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Why is Rafer so "hated" around here?

It's come to my attention from places wide and far that many think Dave and I are too hard on Rafer Alston. Some have used words like "nasty" and "unnecessary" to describe our diatribes. I'd like to take a minute or fifteen to talk it through. First, I do think that we have been pretty tough on him. I think Dave has been much tougher of late, but not any more mean to him in the past than I have been. Let's go through my history with Rafer:

I first heard about him in college, some due to his skills, some due to his playground legend, but then I knew his name because he was the guy that was in legal troubles while in college. I looked past that, and if my memory is right, the charges were dropped. Now I don't dislike Rafer for his legal trouble, unless he goes out and kills someone, I'm mostly okay with that (I do not condone opposite sex assault, but that's never been proven of him).

I lost track of him a bit until he came to the Miami and played pretty well running the offense. As a Rockets fan, I was able to overlook his horrendous shooting and appreciate him for what he was, a guy that took care of the ball 90% of the time and just wasn't a shooter. I admired him for his guts and for the fact that while he was best suited for the street ball world, he was one one of the very few that made a big enough transition from that game to the NBA. His ball handling skills suited him very well in Miami. He impressed me with a 4-1 assists to turnover ratio and his giant balls on the court. No matter how many times he chucked the ball, he had the guts to do it again and again until he had himself a few game sealers and some game winners.

I was excited for him when he signed his big deal with Toronto, and I felt like he played hard, going for 14 and 6 a night on a team that should have been better than it was. I didn't get to watch a lot of Raptors games, but liked what I saw when I did. He was pretty decent, but the knock back then was that he still couldn't shoot well. He did get better that year though.

I have to interject here that I really liked Mike James when he played for the Rockets. He was the anti-Rafer, a terrific shooter and instant offense at all times. He came in and lit a fire under the Rockets. He was everything that Rockets team needed and what I thought they still needed the next year. And it's a little out of the timeline, but the Rockets really did need that offense when Yao and Tracy went down for extended periods of time that year, but I truly feel that Rafer was the better player long term for the Rockets, no matter how much he upsets me sometimes.

The off season came after the Rockets got knocked out in a blow-out by the Mavericks and some odd news came. Mike James had just been traded by the Rockets to Toronto for Rafer Alston? I didn't get it, the Rockets seemed like they had it together the season before and that they could go places with the exact same team. Why did they need Rafer? Then I remembered that our starting PG was David Wesley, a good player, but definitely on the downturn of his career. Was a 29 year old PG the answer? I truly felt like the answer was yes and that as a true PG Rafer would be a phenomenal addition to the team. I even thought it now made us NBA championship contenders. He was my answer to the "what ails the Rockets" question.

It turns out that the Rockets season went down the tubes and it was really difficult to gauge Rafer's performance. I knew that at times his shooting made me want to pull what little hair out I had, but some of his passes were phenomenal. It was also just about impossible for an opponent to force him into a turnover, but he was known to force himself into one about 2 times a game. Those bad decisions were a head scratcher to me, they seemed to come out of nowhere. He'd have 3 great passes, some that seemed to be picture perfect, and then he just throw the ball to no one. I attributed it to being his first year with the Rockets and to having such an inconsistent cast around him. In other words, he could drive me crazy but I was completely willing to wipe the slate clean. He had two periods in that season where he was borderline fantastic, there weren't a lot of wins in those periods, but he looked great.

Last season I started off with a positive attitude about him and he started the season rewarding me, having more good games than bad, but tossing in an awful game here and there. But as the season progressed so did the bad decisions. His shot selection bordered on horrific at times and the assists went down. He wasn't really running the offense very efficiently and seemed lost at times. Then the Rockets turned their season around and Rafer started to play better, yet again I was giving him another chance. He seemed to be getting it and was playing pretty decently. Not good mind you. Sometimes I feel like people take him playing better than his worst and want to call it good. It's not good, it's just not awful. Here's the thing though, on a team with two superstars, solid is all you need, you don't need a "good" point guard, you need an efficient one that doesn't make the dumb pass or shoot the dumb shot. And that is what Rafer was for a good portion of the last 1/3rd of the season, solid. He had really bad games at times, but I'm not that picky, everyone has a bad game at times. So what happened that got me off the Rafer bandwagon again? The playoffs:

Game 1 - 3-11 overall and 3-10 from behind the arc. Dave and I went to this game and I made a concerted to talk good about him and cheer for him. He didn't really reward me from the field, but he did have 11 rebounds and 8 assists. He also had 3 really terrible turnovers. I left the game with mixed feelings. I wanted to cheer for him, I hate not liking one of my players.

