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Kings bombard Rockets 140-120

Read The Gym. A much too long think piece.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Houston Rockets
Mr. Cent was frankly appalled.
Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll credit longtime TDS poster NVP with sparking this (hopefully useful) insight.

This won’t be much of a game recap, I’m afraid, because it’s pretty much like the other two games against Sacramento. Read those if you want to know how it went. Sacramento is a candidate for most efficient scoring team in the NBA this season. They know they can win any scoring contest with the Rockets, simply because they execute far better, and make open shots. It’s really that simple.

Most Rockets games feel pretty much the same as this, too. Like the cliche of “Doing the same failed thing again and again, and expecting it to work.”

Tonight I’m trying to answer a bigger question for the myself, and TDS. I’ll probably refine or reprise this in “Five Out”, as further thoughts occur. (Or just cut and paste, it’s a lot.) It’s all conjecture, but I feel like I’ve been fumbling around in the dark for the light switch, and may have found it, however dimly it illuminates.

There is a massive, insoluble, disconnect between HOW the Rockets are coached, and WHO the Rockets are.

Stephen Silas is the son of Paul Silas (RIP). Paul Silas was an NBA lifer, and a hard-nosed pros’ pro. His coaching wasn’t especially innovative, but he demanded intensity and liked veteran teams. Stephen Silas has grown up around the NBA, around NBA pros, and around the people who were the friends of his dad (now a lead assistant for the Rockets, Lionel Hollins). I’d speculate that those friends were typically other true pros, and NBA lifers, like Paul Silas. That appears to be his young context.

Stephen Silas played college basketball, like Jeremy Lin, in the Ivy League, but at Brown. This is frankly not a very high level of competition. He played four years at Brown, so he had the benefit of four years of basketball instruction at a D1 team. He almost certainly left college knowing how to play. Contrast this with the competitive learning experience of the core of this Rockets team. (Silas had more NCAA playing and learning experience than: Green, Christopher, Eason, Washington, Smith Jr., Martin, Porter Jr. We’ll count Green’s and Martin’s experience the same, though I doubt it was. Garuba and Sengun were actual pros.)

Graduating from Brown speaks to Silas’ high intellect, and perhaps a blind spot an Ivy Leaguer might have about how others might perceive things, and learn. There’s a tendency for people in any context to assume the world is like that context. Wealthy people generally don’t understand what not having any money might mean. Great athletes don’t understand struggling to do anything physical. People who are very healthy don’t understand chronic illness. And so on.

A coach who was a four year NCAA player might not understand the lack of fundamentals implicit in “One and Done” or GLeague Ignite (try to find them in an Ignite game, I dare you). It’s possible the cerebral Silas also doesn’t understand people who aren’t studious. People who need to be taught something that seems obvious to him. People who don’t have the baseline of education and instructional basketball.

Stephen Silas then went from Brown to a non coaching basketball job, and then into various NBA assistant coaching jobs. His first? The Charlotte Hornets, where his father was head coach. (The Nepo Babies of professional sports are maybe the biggest Nepo Babies anywhere.)

Silas was an NBA assistant coach for the next 20 seasons. Being a Nepotista will only take you so far. To move up, you have to produce. You have to work hard and have talent. Silas was a very well regarded lead assistant, and a real head coaching prospect by the mid 2010s. I’m sure he was great at his job.

The problem is, he’s never, at any point, coached at a level below the NBA. He’s only ever dealt with pros as a coach. No college, or high school players, who might literally need to work on “Setting a proper pick.” for example. Stephen Silas was brought in to be a low-key, relatable, intelligent, coach for a veteran Rockets team built around the basketball noos of James Harden.

That team lasted a few months. Now the Rockets are, as far as I can tell, the NBA team that will break the record for playing the most young players the most minutes ever in NBA history, and also the record for losing over three seasons.

Whatever the Rockets are, they are emphatically not a veteran team that knows how to play basketball at a sound fundamental level, and only needs to be shown a different way of doing things.

The Rockets are completely the opposite of that. Last season they had literal teenagers playing key roles. This year? They still do. Not one very young player finding his way amongst seasoned pros, the Rockets are a whole team of deeply inexperienced players. (Does this experiment bring GM Rafael Stone in for some criticism? I’d say it does.) These Rockets can’t be TOLD what to do until they are TAUGHT what to do.

