Hello Rockets Fans!
I’m sorry this series hasn’t been reliable. Between general busyness and the lengthy writing I do, it’s hard to manage five things all the time. So what I’ll try to do is NOT write a PhD dissertation for every Five Out and instead do quick hitting little topics. Will that be better? Worse? In dunno, get up on defense! We don’t run to the corner like we once did. Get in your stance! Now!
1. I Apologize, Dillon
I’m sorry Dillon Brooks, I misjudged you. I thought you were, as they say, or once said, in Texas, more hat than ranch. Or more vest than, I don’t know, I think that might veer into Not Family Friendly, let’s just drop it. As it turns out, you are one helluva defender. Truly excellent, such that most matchups just avoid you, if they can. You’re shooting it well, not taking up too many shots, or too much usage. You seem to be, ah, playing within yourself. This goes to show that snap judgments are often bad judgments. Will we see the NBA Punditistas walk back their “OMG, they paid WHAT for Brooks!?!? LOL!!!!” takes? I very much doubt it.
2. Thinking Defense
The Rockets seem to be establishing a defensive identity already. Right now they rank 13th overall in team defensive rating per 100 possessions according to nba.com. If we dropped the first game out, it’d be better, but you don’t get to do that. What I believe will happen is that if trends post game one continue, the Rockets will likely climb to about 7th , based on performances after the dismal game one showing, and trends I think will continue with other teams and the Rockets. Contrast this with the previous seasons’ ranks: 22-23/28th, 21-22/30th, 20-21/30th.
This has been without arguably the best, or second best, defender on the Rockets, Tari Eason, playing. We’ve not seen the synergy of Brooks, VanVleet and Eason in a game yet. Tari is expected to return in limited minutes Wednesday against the Lakers.
3. More Defense
Another thing about the Rockets defense struck me watching last night’s dismantling of the Sacramento Kings. Adding VanVleet and Brooks totally changed how the Rockets defense is ordered. What I mean by that is, teams usually have a player who takes on the opponent’s best wing scorer, and a player who takes on the other team’s best creator/ballhandler/PG type. This obviously doesn’t fit all opponents, some just great off the wing, or center, or two PG types, but it’s useful enough to get on with.
When the Rockets added Brooks and VanVleet, they now can put a plus defender on both a top scoring wing, and a top PG-type player. This shifts the worse Rockets defenders to the 3rd, 4th, and 5th scoring options on a team, generally. Sengun is both exerting himself more at center, and benefiting from not having to constantly react to attackers blowing by their primary defender.
Yes, opponents are calling up Jalen Green in picks. Yes, he’s still not a good defender. But he’s fast, active, and trying to defend. Since the Rockets aren’t dropping, defense, and help, is always nearby. That help comes in the form of MUCH better defenders than on past Rockets teams. The Rockets aren’t scrambling as much, because they aren’t getting beaten as much, which means help, or blitzes and traps, might work.
This has all been largely done without two defensive savants, in Tari Eason and Amen Thompson. There’s a version of a Rockets defense where basically nothing moves. Can that unit score? Maybe. Probably more than their opponent can.
4. Stop Tate Hate
Jae’Sean Tate is a great bench player on a good team. That’s how we’ve seen him. But have we ever wondered if the Rockets might be that good team? Not a great one, let’s not drift totally into fantasy, but based on defense alone, and the ongoing offensive flourishing, a good one. Tate has been a big part of that. Maybe he’s just on a heater in terms of his three point shooting. Well, at 54% 3pt shooting for the season, he obviously is, but what if he shoots 40%, or even 35%? If he does, defenses have to guard him. This pulls a player, usually a big, away from the paint. That opens up his drive, and his drive and kick, and lots more paint for other Rockets. He’s a smart, tough, player and he appears to be an absolute misery to play against.
If Ben Sullivan (and constant work by Tate) has fixed Jae’Sean’s 3pt shot, maybe it’s time to stop thinking of him as a distressed asset, or even an asset to trade? Maybe he’s a great, versatile, bench player on a good team, with a great contract?
Besides, don’t you just like watching him play? This NBA stuff is supposed to be fun sometimes, not just a constant, never ending, dreary McDuckian exercise in Total Roster Asset Seizure & Hoarding (TRASH).
5. Are The Rockets...Fun?
Winning is fun. Potentially beating playoff teams by 40 is fun. Watching players develop from seemingly hopeless youngsters into good NBA players is fun. Having a bit of faith in the decisions of a coaching staff is fun. Seeing your team improve, game to game, is fun. Understanding the reasoning behind decisions, rather than just tearing your hair out, is fun. Basketball is fun.
I’d say, right now, with very few disclaimers, the Houston Rockets are fun. That could change, of course, you all know all the fears, caveats and disclaimers. It might not change much, though. The Rockets might be a .500 team. Optimism is possible. After the last three seasons, that sounds like a good time to me.
This poll is closed
The NBA SW division is going to be a nightmare again.