I just couldn't wait for the 10% mark of the season. 8.5% rounded up will have to do. Otherwise I'd have to wait until Wednesday. If we all know one thing, we know this season calls for swift, decisive, and final, analysis in the absence of compelling evidence. If this season's story is far from written, there are still some observations we can, indeed must, make on player trends observed thus far.
James Harden - MVP Candidate. You (possibly) read it here first. James Harden has been a revelation. Even with his sharpshooting stroke not fully sighted-in, Harden is making things happen. He's scoring, passing, rebounding and shooting FTs so well that even Calvin Murphy is impressed. Harden's cross-court passes to hit open shooters on drives are simply breathtaking. His dribble breakdowns and Euro-step are textbook. James Harden is, to my mind, the most complete offensive weapon in the NBA right now. He's coming close to a triple double most every night. Who else does that? Who? Oh, Lebron does that? Well, then.
You know what else James is doing? That's right, that thing so many said he'd never, ever, do - he's playing defense. His defense isn't superb, but it is assuredly present, and certainly appears adequate. In one area,transition defense, Harden's D actually is superb. Will anyone but Rockets fans notice? (Unlikely.) Are "Vine" clips all that matters? (Possibly.) Stay tuned.
Dwight Howard - This appears to be a different Dwight than we saw last season. He looks quicker, and is jumping faster and higher. At times his defense approaches the feverish heights of controlling the whole paint (and beyond) he reached in Orlando. People talk about that as though Dwight did it every game back then, he didn't, but he did it more than he does now. But we now know that ability still exists. On the right night, Dwight can still again fly around the court, superman cape billowing behind him, and control whole sections of the court defensively.
Howard allows the Rockets perimeter defense to be aggressive and gratifyingly effective. Rockets defenders can run 3pt shooters off the line, they can hawk the passing lanes, they can lay back off drivers, crowd shooters and harass ballhandlers. Mistakes when doing so aren't fatal, and that's all because Dwight is lurking in the paint, blocking some, but changing nearly all, shots off drives.
You know what else Dwight is doing with a good will? He's running the pick and roll with James Harden. It's just as devastating as we all knew it would be. With knock down three point shooters spaced around the court when he does it, the Rockets offense is largely unstoppable. It's a shame the Rockets couldn't deploy that against GSW.
Trevor Ariza - He doesn't have the same range of skills, hair products, asinine jealous boyfriend opinions, compensation, or a billionaire wingman, that Chandler Parsons does. Trevor Ariza is baller with a very particular set of skills. He plays defense, gets steals, makes open threes, attacks the rim at opportune times, and runs the break. Ar3za doesn't need a certain number of shots or possessions to be happy. He'll take what the game gives him, and mostly, he'll make the shot. Who could tell if he was happy, or unhappy, anyway? The stony face never changes, but nowadays it hides a mature, controlled, player who operates almost solely within his strengths.
Terrence Jones - Mr Jones is still up and down, mostly upish. Now he's hurt, with a leg (a leg!) injury. For all the faint praise, and outright recrimination Terrence Jones has received, you sure do miss him right now, don't you?
The talent for 25/10 and better is there, the propensity to disappear is there too. But try to calibrate that with other players that also have off nights. Dwight has had a couple of very forgettable games, too, so don't judge Jones by the standard of perfection. The perfect is the enemy of the good, and Jones is already good overall. I personally think he's right on schedule and will soon be regarded as one of the great bargain players in the NBA.
Patrick Beverley - Incomplete. He looks like Patrick Beverley should - tenacious D, ferocious faces, basket attacks, a more reliable looking 3pt shot combined with adequate ballhandling,truly forgettable passing and minor injuries. Like Ariza, he's an incomplete player who completes the Rockets. The Rockets are simply better when James Harden is deciding who is going to score, and Beverley is happy to cede that role to him. Many PGs wouldn't be, and weren't. When wishing for another PG, (and we might, might, not need another) consider just how much you want to take the ball out of Harden's hands.
Jason Eugene Terry - This is what you hope for when your team signs a 37 year old sharpshooter most known for being a Rocket killer. Terry has been a godsend so far, filling in as the bench PG and SG, making super small lineups dangerous and hitting those crazy shots that used to drive me insane. Now he can drive our opponents insane. JET has also had a huge calming influence on bench units that at times tend to transform into a hurricane of turnovers and stupid shots. He's not the defender he was, but he's adequate. I'd like to keep see his usage at closer to 20 minutes a night, rather than 30.
Isaiah Canaan - The Toy Canaan is getting a chance to demonstrate his firepower. It's mighty impressive. I'm changing my mind the more I see him. He's starting to balance his desire to score all the baskets with the unavoidable fact (unless your name is Kobe Bryant) that teammates have a contribution to make, and sometimes need the ball to make it. Canaan's defense is enthusiastic, if not always well informed. His quickness and blocky solidity make him more effective than his size would suggest. Isaiah Canaan is quickly turning into a handy player.
