The 2011-12 Houston Rockets season ended with a healthy mix of crashing and burning. They held the playoff key in their hands for most of the last month, but instead of using it for their own gain, they decided to neatly present it as a generous gift for the Utah Jazz. Super cool.
But the season wasn’t a total waste of time, just as no year before it ever is. Since Christmas we learned so much about this cast of characters—one of the league’s most eclectic collection of cultural backgrounds and differing personalities. When the season began, first year coach Kevin McHale was given a roster that featured a pouting, highly paid one dimensional player who’d eventually find himself in a mini-power struggle with the All-Star caliber point guard, and a wild pack of young, underachieving athletes trying to make Houston their place of self-resuscitation. Over half the roster had either been left for dead by a past employer or had yet to find their niche in the league. To make matters worse, all of them were too young to know the first thing about correcting a problem they didn’t know how to identify. It wasn’t a good situation, but as the year wore on they played less like a group of individuals trying to change a personal reputation, and more like a cohesive team that trusted one another, played unselfishly on every possession, and ended up being pretty good at winning basketball games.
For whatever reason, the wheels unhinged from the wagon three quarters of its way over the season’s rickety bridge, and everybody fell off the side. The playoffs just weren’t meant to be. Here are my individual awards for a memorable season.
Most Valuable Player: Kyle Lowry. On a team that lacks any undisputed crunch time scorer or overall “best” player, it’s very difficult to pin down who most contributed to a team’s rise and then eventual fall from grace. Before he went down with a bacterial infection in his stomach, Kyle Lowry was the closest resemblance. Continuing his unexpected ascendance from last year with a 20 point, 12 assist, seven rebound performance in this season’s opening game, Lowry looked and played the part of elite point guard for much of the season’s first few months. He was everywhere on both ends of the court, knocking down threes from 28-plus feet on a regular basis, getting into the shorts of opposing point guards, conducting an efficient offense, and taking big shot after big shot for a team that desperately needed someone to step up and assume that specific role.
I realize he didn’t play the entire season, and that the team miraculously continued to win games after he went down, and that when he returned from his injury with a few weeks left in the year, that the team’s chemistry began to come undone, but sometimes it’s too easy to remember the latest and greatest. Here’s my ode to a player who put the Rockets in a position to succeed even after he went down with the only thing that was capable of stopping his brilliant play: a freak injury.
Least Valuable Player: Kevin Martin. Given the team’s flexibility and willingness to make splashy moves—their trade chips include two first round draft picks that are probably already on the market—I’d be shocked if Kevin Martin played another game for the Houston Rockets. In order to entice a possible buyer to take Martin’s contract off his hands (think Chicago or Minnesota), Daryl Morey will most likely package the shooting guard with one of those first round picks. For reasons that are either coincidental, evident, or unfair, Martin’s entire career has coincided with losing teams. His inability to play above average defense on and off the ball combined with an offensive skill set that doesn’t involve any teammates has made him a pariah, at least in my eyes. When he went down with a shoulder injury, the Rockets didn’t appear to be in any hurry to get him back on the court. Judging from how they performed with him out, this shouldn’t be news.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Chandler Parsons. I wrote about Parsons in several articles throughout the season, so my thoughts are well known; there really isn’t much more to say. His play was shockingly steady, improving with each game he played. It’s going to be incredibly fun watching Parsons’ career develop.
The “Thank God I’m An Unrestricted Free Agent” Award: Goran Dragic. When Lowry went down, the season looked to be over. His contribution appeared to be an irreplaceable one. Then Dragic came in and, well, you saw what happened. In 27 games as a starter, the 25-year-old Slovenian averaged 18.4 points, 8.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game. He also was ridiculously efficient, shooting 49.6% from the field and 39.4% from deep. There’s no telling whether Dragic could keep that type of insane production up with the high expectations of a full-time starter for an entire season, but if he did he’d be an All-Star. And somebody out there is probably going to pay him like one this offseason.
The “Rodney Dangerfield Award That Lacks Respect” Award: Luis Scola. From Kevin Love stepping on his face to the fact that at 6‘9”, he was forced to thanklessly play center for 17% of the team’s total minutes this season (according to 82games.com), all anyone could say about Luis Scola’s season was that his numbers hadn’t improved from last year. Yes, they took a slight dip, but the toughness a player like Scola exudes is unquantifiable when it matriculates throughout the culture of an entire organization. Ignore his contract for just a second: Luis Scola is a man’s man.
The Would-Be Savior Who Had Too Much Asked Of Him Award: Marcus Camby. When the Rockets sent Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet—two players who arguably possess less value than a grapefruit flavored car freshener—to Portland for Marcus Camby, my initial reaction was “WHAT a brilliant move.” All season long the team’s defensive metric figures would plummet whenever Sam Dalembert headed to the bench, and with Dalembert playing less than 25 minutes per game, another rim protector was needed if this team had any chance at making noise in the postseason. Camby played well enough to not only fill the void Dalembert left whenever he wasn’t playing, he took his starting spot. Unfortunately for the Rockets, Camby is 38-years-old. The pressures extolled on him by both opposing players and his own team were simply too much for the old guy to handle. He can still be productive, just make sure it’s in a lessened role.
The Most Frustrating Arc of Development Award: Patrick Patterson. There are a few players I’d like to put here. Marcus Morris being badly outperformed by his own team’s second round pick and twin brother (who actually had a very productive rookie season in Phoenix), and Chase Budinger—who was demoted at the beginning of the season—were two that partly thwarted this team from achieving what it could have. But the far and away leader in the clubhouse for this award would have to be Patrick Patterson. Heading into this season, he hit the ground running with surgically repaired ankles and a whole bunch of expectations. Not the best combination. As his playing time increased, his offensive efficiency numbers went in the opposite direction. It’s no fun saying this, but for now our expectations for Patrick Patterson are to be tempered until further notice.