Welcome back to Five Out, a series of thoughts on the Rockets and the NBA. The Rockets are currently enjoying a Two Game Winning Streak. Over the Eastern Conference finalist last season, one over the Suddenly Resurgent Lakers, who seemed a bit desurgent despite a lot of friendly whistles.
Happy Saint Brackett’s Day To All Who Celebrate
The NCAA Mens and Womens Basketball Tournaments are underway. Interest seems somewhat renewed, or at least my own interest is somewhat renewed. It’s a fun event, and sometimes full of surprises. There’s really nothing in the world quite like it, as on Thursday you’ve got 64 teams in the field, and on Sunday, you’ve got 16 remaining. Put that in your “group stage” and smoke it.
It’s also a bit of a return to yesterday as the University of Houston mens’ team, also owned, sorry, strongly supported, by Rockets boss Tilman Fertitta, is a #1 Seed and therefore a plausible favorite to win it all. Not winning it all will be the favorite #2 seed of many, Arizona, who was eliminated by Princeton, in another return to yesteryear as Princeton simply outexecuted a far more talented team in Arizona. This will be a priceless memory for the men of Princeton as they head towards their workaday struggles at Goldman Sachs.
What is this thing that I’m feeling?
Could it be that four letter word for Rockets fans this season...hope?
The Rockets now look like a team that’s bad, but not hopeless. Young, but promising. Of course it was far too early to say that other four letter word about any of the young Rockets...bust. Lauri Markkanen should serve as a reminder to reserve that sort of judgement a few years at least.
Right now the most exciting Rocket, perhaps experiencing an actual breakout, is Jabari Smith Jr. He’s making a lot more shots, playing with confidence, and generally making better decisions. No, he’s not making nothing but good decisions, no NBA player does that, not even Chris Paul, and certainly no 19 year old does, but his last five games have seen him score 18, 24, 20, 30, 15 points, with good rebounding, defense, and best of all, awareness, and aggression. Every night hasn’t been a gem, but every night doesn’t have to be a gem for a teenage NBA player.
Jabari has simplified his game, stopped doing all the strange side steps, stepbacks, and drives to nowhere that typified the first three quarters of the season. He seems to be realizing that at 6’10” he can simply shoot over most players without doing any of that. There’s more to do, but there’s reason to believe he’ll do it, and that he’ll be the player we were expecting all along.
Other Rockets Playing Well
Most of the other Rockets are playing better as well. The team seems to have abandoned its pointless lateral passing to some extent. No one is setting useful picks, still, but they are taking the open shot, passing off the attacking drive, and generally playing for one another a good bit more. The defense looks like something that would happen on purpose in the NBA. Some of this seems to coincide with the departure of the rest of the veterans that Coach Silas tended to play fairly heavily. Eric Gordon, Garrison Matthews and Bruno Fernando are no longer absorbing minutes better spent on players who might be part of the next good Rockets team. The Rockets seem alright without a certain lob threat at the moment, as they have had one all along in KJ Martin Jr, who really is turning into an elite scorer at the basket.
Also notable by his general absence is Daishen Nix. I have no ill will towards Nix personally, but right now he simply can’t do much of anything required of an NBA player, and he was taking minutes better spent on Josh Christopher, who surprise, remains a prospect, and TyTy Washington (who is apparently the new player in the Silas Minutes Doghouse of Being A Young Player Who Wasn’t Picked Top 5).
Honestly, Silas acquitting himself well here is the best thing he can do for himself in the future, unlike the dismal rotations, showings and general lack of ideas and recognition of team composition we saw pre All Star Break.
More About Saint Brackett
Whether it makes sense or not, player performance the NCAA Tournament factors in to a large extent in prospect perception. In one sense, I can see why, this is performance under pressure, against unfamiliar opponents, with little turnaround or preparation time, on a tight schedule, away from the home gym.
Guess what? That’s half of NBA games. Doing well under those circumstances can indicate a certain mentality that can succeed in the NBA, despite a lack of the “measurables” so dear to analysts. Players with far better measurables are gone, but occasionally a guy like Fred Van Vleet, with none of them, sticks around, and the tournament is a good chance to identify those players.
So I say, enjoy the games, cheer for your team, or teams, hope that Drew Timme completes his PhD after 12 years at Gonzaga, and if you can’t do anything else, look at the supposed prospects for NBA qualities that aren’t necessarily runnin’, jumpin’ and long arm havin’.
Don’t Worry About The Odds
I mean, of course Rockets fans are consumed, obsessed, with draft odds. But as always, remember, the Odds of Wemby will never, ever, be that good. I don’t see any way they can get better than about 17% or so. Try to enjoy better play, appreciate that the Rockets now look like I believe they should have looked in November, or January, worst case. They look like a team of good, or at least promising, young players who on their night can beat anyone, or lose to anyone, and will mostly lose to everyone.
If the Rockets reel off an eight game winning streak I will freak out and act completely different.
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