I've described him as Aaron Brooks in Kyle Lowry's body, and I'll stand by that. Brooks always tried on D, and stole the ball well, but he was easy to rub off with a pick, being so slight. Canaan is more solidly built, and can crash through picks more like Lowry would have.
Kostas Papanikolaou - Papashot is a rookie. He's a 24 year old rookie who's played professionally at a high level in the best overseas leagues, but he's an NBA rookie nonetheless. If there's one shared trait amongst nearly all NBA rookies, its inconsistency.
Papanackaloo Papanikolo Papanockalow Papanikalackaloo KP is no different. At times, he's simply brilliant, driving and diming to Dwight Howard with pinpoint dishes, draining 3pt shots like ouzo. At other times he drives and hawks up a shot that makes you cover your eyes. But one thing is always there - a high level of effort and intelligence. My prediction - come playoff time Bizarro Chandler Parsons is going to look like a future 6th Man Award candidate.
Donatas Motiejunas - The New Bete Noire of the Rockets. Savior! Pariah! Pure Evil! Pure Good! The Cause of, and Solution To, All Our Problems!
Motiejunas is a legit 7ft lefty with recognizable talent, yet that talent has yet to consistently translate to the court. He's in his third season, but has played just over half a season's worth of (starter) NBA minutes. I would suggest that the evidence on hand is far from enough to write off a promising big man. Here's a cherry picked stat for you - DMo's Offensive and Defensive ratings (ORtg, DRtg) are better than Roy Hibbert's were in his first two years, with half as many minutes to learn on court. In my experience only exceptional (and exceptionally athletic) big men arrive in truly productive form. The only way for them to get there is with minutes.
Still not calm? Then I urge everyone to reflect on the fact that Ian Mahinmi is making $4 million per season. DMo is making about $1.5 million. Big men simply cost more, even if they're terrible. DMo still, truly, has the possibility to be good, rather than terrible. The GSW game showed some real flashes, which have come (shockingly) with real extended minutes. The future remains unwritten when it comes to DMo.
Joey Dorsey - Sadly The Kraken has still not been unleashed. I'd like to see fewer Ruminations from The Bench, and more gorilla dunks on the court. Joey may be spending too much time in "gentlemen's clubs" rather than the film room. He may still be shaking off an injury, and working his way back. He may be AAAA player, one who is truly dominant in Europe, but not quite enough in the USA. I would really like Dorsey to succeed on the Rockets, and the Rockets need a good defender and rebounder to spot Howard some minutes. So far, not so good.
Nick Johnson - Ready for The Valley Nick, because it is so ready for you. Johnson needs to learn to be a playmaker, and learn to hit the 3, at least enough to be a threat from distance. There's a lot to like otherwise, physical, fast, good on ball defense, jaw dropping athletic ability, highlight reel dunks on the break. If he masters either a position, or more likely, adds a couple more skills, Nick Johnson will be another 2nd round steal.
Clint Capela - Well we all saw six minutes of garbage time, so we've got all the evidence we need to make a call on Capela, right? Another man with some Valley Time in his future, and a good thing, too. Capela looks rough, but I think by March he'll be not just rough but ready to contribute 8-12 minutes a night of rebounding, defending, blocks and dunks. Practice those FTs Clint. Super athletic big men can do helpful things more quickly than others can.
Troy Daniels - The bane being perceived as a pure specialist is that it is hard to break out from typecasting. The shot is sweeter than honey. The rest is a question mark, deservedly or not. Daniels is a player that will have to fight hard against stereotyping, largely because he appears to fit within the stereotype of pure gunner rather well. I think Daniels does give effort on the defensive end, and that he can drive and handle the ball adequately, but he's listed at 6'4", 200lbs. I believe neither of those numbers. When the choice is slightly worse shooting, but better everything else, plus a calming and authoritative presence with Jason Terry, JET wins. Daniels would likely benefit from being on a team that routinely runs multiple screens for shooters as part of its basic offense. The upside is a poor man's Rip Hamilton.
Francisco Garcia - He's around, ready to glare. And...I dunno, he looked great in the FIBA tourney. He looks sort of crispy so far this year in the NBA. I hope he finds his FIBA form and can contribute more than mean stares and a willingness to kill Chris Paul.
DREAMSHAKE COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION ACTIVITY - James Harden Freethrow Evaluation.
What I propose is we monitor every game, and classify James Harden's FT in four ways.
- Intentionally Fouled - Opposition slapped, grabbed, bumped on purpose. These are donated freethrows, and the opposition should never complain about FTs they donated.
- Normal NBA Foul - Just about anyone would get this call. No one really gets to complain about this call.
- Starry Foul Call - Only stars get this call, but every star gets this call. Teams with stars of their own should hush about these.
- Pure Flop - Not a foul, no real contact. Basically what Harden haters complain about.
My hypothesis is this - James Harden probably shoots at most 1-3 type "4" freethrows in any game. The greater part of his freethrows come from type "1" and type "2". With your help charting our games we can disprove all the damn whining. Not that they'll listen, but we'll know, won't we?