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Player Previews - Rockets Power Forwards

Rockets Preseason Player Previews - Power Forward

It is still preseason until the first game starts.  One more set of guys to go.

Note on positions/roles.

The Rockets have lots of "multi-role assets", or in other words, guys who can play in different spots, or more naturally, in appropriate matchups.

 Aaron Brooks and Kyle Lowry have shared the backcourt at the same time.  Shane Battier has played power forward, and will defend shooting guards regularly.  Chuck Hayes spent a season playing center, but can mark nearly anyone and Luis Scola played a little center too.  Patterson played PF, SF and C at Kentucky.  Jared Jefferies is essentially a wing,  a 6'11" wing who has now been slotted at center (if preseason is something to go by), but he can defend SF, PF, and some SG.  Jordan Hill is a more natural PF, but looks better every time I see him at center. Yao plays center, but you might see him with Hill, or Miller. And so on.

I think of positional roles as more of a convenience of description than a necessary reflection of usage.

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For my purposes:

PG - Brooks, Lowry, Smith

SG - Martin, Lee, Taylor

SF - Battier, Budinger

PF - Scola, Patterson, Hayes

C - Yao, Miller, Hill, Jefferies

Power Forwards

Luis Scola

( page sponsored by - "Cheap Hotels in Rome" - I'm baffled)

Scola, The Porteno McHale ( and proud Dad), as well as San Antonio's gift to Houston, is perhaps one of my favorite Rockets of all time.  Not since Kevin McHale have we seen a comparably bewildering series of fundamental post moves that a) never leave the ground, b) are rarely stopped. 

Scola punishes poor defensive fundamentals worse than nearly other player in the league.   Like The Dream himself, Scola has moves, counters, and counters to counters, almost ad infinitum.  Luis offers a Dream-like array of pivots, spins, leaners,  back down moves, soft hooks, and his own signature move, the "Up and Under Serpent Scoop".  ( Perhaps we should call it The Tango? The Serpent? I reject "the ice cream man" completely, it's unseemly.) Scola's post game is one of my greatest NBA-watching joys.  Seeing befuddled defenders jumping at air whilst Scola is elsewhere, banking in a two footer, is stupendous. 

He almost never misses a close shot, and his midrange elbow jumper makes it impossible for defenders to stack the basket.  He simply floats out and nails the set shot again and again.  As it is a set shot, Scola can actually fake it or shoot it with exactly the same motion, like Kevin Martin, leading to some easy layups or foul shots.  With Yao in the low post, this ability a very potent threat.

Unlike most "non star" players, Scola posses an extra gear,  or as Daryl Morey tweeted  during the FIBA Championship "God Mode". (Does this make Scola a Crypto Star?)  Everyone  in the arena knows he's getting the ball, and he'll still score, in the paint, with a scooped layup.  Don't believe me?  Here is Scola  dropping 14pts in one quarter on the eventual NBA champion Lakers in Game 6 of the 2009 WC Semis.  Bynum looks foolish, Gasol is bamboozled.  Chuck Hayes is assuming his new starring role as "Rockets Center Manque" so there's no other post threat whatsoever.  (The Lakers eventually realize they don't have to guard Hayes and Scola finishes with 24 in a Rockets win.  They continue to realize it, and win Game 7.)

Scola is 6'9", doesn't jump, doesn't dunk, and it doesn't matter.  I've yet to see any drop off in his usage curve.  I think Scola could score 30pts a night if given the ball enough to do so, in certain matchups anyway.  He's a reasonable foul shooter, and an excellent defensive rebounder.  He's an average defender, mainly due to his lack of height, and he doesn't block many shots, because he doesn't jump.  But he's strong and physically punishing on the block, and he never, ever, takes a play off.  With strength and endurance he can humiliate bad players, and grind down good ones.  Despite below average speed he runs the break well, and finishes with aplomb (and a yearly dunk).  He's a pretty good passer, but has trouble with quick double teams.

With his medieval hair and hard-nosed attitude (despite being a very nice guy by all accounts) I've yet to see anyone in the NBA want to start up with Luis Scola.  There's something about him that makes it seem a bad proposition.  Scola doesn't appear to be a workout warrior, he doesn't have tree-trunk limbs, or Dwight Howard shoulders, but instead looks simply to be naturally powerful and tough.  In two seasons he's proven to be extremely durable (82 games each year).  May it long continue.

Much was made of signing Scola to fairly hefty contract this summer, but I'm convinced the Rockets got good value.  There is absolutely no sign of a decline in Scola's game at 28-29, and barring injury, I think he and his game will age like my favorite Scola comp, McHale, who played in 75 contests at 35, while being at his peak between 26-33. 