Game 2 - 3-9 overall and 1-6 from behind the arc. He had 6 rebounds, 5 assist and 3 turnovers. Basically he had an awful game, he wasn't running the offense well but I gave him a pass after it because no one on the team was shooting well and he should have had another 4-5 assists. I also only recall 1 of the 3 turnovers being of the scream at the TV variety.

Game 3 - His stats were sub par in a Rockets blowout, but I turned the corner again with him as I thought he played pretty decent defense on Deron Williams even though the Rockets were destroyed, it wasn't his fault. I decided to openly cheer for him again in game 4.

Game 4 - How does he reward me for cheering? 5-14 overall and 2-7 from behind the arc. Both of his turnovers were killers and I just couldn't believe that's how he played when I had come around for him again.

Game 5 - 4-10 overall and 3-7 from behind the arc. Again, he pulls me back in, while his shooting wasn't great, he mostly took good shots, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals. His 3 turnovers weren't too bad because 2 of them weren't horrible passes or to no one.

Game 6 - Another decent game, but again in a Rockets loss. He is 5-14 from the field and 3-8 from behind the arc. Dave disagreed with me on this one, but I thought he was solid, but it really didn't matter as the Rockets were killed. I couldn't fault him for the 14 shots though, he was just trying to make something happen in a bad game for everyone.

Game 7 - Let me say first that if you were to ask me off the cuff, I would say we lost this game because Tracy stopped shooting layups in the fourth quarter, but Rafer really solidified an entire off season of angst with his performance. He was 3-11 overall and 2-8 from behind the arc with some brilliantly bad shot selection thrown in. He did have 4 rebounds and 4 assists with only 1 turnover but it really didn't tell the whole picture. He was not making passes to the open man, he was behind on his decisions and he generally ran the team poorly on this day. The loss put a bad taste in my mouth and having the whole off-season ahead of me certainly didn't help.

Here's the thing, before the season I told Dave and anyone that would listen that I was giving Rafer one more pass. He had broken my heart so many times, but I figured that if he was able to beat out every comer, I could live with Adelman's decision. Basically that would be two consecutive NBA coaches telling me I don't know what I'm talking about and he is there best option. Actually, scratch that, it still didn't mean he was good, but it did mean he was the best option we had available to us. And that's how it played out, from day one he was the starter. Mike James and Steve Francis were relegated to the bench and I was okay with that. That is until this happened:

Rafer's first 20 games this season he averaged:
29MPG
3.3 - 8.75 from inside the arc or 37.7%
1.2-4.4 from behind the arc or 27.3%
.7-1.2 from the line or 58.3%
8.5PPG
3.2 Rebounds
4.8 Assists
1.55 Turnovers

There was no silver lining, the Rockets were 11-9 and Rafer was making bad passes, not hitting the open man and generally playing like he was a street-baller masquerading as an NBA player. He was not only not good, he was awful. Everything I wanted to forget about his poor stints was completely evident to anyone watching the game. It was a testament to how far James and Francis had fallen and I guess to what Adelman saw in practice that he was the starter. His performance caused me to start my Explosion of Awfulness posts and he deserved every bit of criticism he received from this blog. As others have put it when we've knocked him recently "you would have to be an idiot" to think he was doing a good or even borderline adequate job.

At the time I would have traded point guards with every team but: New York, Denver, Minnesota, Milwaukee, and Sacramento (because Bibby was hurt)

Then he started to have a few decent games here and there, his shooting percentage wasn't up, but his overall "what you see if you watch" game was up. He was making less silly passes and running the offense much more efficiently. It certainly wasn't an overnight change, but you could see it. I don't know how many times I told people that I wasn't as upset that he was our PG. He was winning me over a little at a time as the Rockets were starting to do some good things even though they weren't winning. You could see Rafer was getting the Adelman offense and that the Rockets were starting to come around. I had come around to the point that when Dave and I attended the Philadelphia game I actually said "I really like how Rafer is playing, if he can keep it up there aren't a lot of PGs I would trade him for". You know how he rewarded me? By personally giving away a game with 6 completely random and increasingly more pathetic turnovers. Every single time I compliment him more than "he wasn't bad" he F's me. I feel like I'm in Shawshank with the sisters, and sometimes I win, but sometimes the good fight isn't enough. Yes he was part of what got us a big lead in that game, but he was the A#1 biggest reason we lost that game as well. It was simply awful. Again he had forced me off the fence to the I hate Rafer Alston the PG camp. And again, let me reiterate, Rafer the person actually seems like a decent guy, someone I would like to hang out with and bust his chops. He had a effectively a 5-3 A/TO ratio during the second 20 game streak, and while he seemed better, the stats don't fully back it up.

