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Rockets outpaced 134-125 in OT

Half Full? Half Empty? All Wemby?

Houston Rockets v Indiana Pacers
Who is this guy?
Photo by Ron Hoskins/NBAE via Getty Images

Welcome to a recap using various time-tested TDS devices:

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

Bullet Points: The Lazy Person’s Friend (tm)

Now combined in one Super Gimmick.

  • Let’s start with The Good.

Jabari Smith Jr. was good tonight. He was, maybe for the first time, the Rockets best player.

His stat line for the night was 30pts on 10-19 shooting, 3-5 3pt shooting, 12 REB, 3 AST, 2 STL, 1 BLK, 1 TO, 1P PF. This was, if I’m honest, the first time I thought Jabari looked like the #3 pick in a good NBA draft class. How did he do it? He played with confidence, with force, and he finally (finally!) simplified his game. He spent almost no time doing weird stepbacks, or side steps, or drives to nowhere. He mostly just shot over guys. He played simple basketball, and seemed to realize for the first time that he’s either 6’10” or 6’11” at this point, and no one can do much about that.

This, frankly, is what I was hoping to see 65 games ago. Maybe he’s had to learn this, but I’d note a real change, and perhaps recognition of the players actually on the team, has occurred since the All Star Break. They’re not winning much, but the Rockets are looking like a team of real NBA prospects.

Jabari also nailed the 3pt shot that sent the game into overtime. Hopefully this boosts his confidence, because a confident Jabari is a MUCH better player.

Jalen Green dropped in an inefficient 23pts, and generally wasn’t that good, but did provide volume shooting. This is often categorized as a terrible thing, but I’d contend that most NBA players don’t have it in them to even be volume scorers, let along efficient volume scorers. He’s a couple of easy misses, and less rushing his shots, away from true efficiency. I don’t have much doubt he can be a lead scorer, especially in a system that works better for him. As of now, he gets the Rockets usual desultory pick attempt, and then can drive or shoot. He’s a promising motion shooter, yet no motions or screens, happen for that. Maybe one day. He’s also going to have to make the choice that comes to most super talented NBA players - am I going to really try to defend, or not? If he chooses “Yes”, a whole new arc opens up in his story.

KJ Martin Jr. continues to suggest he’s a league average SF. 23pts on 9-11 shooting, a few boards, a couple of steals. He didn’t take a three point shot, which is something we’ll come to later. Scoring efficiency is still important, and Martin is very efficient, because he’s turning into not an ok, not a good, but an excellent finisher around the basket. A 36% 3pt shot makes him lethal. He did it as recently as last season, before the Rockets Anti Shooting Efforts really took hold.

Alperen Sengun played a good game, mostly in the first half. While each Rockets starter went over 33 minutes in the OT game. Smith Jr played 47. Sengun played 26. He still scored 14pts on 7-11 shooting, and grabbed 8 rebounds and had 3 assists. Which brings us to

  • The Bad

Apparently the response to missing Kevin Porter Jr. for some reason was to send TyTy Washington to the GLeague, because apparently he makes Daishen Nix nervous or something. He should. Nix played 35 minutes, went 3-12, did grab 7 rebounds, got 2 assists. He also fouled out in OT.

People may be unsure whether or not KPJ is a point guard. I don’t think he really is, but he’ll do for now, but Nix? Nix is definitely not a point guard. Whatever Hardenesque dreams Stone and Silas - Silone? - Stolas? have for Nix, they are just that, dreams. It’s basically incomprehensible he’d play more than Tate, or Christopher, and that Washington wouldn’t even be with the Rockets.

What in God’s name do they SEE in Nix? He can’t really score at the basket, he can’t really shoot, he doesn’t want contact because he doesn’t make free throws, he’s not good with assists, and he can’t process the game fast enough to play adequate defense. Maybe this will change, with time. Maybe it’s all part of some Tanking Master Plan, but I’m not so sure.

Nix couldn’t put up points as lead guard against: Buddy Hield, Tyrese Haliburton, Andrew Nembhard, and TJ McConnell. Not exactly All Defense.

What does Nix do that Josh Christopher can’t?

The second half, and the Rockets comeback featured a lot of Nix, and no Sengun. I have no idea why the Rockets coaching staff thought Sengun couldn’t handle this game. I do understand they tend to play faster when they go small, and really five out, but that still doesn’t explain Nix. Sengun could fix this by shooting around 35% from three, because he’s still, by far, the best passer on the Rockets, and offers an attack on a reset offense that no one else can on this team.

  • The Ugly

This is really more like “The Inexplicable”. We have since the All Star Break, seen a Rockets team that is qualitatively different from the one of the first 60 games. They seem to attack more off the break, push pace more, are a bit more organized in a less “work it around the 3pt line” offense, and are doing a lot less of the dismal drop coverage, and more of what young big, somewhat interchangeable players should do, and switching.

All this is good. The team looks more like the Rockets I expected 65 games ago: young, mistake prone, but promising, fast, and physical. What the hell did they spend 60 games doing, and why? Why did it take that long to make changes? More spreadsheet fixation? Sheer mule-headedness? An inability to recognize who was actually on the roster, and what they could do? Orders from The Management? What?

Except, there’s a problem.

The Rockets, now, are also simply not shooting the three anymore. Tonight the Indiana Pacers MADE one more three point shot than the Rockets ATTEMPTED. The Rockets tried 17 threes. Indiana? 45. The fact that this was a game that went into overtime is somewhat astonishing, and can probably be attributed in part to the Rockets crashing the offensive glass for a 20-8 offensive rebound advantage. But all it took was two made threes in OT to win it for Indy.

The team looks better playing this way. It’s true. It’s losing more prettily. It also looks like a team from the early 2000s. It’s almost impossible to win in the modern NBA without good, high-volume, 3pt shooting. Your offense has to be incredibly efficient to even come close - like Phoenix.

Still, we actually seem to be seeing some player growth, at last, playing this way, instead of a ball of confusion, where the players lived miserably in their own heads. I expect a remark like “We really simplified my glorious, invincible, system. It was kind of me to do so, since they just couldn’t grasp it.” at some point soon from Coach Silas.

It’s hard to know exactly where to land on this. On the one hand, the Rockets are straight outta 2005. On the other hand, we can see progress in what players are doing. They don’t look confused and miserable. The previous molasses slog around the 3pt line, and guys passing up good shots wasn’t working, and I don’t think will ever work without Harden or Luka or the like. This is working better, but won’t get you very far. Maybe that’s enough for the final quarter of the season?

Still, this is watchable, even fun.



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