If the final preseason game is an indication of things to come, then the 2021-22 campaign could be a dreadful season for the Houston Rockets. In their final exhibition match, the Rockets sustained a 126-98 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Friday night, inside the AT&T Center.
The Rockets were without two starters on the night in Daniel Theis (knee) and Eric Gordon (ankle), but coach Stephen Silas may have discovered a new tandem that could keep Houston competitive through the next 82 games. And despite the 28-point defeat, Silas felt optimistic in his team ahead of Wednesday’s season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
“I really thought we moved the ball well and played very unselfishly as a group. We got to the rim — which was great — but we just did not finish. But as far as the attention and carryover from practice, I was pleased by what I saw. As long as we are doing things the right way, the shots will eventually fall.” — Silas
With the loss, the Rockets ended the preseason on a three-game losing streak amid a 1-4 record. Here are three observations from the Rockets’ fourth and final preseason game against the Spurs.
Christian Wood and Alperen Sengun are a new tandem for the Rockets
Entering the Rockets’ final preseason game, Christian Wood gave every reason for fans to feel anxious about his play ahead of the new season.
Wood did not resemble the All-Star caliber player he was last year, as he averaged 11.6 points and 7.3 rebounds through the first three exhibition matches. But against the Spurs, Wood finally found his groove. And the solution to unlocking the best of Wood was the absence of the injured Theis and starting him alongside rookie Alperen Sengun.
Without Theis, Wood had more floor spacing to occupy the entire restricted area with Sengun out on the perimeter. The additional space allowed Wood to utilize his scoring versatility both inside and out. And when he stepped out beyond the arc, it was Sengun making use of the low-block.
Wood’s ability to play alongside the reigning Turkish league MVP winner is comparable to his fit alongside Kelly Olynyk — as when he is at his best when adjacent to a big man who can facilitate the ball. And following the game, Silas said Wood and Sengun proved they can play well together.
Playing next to Sengun for a majority of the night resulted in Wood pouring in a team-high 19 points and 18 rebounds in 33 minutes of action.
“I felt myself getting back into a rhythm and getting back to what I used to do last year. I think I am starting to find my niche in preseason game four.” — Wood
Alperen Sengun could become the Rockets’ best playmaker
As mentioned above, Wood is at his best when playing alongside a big man who can facilitate the ball. But the Rockets’ offense as a whole looked more valid when Sengun was on the court. Early in the first quarter, the Rockets epitomized Silas’ philosophy of ball movement at their finest, and Sengun was a significant reason.
Each time he received the ball, he took his time scoping the floor in hopes of finding a better shot for his teammates. When he put the ball on the floor, he did so with the same intentions as a floor general, one who penetrates the lane to draw his opponents to create a layup or dunk opportunity for his frontcourt mate — as seen below.
Sengun’s facilitating created easier scoring opportunities for Wood — which allowed his frontcourt mate to receive the ball amid his sweet spots on the court. While Theis is the more superior three-point shooter, Sengun’s passing and high IQ enables him to play a vital role in the Rockets’ five-out offense.
“I think he did a good job. He rebounded well and could make plays for his teammates on the high post. At times it showed that he is inexperienced, but he is 19 years old. I think less of him in the starting lineup and more of him and Christian Wood playing together, that was the biggest point of tonight’s game.” — Silas
Kevin Porter Jr. showing growth despite rough shooting night
Kevin Porter Jr. did not have the best night offensively. Porter shot 6-for-20 on the night — connecting on 1-for-5 on his three-point attempts — en route to scoring 16 points in the loss. But despite his struggles, Porter continued to stay aggressive and attack his opponents downhill.
But amid his struggles scoring, Porter began to play within the Rockets’ offense during the second half. He began to find his teammates more often, facilitating the ball other than trying to force a play.
If this was KPJ of last season, the 21-year-old point guard would have forced his will on the court as the primary ball-handler. But against the Spurs, Porter allowed the game to come to him during the second half, making the extra pass to keep the Rockets’ offense afloat.
With a total of four assists, the box score does not do justice, but Porter had a prominent night sharing the ball — which showed his growth as Houston’s initial floor general.
“I love that kid. He is growing and learning the position. He is finding the balance between scoring and making plays for his teammates. The ball didn’t fall for him tonight — I think he missed four or five shots at the rim. But he did a great job of learning how to play with this group of guys, as he is the guy with the ball in his hands most of the time.” — Silas