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Five Out: Players-only meeting

What Do We Want To See In The Second Half of The Season?

Charlotte Hornets v Houston Rockets
It is time.
Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

I’m back at it with you favorite weekly feature of five Rockets topics. The fact that it’s probably the only weekly feature with specifically five Rockets topics is entirely beside the point.

Anyhow, how are you feeling about the process?

This week is mostly about players.

Run to the corner, eventually, I guess, if you feel like it.

Let’s Be Clear

Let’s be clear on something in the midst of all this losing. The Rockets won’t have a better than 14% chance at Victor Wenbanyama no matter how much they lose. All that finishing with the worst record does is guarantee a pick in the top five of the draft. Even with the worst record, odds are roughly 48% that you’ll pick fifth.

The second worst record extends out to no worse than the the sixth pick (since the worst has the fifth locked up worst case) and so to the third worst team picking no worse than 7th.

The Rockets are currently the worst team in the NBA in basically everything. A lack of improvement in any area doesn’t really hurt their chances of a #1 pick. We can worry about wins when the Rockets are threatening to move out of the bottom three. There’s no danger of that on the horizon.

If it didn’t seem clear at the beginning of the season, it appears there is a real difference between “tanking” and “being abjectly, hopelessly, bad”. The Rockets are the latter, and it seems clear something must change. Yet, nothing does.

The Rock of The Rockets?

Is Alperen Sengun the rock upon which the Rockets should be built? The current answer is probably yes. Sure, another player might come along to take that crown, but again, there’s a roughly 50% chance the Rockets pick fifth. So, is it worth rearranging the team’s entire outlook based on Cam Whitmore, Brandon Miller or Jarace Walker? Probably not.

Is it worth changing the Rockets currently awful offense to build it around Sengun? What could it hurt? The present system appears ineffective, with little sign of improvement in any quarter. Adding Scoot Henderson probably doesn’t hurt the picture with Sengun, as a clever facilitator generally doesn’t hurt anyone.

Of course, if you have a whole team that needs the ball, that’s a problem. The difference between Sengun and pretty much every other Rocket getting time is that he’s a willing, and gifted, passer. Yes, he makes mistakes, but he’s 20. That’s not alarming. Yes, he sometimes get beaten on defense, but those who are singling him out as “the problem” with defense aren’t watching the same games I am. Yes, he gets beat, but so does the entire worst defense in the NBA.

Whatever Lionel Hollins was meant to do with the defense, what he’s actually done is make it worse.

What Happened To Josh Christopher?

Within the space of a year the Rockets have taken a promising, athletic combo guard prospect and turned him into an absolutely stereotypical bench player who puts up a shot almost no matter what when he gets the ball. Such players see the court infrequently, and usually in garbage time, so it’s easy to see why they just fire up a shot every time they get a pass in the 5 minutes they play a week.

This should not be the case with an actual prospect. But how could Christopher think any differently, given what players ahead of him in the rotation do? Garrison Matthews puts up literally the worst three point shot attempts I’ve ever seen with startling frequency, and often surpasses his previous personal worst. He plays bad defense (but with a mean face, so that makes it ok) and he fouls a ton. He gives up the ball as willingly as most of us would give up a finger or toe. And he gets regular minutes, with no penalty on his playing time whatsoever.

Daishen Nix mostly drifts around like it was his first basketball game. His minutes have been curtailed, but not much in favor of actual point guard TyTy Washington.

What’s the message for Christopher, here? That nothing matters, good or bad, to bench player minutes?

In any case, Christopher has taken several giant steps backwards. It’s pretty clear he can light up the GLeague, and he’s an NBA level talent, in some role. He’s not showing it on the Rockets, though. What’s his role going forward? The current thinking, performance, and plan seems to be “We’ve got too many prospects, so screw it. Whatever, let’s play Matthews.”

The Rockets, screaming for an actual guard to handle the ball in KPJ’s absence can’t use Christopher. Well done.

He’ll probably torture us for years as a Spur, after they instill some discipline in his game.

Touch Grass, or Walk In Green Space

Can we please settle down with “Jalen Green is a bust!” stuff? How can anyone possibly know, on a team as awful as the Rockets? How can we know he can’t defend, if no one insists he defend? How can we know he won’t work as an offense cornerstone unless he’s in a coherent offense? Most his draft cohorts, in far better situations, are experiencing a “Difficult Second Album” season. Green isn’t alone.

The Rockets are currently the most incoherent NBA team I’ve ever watched.

Consider - the Rockets have gotten their asses kicked by San Antonio, and Miami teams of mostly GLeague players, and players not much more experienced that they are. But the offense and defense of both teams is coherent. Players know what to do, and largely do it.

The Rockets look like pickup basketball with a ton of selfish gunners, for the most part, on both sides of the ball. The fact they score as much as they do probably says something good, not bad, about their level of innate talent, especially Jalen Green’s.

It is the responsibility of the coaching staff to get the players to play coherent, team oriented basketball. Expecting a bunch of 20 year olds to discipline themselves like 10 year veterans is, as we’ve seen, a recipe for disaster.

So I really have no idea what the future holds for Jalen Green. He can score, a ton, in a shambles of a team. Does that mean he’s going to be great? A bust? Who knows? The Rockets seem so far off the map of what normal NBA teams play like, I have no idea if the data we’re getting is of any value. The Rockets are so bad right now I wonder if they actually provide a useful context for judgment?

A Message To You, Jabari

Just shoot the ball when you catch it. Don’t side step. Don’t hesitate. Don’t step back. Don’t dribble attack. Just. Shoot. It. It’s your best offensive skill, and your others will be built off it, not in spite of it.

No one is going to block you. If they do? So what? Then you know they can block you, and you need to side step or whatever.

Until then, let it fly, big man. Let it fly.


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