Yet the Rockets are coaching this team like it’s full of seasoned pros, like it’s a real NBA team, and not a wacky experiment. How do we know this? Let’s take Jabari Smith Jr as an example. He played one year in the NCAA as a young freshman. He’s currently 19 years old. His college game was based around his spot up shooting. That’s what he was known for, shooting and defense.

When he got to the Rockets, what was he asked to do? Was he asked to establish his spot up game, and to focus on fundamental defense? The evidence suggests, no, he was not. He has added a lot of shot fakes, side steps, step backs, and dribble attacks to his game, all of which he frankly isn’t good at. Has his spot up shot been established? Or insisted upon? Absolutely not. It’s currently worse than it was in college.

Why did this happen? I’d suggest because NBA lifer, Stephen Silas, and his staff, approach the Rockets like they were veterans, who know what to do, and more importantly, HOW to do it.

Watching the Rockets offense, and defense, it’s fairly clear they do not know how to do whatever it is that’s asked of them, even when they try their best. There are enough flashes to suggest that, yes, they’re trying. Is that their fault? Maybe. It might also be the fault of the American NBA prospect machine, as Alperen Sengun, also a teenager, came equipped with a far more accomplished game. (It’s worth asking why the NBA MVP award is currently dominated by non-Americans, in this context.)

Be that as it may, it doesn’t solve the Rockets problem. They simply don’t know how to do what’s being asked of them. They aren’t seasoned NBA pros, they aren’t veterans, and they can’t do what they’re being asked to do. They are literally no better, not one bit, at doing what Silas wants than they were at the end of last season. Eric Gordon spoke the truth when he said “No improvement.”.

Where does this failure rest? Even if it rests upon the players blaming them is worthless. What’s the plan in that case? Restart the rebuild with teenagers you feel sure know how to do what NBA veterans can do? More Senguns or Doncics, somehow?

The Rockets must be taught remedial basketball. It doesn’t matter why this is necessary; it simply is.

This theory also goes some way to explaining the rotations, the playing time, and the lack of accountability. Everything is being run exactly like an NBA team with a well-established pecking order of seniority, importance, or pay. A team that has guys who are deep bench players, because an NBA team has deep bench players to whom no real consideration is given, despite those players being actual NBA prospects on the Rockets. It explains why good performance by deep bench players don’t get rewarded with minutes. In the NBA, it’s simply nice if your 11th player had a good night, but it changes nothing, barring injury.

It’s like a whole team of equally inexperienced and unproven players was “bell curved” but without anyone actually taking a test. The curve relies upon draft spot, or seniority, or even looking the part of a stout heliocentric ballhandler for the system, like Daishen Nix, despite possessing no discernible current ability to actually run said system.

This explains the utter lack of accountability forJalen Green. He’s “The Star” and therefore not someone who sits for dogging it on defense, he’s not someone who sits at all. Never mind that he’s 20. That’s the NBA team traditional treatment of “The Star”, and that’s his spot in the natural order of the team.

Garrison Matthews has NBA experience, so he must get minutes in front of Josh Christopher. That’s the way it’s always been done. It doesn’t matter if Matthews isn’t very good, and Christopher is a legitimate prospect.

The low-key, cerebral coach speaks in veiled phrases, and expect his savvy veteran team to pick up on it. It’s exactly the right thing to do with proud, experienced, NBA veterans. As the Rockets, in actuallity, are typically callow young men suddenly handed wealth, prestige and fame, they pick up literally nothing. The disconnects are everywhere.

Stephen Silas seems at his wits end. He’s angry at the team for their effort tonight. I’m not sure why. The Rockets for the most part, gave a good effort. The failings that I saw, were systemic, rather than individual, and largely not effort based.

The Rockets were trying hard, but they actually don’t know HOW to do the things asked of them. Until they know that, no amount of effort is going to make it work. If they win, it’ll be some combination of good shooting, poor opponents, and high intensity. Essentially, individuals combining to overwhelm opponents with talent.

Stephen Silas might be a great coach, of a veteran NBA team. We’ll never know. I only believe he shouldn’t be the coach of this team, because his expectations, and methods, are so far disjointed from reality that they are now actively toxic to player development.



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  • 69%
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    In part.
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    When’s lunch?
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