His FG% was up a meager ~2% and his 3P% was up ~10% to a whopping 37.1% and his assists were up .6PG but his Turnovers were up 1.3PG. He was averaging 6.25 more PtsPG, but a lot of that was due to 5.15 more shots a game. In all, while he was trying to take a bigger load on and his statistics went up, he wasn't exactly lighting the world on fire with improvements. I did like that he was taking charge, but the overall history of his body of work was not going to blind me to a few good games here and there.

What happened next? This magical portion of the season called a 19 game win streak happened and Rafer started playing like the guy I thought he could be when he came in from Toronto. A guy that wasn't going to light the world on fire, but would be a perfect compliment to our two superstars. He started making the right pass at the right time and not just throwing the ball away (at least not as often). He seemed like he matured on the court. I even complimented him a few times, reserved compliments, but compliments nonetheless on this blog and live in person. I talked behind closed doors about starting to like him again. About how there weren't nearly as many teams I wouldn't hesitate to trade him to for their PG. He was winning me over again.
The stats played it out for once between his previous 20 games and the first 19 games of the winning streak. He raised his FG% another 5%, his 3point% another 2%, he even raised his rebounds by over 1 a game and his assists were up over 1 a game while his turnovers were down almost 1 a game. That last stat was the most impressive in the first 19 games.

Rafer Alston, the goat of this blog on probably 75+ different posts on this blog had done the unthinkable, he played well enough to get Dave to dedicate an entire post to his playing well. While I battled back and forth between utter disdain and slight joy over him, Dave held steadfast in trash talking through his hate. But even he couldn't ignore it anymore. So how does Rafer reward him? 3-18 including 2-8 from behind the arc. Contrary to the belief of some, not all of his shots were in the flow, he forced about 7-8 of them. He reverted to the awful Rafer of old. So it made Dave snap. It made me question his performance pretty harshly as well. Any other player on the Rockets would have a free pass for a game like that, not Rafer. His history did not allow for it, sorry, it just is not justifiable to say he's good overall when he's had the history with the Rockets that he has. I do feel that we have been overly harsh at times on him, and that he actually ran the offense pretty well in the Hawks game, something we in no way gave him credit for, but 3-18 nights from non-shooters will cloud your judgement.

The bottom line is that I want to believe, I really do. I hope he comes out and kills the Bobcats tonight and he is the main reason we roll through LA, Boston, New Orleans, Phoenix and Golden State. I want that more than anything. I love watching his attitude on the court in the first 19 games of the streak. He believed in himself and that caused me to believe in him. He's never going to be perfect, and I don't want him to be. I just don't want to see a pass to no one because of laziness. I don't want to see him think before he shoots the open shot because when he does it never goes in. I do want him to go back to making the extra pass and running the offense. When no one else steps up I'm fine with him driving the lane and taking the lay-up or dishing out. I'm not okay with forced three pointers just because you're being ballsy.

All in all, I want to say: I'm sorry for being too harsh on Rafer. I don't think saying he played poorly is being harsh, but I do feel how we've gone about it at times is. I also want to say that unless this streak ends one day, I won't be saying anything overly nice about him because I'd happily be the reason (I'm not full of myself enough to believe I am, but still) that he has a chip on his shoulder and just forgets a really bad game. What I don't want to lose site of is that we won that game, and while his shooting was awful, his passing and lack of turnovers really helped that cause.

I have no time to edit this today. I did spell check, but cut me some slack as this was mostly just rambling thought with some stats pulled in from basketball-reference.com. I'll edit it later if I have some time, but need to get up a Bobcats are getting taken behind the woodshed tonight preview post up!

Rafer, I'm sorry man, you're solid, and that's all I ever wanted from you. Now, for once, can you reward me tonight?