I really don’t like recapping Rockets losses. It seems like all I’ve done over the past three, heading deeper into four, seasons. I’m not exactly sure what to tell you all at this point.. One could just describe, for example, a Denver Nuggets game to a fan of theirs at this point, and it should make sense. The team is successful, operates a certain way, and has few changes beyond bench players.
This isn’t true of the Rockets right now. I don’t really know how they work, or how they intend to work, and what they’d look like when they’re playing well. I don’t think the coaching staff does, either, at this point. This is understandable, as it’s a new staff, with very few players who have actually played meaningful minutes together as a team.
So what I’m going to try to do is either try to assess a given game in the context of the season so far, or look at players, at what I see happening with them, and sometimes both. I can’t really cover every player every game, but I’ll try to cover what stands out to me in terms of player development and that dreaded word, process.
Here are a few axioms I’m working off of this season. You may disagree, and I think this is the short form. I’ll likely write them up with explanations this week.
- The young Rockets are effectively starting a large part of their development process over after (for simplicity’s sake) two years of largely lost player development. I cite as exhibit A that the Rockets chose Jabari Smith Jr. #3 overall last season, and the coaching staff ran zero plays for him. Just expected him to hang around, do whatever, shoot a couple of open shots on a kick out, like a veteran NBA garbage man, like late career PJ Tucker or Trevor Ariza, I guess? He predictably looked terrible as a 19 year old trying to do this. How did this happen? Why did this happen? It’s astounding.
- The offensive firepower to win games will have to come from Rockets prospects or not at all. Both Fred VanVleet and Dillion Brooks are high level complementary players, but not more.
- Neither the coaching staff nor the team has fully implemented the new offense and new defense. The young players are trying to play, and also process the changes, and when things get hectic, it shows.
- Nobody knows what rotations work yet, and the absence of Tari Eason and Jock Landale does not help. You can’t know it won’t work until you try.
After dropping the first game to Orlando in a dismal, unprepared showing, and losing the second game to San Antonio in overtime, largely because they shot 10-20 on free throws, the Rockets opened at home against the Golden State Warriors.
The Rockets started brightly, and took an early lead on good shooting, and fairly crisp offense. The Warriors rallied, as they realized the Rockets were playing well, and they’d have to expend some actual effort. The Rockets cooled down, and Golden State lead 26-24 at the end of one.
The second quarter saw the Warriors taking a bigger lead as Klay Thompson managed to rally against the Rockets, and make a few three point shots in a row. The Rockets second unit was simply awful. Reggie Bullock had an outing as brief as it was terrible. No one else looked a lot better, and the Warriors lead by 10 at the half.
The Rockets first unit came out in the second half and played hard. The second unit remained a problem, but at least defended pretty well, with some amazing efforts from JaeSean Tate leading the way. The Rockets won the quarter 28-24, with the score 81-75.
The Rockets continued to play hard, and tightened the margin in the 4th quarter, even taking a lead at one point. Then we got the Steph Curry flurry of three point shots, where he at one point made four in a row. This, combined with some inept Rockets offense, was the game.
The NBA is a results game, and the result was a loss. The Rockets are 0-3. But results come from process, and from that standpoint this was the best game the Rockets have played all season. If we take away some garbage time points, the Rockets would have held the Warriors to around 100, maybe 102, points. Honestly, if a team can do that to any team in the NBA, let alone Golden State, they should win. The Rockets only managed 95 points, and part of that was some bad shooting, and bad decision making, and part was perhaps bad luck.
The Rockets did, somehow, actually make their free throws. Instead of going 10-20, they went 18-19. Are they a bad FT shooting team? A good one? Or are they, overall, really inconsistent in basically everything at this point?
This was Jalen Green’s best outing thus far. He probably deserved a night that would make you think he was more efficient, instead of 8-20. Two drives where he probably should have shot FTs, one more made three, and people wouldn’t just chuck the term chucker around quite as much. He didn’t deserve it tonight. Green tried hard on defense, grabbed nine boards, still scored 21 points. He fought picks, but missed some rotation. The effort is there, and I think with effort, real coaching, and his talent, it’s far to early to jump to conclusions. His main problem tonight was a stretch in the third quarter where he tried to be the hero, got tunnel vision, and had some bad misses.
Jabari came in for a lot of criticism, and some think he played badly, but this was his line: 14pts, 6/12FGA, 2-6spt, 8rbs, 5ast, 2stl, 1TO. That doesn’t look like burst to me. I think instead he is a young player who isn’t consistent, and lacks situational awareness in his decision making. Shooting a fall away two late, when the team needs three, is something that should be correctable (or maybe Ime loved it?).
Not a good Sengun game? 19pts, 7-15FGA, 5rbs, 7ast, 0TO. Again, we have a problem not so much of ability, or progress, but of a lack of when to choose to facilitate and when to go get a basket. Also, Kevon Looney and the Warriors are really good at denying entry passes. (A vastly underrated part of the Warriors success is Kevon Looney accepting what amounts to NBA chump change to stay with the Warrios.)
The bad game came from Fred VanVleet, at 2-13 and on 4 assists. Dillon Brooks wasn’t great on offense, but not as bad as VanVleet.
Then we come to the Rockets almost complete lack of offensive production from their bench. Amen Thompson score 9, and some truly insipid fouls called on him kept his minutes low, but this was his best game. Remember, Amen has looked awful, then bad, and tonight, pretty good. The rest of the bench was basically the ferocious, bloody (but no foul) JaeSean Tate. As much as I love Tate, if he’s who you’re counting on for bench points, you’re in some trouble.
This loss was tough to swallow because it might, it could, have been a win. It could happen with just good execution on offense, with a system that gets easy looks for the bench occasionally, for example.
The good thing that’s happening, though, is the defense is real, and can, and likely, will, improve, with the return of Tari Eason and Jock Landale. That part of the process is happening. Golden State got saved by a Curry Flurry, as per usual, but they still didn’t break 100 by much.
I think the Rockets should be 1-2, but they aren’t, and the schedule doesn’t get easier. The hopeful thing is, if the Rockets keep building, keep learning, keep holding teams around 100, the wins should come.
Sin Tim Mint O Meader
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