I usually don't do these wrap ups for the simple reason that most Rocket games are blacked out in my area and it'd be nonsense to try and write about a game I didn't see. But Sunday's game provided a rare opportunity since it was held in the Rio Grande Valley as part of the ever-fruitful relationship between the Rockets and the RGV Vipers.
The Rockets won but honestly the score and stats don't matter much to me in preseason contests. I was more interested in how the team would look after the starters got benched and some of the guys playing to stay on the team took the court.
Harden and Howard both played significant minutes and they looked fine, we all know that they are good basketball players. But the biggest takeaway from the preseason so far is that Kostas Papanikolauo has looked as NBA ready as any first round pick the Rockets have selected in the last three years. Initial reports out of Europe stated that this guy isn't as athletic as you'd like him to be and he'd have trouble on defense, I echoed those statements in my player preview of the guy but watching him play tells a completely different story..
Papa Doc seems to have a knack about where to be at all times and it helps tremendously given that the Rockets' game plan centers a lot around spacing and timing. On several possessions I saw him clog lanes and get in peoples faces by shifting his hips and setting himself up at good angles to defend the basket. He does look a little stiff at times getting up the court but he seems to possess a basketball savvy that could help this team down the stretch. He played the most minutes out of everyone on the bench and while he didn't tally up much in the stat department (7 pts, 2 ast, 1 stl,) he was great getting up and down the court and was hardly ever out of position.
After the game Kevin McHale spoke at some length about how Kostas is a very smart basketball player. A lot of times having a high basketball IQ can do more to elevate your game than any natural skill. As far as athleticism goes, McHale scoffed and was quick to say you only have to be athletic enough. I believe him.
Jason Terry logged just under 15 minutes tonight and it begrudges me to say that he looked delightfully spry. He sank a buzzer beater as the third quarter expired and it was hard for me to fight off the PTSD (Post Traumatic Shot Defense) flahshbacks of yesteryear. Sunday's game was basically the third day he'd been playing basketball this season since he didn't practice until the team arrived in McAllen on Friday. Terry will very likely be useful to the Rockets off the bench but more than that, they guy is so damn likable that it would be useful to have him around just to counteract Patrick Beverley's asshole shtick. (More on this later this week)
Donatas Motiejunas logged 20 minutes off the bench and the guy looked substantially more polished as a basketball player then when we first saw him in the RGV two years ago. Over the three days that we got to observe him in practice D-Mo stayed late every time, often working on shooting threes. He looks bulkier too, a product he says has come from putting in extra time with team trainers this off season. You get the sense he's itching to actualize some potential this season. He and Papa Doc played a lot of minutes together and the two could make for a serviceable foundation for our second unit.
All in all, it was a useful night in determining what our bench rotation might look like and who we might expect to log meaningful minutes as the season lurks right around the corner. Guys like Nick Johnson and Tarik Black have been having a productive camp and part of the reason McHale is having a pretty tough time deciding what the bench units are going to look like is because this team is rather stacked with workable talent.
Next your Rockets head to Miami for a game on Tuesday that will likely be broadcast on TNT.
And stay tuned this week as we put out some more observations and piping #hottakes from the Rockets week in the RGV.