We're now 25 games into the 2009-2010 season. The Rockets are 14-11, after playing one of the more difficult, and possibly ludicrous, schedules in the NBA.
We've seen a bit more than 30% of the season completed, and I'd say we're past the "jump to conclusions" portion of the schedule. We're starting to accumulate stats, and form rational impressions, but 70% of the year remains. I think that is an interesting point.
I'm planning on a 1/2 mark capsule on each player, but I'm interested in general impressions you might have of the Rockets season thus far.
Early on I had suggested a series where I gave a perspective based on going to most of the home games. Unfortunately, we've only played 10 games at home, compared to 15 on the road. Only Toronto and NJ have played more road games thus far (one more each). I think this suggests good things to come as the schedule evens out for the Rockets.
I'll look at some broad themes we discussed in the off-season and give my opinion on them after seeing 25 contests.
The Rockets are Too Small.
So far, I'd say not. Its rare that Houston is flat out-rebounded, and we've rarely been exploited by big interior players. We've seen a couple of the best candidates for the role, and they've done ok, but not spectacularly (poor Greg Oden gets another "Incomplete").
Being small and quick has brought other advantages. We're a league leader in fast break points. We're getting a lot of steals, and forcing turnovers. Sadly, though, there's a Yao-sized hole in our vaunted D. For a detailed breakdown on this subject see Kevin Pelton on Basketball Prospectus: The Long and Short of It.
Grungedave has suggested that it's all fine now, but Houston's high-effort lineup will wear down into the spring. It remains to be seen, but I'm inclined to disagree. I think the Houston rotation is deep enough that no one is getting exhausted by their minutes at high effort. Also, the schedule is going to get easier, which might well hide any mild decline in intensity.
The Rockets Lack Talent
I think this canard has been dispatched. The Rockets lack star power, and a certain extreme level of talent and performance that only certain (rare) stars bring, but I'd say Houston has revealed more talent than nearly anyone expected.
The Rockets Offense Will Suffer From Higher Usage aka The Usage Experiment
This is has been covered here before, and was initiated once again by the indispensable Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus. Basically the question for Houston is will its players' effectiveness on offense suffer from more usage, ie shot attempts, than they have previously consumed in past seasons. Read the article here. So far, the answer is generally "no" with the exception being Trevor Ariza, who has seen his usage rise dramatically, and his effectiveness drop about as steeply. This is mainly due to his recently disastrous three-point shooting.
Is Trevor Ariza going to be a star with a complete game?
So far, so "meh". Ariza has been asked to shoot more, and God bless him, he's certainly going at it with gusto. Unfortunately shooting more has mainly translated into "missing more". Ariza is consuming a lot of shots, and he's not making a meal of them, except on rare occasion. It's getting to the point where its possible to wonder if Ariza's going 1-9 or whatever, from 3pt range, isn't outweighing his defensive contribution.
Do we ask him to take the pedal off the metal? Do we give Budinger more minutes? At this point I'd say neither, because I've seen encouraging signs recently. Ariza has actually, to my eyes, improved in areas where improvement is surprising. For instance, his handle going to the basket is more assured, he's given up trying to kiss the ball of the board in close and is just slamming it home more. He's actually starting to fool defenders sometimes. This are good things, and they hold promise for the future (and the future remains very bright overall with Ariza, I think).
On the other hand... The Alston/Ariza stat lines can be painfully similar as Grungedave points out, and the good nights sometimes seem like Rafer's good nights - a cruel way to lure us into thinking he's turned a corner, only to break our hearts with another crap-fest. His 3pt shot can be breaktaking when its going, but it seems to require a pretty big wind-up, and he rushes it if anyone is even nearby. This results, overwhelmingly, in misses. Also, Trevor is becoming less of a black hole on offense, his passing is lacking. He misses guys for easy scores routinely, and can't really dish on the move. Is this fixable? I'm not so sanguine on this point.
And on a third hand... Trevor remains one of the best defenders in the league on tall, quick wings. He brings a different and welcome set of skills from Battier on D.
I honestly think there's time for Ariza to level off his shot attempts and pull it all together. Despite some alarming results I think the long-term outlook for Trevor Ariza - Mostly Complete Player - remains strong.
The Rockets Will Have The Worst Record in the NBA.
Sir Charles, with all due respect, stick to racing 70+ year olds. You're better at it.
Tracy McGrady Will Never Suit Up for Houston Again.
Yes, he will.
Tracy McGrady Will Never Be Good Again.
This remains to be seen. 15 minutes after months off and microfracture surgery IS too small a sample to say anything other than "He looks rusty"
There's more, but I'd like to know how you see the Rockets at this point. Coming soon - questions raised by the season itself.