Welcome back to Five Out, appearing weekly, mostly. In this week we look at the state of the Rockets, the state of the media perception of the Rockets, what’s reasonable, and birthdays.
It may be warm amongst the concrete bayous, but there’s a cold driving rain here, and maybe more snow? Let my mild displeasure at the weather be your gain, as I brew up five steaming takes.
Run to the corner. Don’t shoot it!
1. Live Now, on Take Delay
So with the NBA season winding down, and everyone who listens to NBA podcasts sick to the point of nausea of MVP discussions and vitriol, let’s talk about the fate of teams with about 10% of the season remaining.
Oh look, people seemed to have noticed that the Rockets were bad, and are still bad. This is apparently the fault of, in no specific order: management, coaching, players, vibes, Kevin Porter Jr, internet culture, the City of Houston itself, ownership, James Harden, selfishness, youth, my-turn-your-turn, bad body language, lack of fan support, no real point guard, bad shooting, Kevin Porter Jr., Daryl Morey’s stale lingering farts, and Kevin Porter Jr.
Not once did the commentariat mention Daishen Nix. This leads me to believe they aren’t watching Rockets games, just talking to each other in a circle of mutual support and confirmation bias. He’s not a core problem, just a young guy over his head, but if you’re going to mention ninety nine problems and Nix isn’t one, you aren’t actually watching.
The thing is, unless it’s an injury, unless it’s discussion of record, sometimes the news about a team is just old. Over the last five to ten games, the Rockets have essentially flipped this script. They haven’t been that team. The pundits are trading on old news.
This isn’t particularly shocking, or bad. There’s the evidence of three quarters of an NBA season to back the consensus position. But when you’re dealing with young people, changes happen fast. Moments are dense, weeks are long. We’ve even proven this to be the case with humans in general. Why wouldn’t it be true of an NBA team?
2. Oh Very Young
This is the first NCAA tourney I’ve really dug into in a while, and it has been interesting. This is mostly due to my connection with two schools still in it: UT, and University of Houston. For whatever it’s worth, I’d love to see the Cougars win it all.
There’s been a sea change in the NCAA. Maybe it’s just a product of an extra COVID year, or the Transfer Portal (which sounds more science fiction-y than it actually is), but right now the NCAA “Team Of One and Done NBA Prospects” is not in the ascendant. Instead it’s a team of grizzled, big, tough, college players who simply outwork, out think, and frankly, out muscle, the more prospect-laden teams.
How grizzled? The Texas Longhorns are basically starting an equivalent, or older, team than the Rockets.
Porter: 22, Green: 21, Martin: 22, Smith: 19, Sengun: 20.
Carr: 22 , Hunter: 19 , Rice: 22 , Bishop: 23, Disu: 22.
Of course, the Rockets are pro prospects, draft selections, etc. But they’re also the age of an NCAA team. They’re playing a much tougher schedule, with 82 games, and constant travel. The Rockets get less practice time than a college team. There are no cupcakes on their schedule to rack up easy wins. The Rockets are the cupcake.
In that light, the Rockets’ showing perhaps isn’t quite as bad as we think?
The Texas Longhorns play in the Big 12.
The Houston Rockets play in the NBA.
I’d fancy the Rockets chances for One Shining Moment, given they’re young enough.
3. My Turn, Your Turn, Your Turn, Your Turn, Your Turn
Over the last five to ten games the “Rockets are selfish.” or “One player is dominating the shots/the ball/the whatever.” or “It’s just some sort of sick “My Turn, Your Turn”* thing just isn’t true of the Rockets
Here are the shot totals by player for the last five Rockets games (most recent first).
Green: 18, 19, 22, 20, 13
Porter: 14, 15, 15, 14, 16
Eason: 4b, 16, 6, 8, 5
Martin: 18, 12, 5, 7, 11
Sengun: 15, Out, 8, 17, 10
Smith: 14, 15, 10, 8, 17
Eason has come off the bench for all but one of those games, where his attempts leapt to 16. I honestly believe a player like JJ Reddick would have been absolutely thrilled to play on a team with this kind of shot distribution.
This isn’t some sort of ball dominance. This isn’t dysfunctional. This is what NBA players and commentators claim to want. The Rockets are actually doing it, and winning some games, too.
4. Wemby! Wemby? Wemby...
But how? The Rockets nearly identical chance of getting putatively generational talent Victor Wembanyama might be improved by the Brooklyn Nets losing a lot more to finish the season.
If the Nets fall into the lottery, their slim chance would be effectively added to the Rockets, in the form of either pick ending up in the #1 slot. So the Rockets overall chance of #1 would be more embiggened than that of any other team. That’s it. That’s pretty much all that’s left in the tank, unless the Rockets go on some unaccountable winning streak, and “drop” out of the bottom three. It’s possible, but I think, given the upcoming schedule and the number of teams they’re facing that want and need to win, it’s unlikely.
5. Draymond Green. Reasonable, measured, remarks.
An old foe of the Rockets, Draymond Green had encouraging and reasonable remarks about the young Rockets. In summary - he heard Tari Eason and KJ Martin discussing how to handle a coverage on defense on the court and thought both their assessment of the situation, and possible solutions, were sound.
Now, I bow to few in my dislike of Draymond as an on court player, but to give the devil his due, he understands basketball on a deep level. His elite understanding and processing of the game is why he’s an effective player. The cheapshots are decorative.
So what does this mean, assuming he’s right?
It means the young Rockets are learning how to play NBA basketball in a sound way, and the lessons are starting to sink in. Does this mean Stephen Silas is suddenly a good coach? Well, that’s a complex answer that will have to wait for further discussion.
Draymond Green also went on to talk about how if a team has no veterans to “translate” what the coaches want, the young guys have to figure it out. Maybe that’s what happened to make the Rockets better lately?
They got rid of the veterans. As much as I like Eric Gordon, I don’t think he’s the “explain it to the young men so they’ll do it” player your team wants. The other “veterans” were fringe guys just looking to hang on, or guys who never play, and don’t in any form embody what a team’s ideals, or “culture” might be. Except Boban, who seems to be an extremely nice man, but is maybe not the guy who tells you what it means to be a Rocket.
So now the Rockets are past the “Neither fish nor fowl.” roster, the young guys really DO have to figure it out, or not? If so, they appear to be learning their lessons.
This poll is closed