. I hope all of the "FIRE MCHALE" comments that aren't meant purely for humor eventually subside, because he isn't going anywhere. Learn to love him even if you don't always agree with him. What happens at the power forward spot, well, I hope we let Jones and Robinson develop. I think if we trade them away and sign a guy like Smith or Love (I would be A-OK with going to get Aldridge), it works out now or for a couple seasons and then in 3-5 years when we watch those two guys dominating for whoever team picks them up we will regret not having them to pair with Harden.Let's put it this way, imagine a developed T-Rob on the Heat with LeBron and Wade. Terrifying.
I loved becoming a part of the Dreamshake community this year, as I said, in Vermont we don't have many people who follow the rockets. Having the ability to really get into the gritty details of statistics, discuss how great this team is, talk about how we can improve on our weaknesses, and dream about the future has been an amazing experience and I look forward to spending the offseason and next season doing the same thing. To paraphrase one of the players most hated players in Rockets fandom, "Our Future is Bright." -Blake "Sacktap" Griffin