Patrick Patterson

The Rockets first lottery pick (barely, at 14) in a long time, some consider Patterson to be the steal of the draft (I'd say that's DeMarcus Cousins, but he was taken 9 slots earlier).  Patterson is a prototypical Rocket.  He's older than a lot of his draft compeers (a bit of possible Rockets philosophy I'll cover later this season).  He's versatile.  He's a hard working player, and very intelligent.  He graduated the University of Kentucky in 3 years, playing semi-pro college basketball at the highest level all the while.  Some have scoffed, saying well, it's Kentucky, but how many out there think you could graduate in 3 years while playing for NCAA titles?

Patterson was overshadowed  in his draft class by Wall and Cousins (Bledsoe and Orton were taken later - a first ever 5 player first round for a college).  Before Wall and Cousins' one-and-done arrival and departure, Patterson was the anchor of the program.  He played center, power forward and small forward for the Wildcats.  There's been a lot of "damning with faint praise" of Patterson in many draft circles.  Talk of "undersized" "serviceable pro""not a star" appears frequently.  But we're Rockets fans, so we know to look deeper.  What do we see?

Patterson is undersized in the way Ron Artest is undersized, whatever he lacks in height (One inch? Two?) for his position, he makes up for with strength, leaping ability and a very long wingspan.  One of my comparisons for Patterson is an evolutionary Ron Artest, but a PF/SF, rather than a SF/PF.  Patterson is a good defender, rebounder and was the second most efficient scorer in the NCAA last year with 1.14PPP, had a 63TS% and scored at a 65% clip in the post.  25% of his college points came off dunks.  His rebounding rates are very good, but could improve.

Keeping to the "position versatility" theme with the Rockets, I'd love to see Patterson used against either tall or powerful SF (Durant, Nowitzski, Artest, Granger) or send him in to post up weaker SF (nearly everyone).   In short, I think he should spend a lot of time at SF, but that is apparently not the present plan.

One scouting report had Patterson's upside comparable as being Buck Williams, like that's somehow a bad thing. Should that joyous comparison come to pass, Rocket fans can prepare for an all time great rebounder, defender and TS% ace, a player who hovered in MVP conversations for 5 seasons.

Patterson is mobile enough to guard big SF, and strong enough to play center.  He's smart, high character, hard-working and defensively minded.  He's an explosive athlete and in the VSL he showed some 3pt ability.  If Patterson fulfills his defensive promise, keeps his strong post game and adds a reliable jumper, he's not just a "serviceable" player, he's a top PF/SF.  I think he gets there, but due to how Rick Adelman typically works in rookies, Rockets fans would avoid frustration by considering him a Christmas present. Like most young players, there's work to be done, and a complete game to develop.  The Rockets did the job with Carl Landry, and I am confident they will with Patterson. 

Charles Edward Hayes Jr., Esq.

In old Baseball Prospectus-speak he'd get the one-word capsule - "Ballplayer".

Chuck Hayes (one of 4 Rocket Wildcats) is a pro's pro and one of the best individual defenders in the NBA when playing vaguely in position.  You think that silly pre-season loss to Dallas happens with The Chuckwagon in the game?  Marion wouldn't have sniffed the rim.  Why?  Because as a defender Chuck Hayes is smart, strong and fast.  He's thinking ahead of the offense, and using his strength, and bravery, to box out, block paths, or take charges. 

His hands are quick, so it's risky to dribble near him.  His feet are fast, so it's hard to get around him.  He's strong and weighs 230-240, so he's hard to back down.  He muscles into an opponent's center of gravity, so they can't go where they want.  He posted the #6 overall NBA defensive rating in 06-07, and the #3 rating in 07-08 (when he didn't really play center).  He's a good passer, and his rebounding rate is very strong.

He's 6'4" (they say 6'6"), so guys simply shoot or grab rebounds over him.  His free-throw form is the basketball equivalent of Charles Barkley's golf swing.  He can't shoot (at one time he could though, so maybe it comes back.)  Even layups are sometimes an adventure, and the Chuckwagon rolls on the ground, it does not fly.

He's a gamer though, and played center, at 6'4", for an entire season.  He didn't embarrass himself or the team, despite being on average, 8 inches shorter than his matchup.  Still, it's not a scenario anyone wants to see, ever, again.  Chuck has apparently lost weight this off season to bring back his quickness, and his FT stroke looks, appears, seems, to be a bit better.  He wasn't a terrible shooter his first two years in the NBA, so I'm confident even that might improve.

As a defensive stopper off the bench Chuck Hayes is one of the best in the game.  Pretty good for an undrafted guy.