When the Houston Rockets signed Samuel Dalembert, seemingly minutes prior to tip-off of the opener against the Orlando Magic, I proclaimed that they would make the playoffs. (Whether or not that’s a goal they should pursue is a different matter I won’t discuss here), but after a shaky start, I still stand firm by my prediction. (It helps that they’ve recovered to go 1 game above .500.)
The reason I felt so confident about this team’s chances was that Dalembert filled its most glaring weakness from the season before. The Rockets were near tops in the league in offensive efficiency but their defense left much to be desired, to say the least. They had some solid individual defenders in the likes of Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, and Chuck Hayes, but they just didn’t have the ‘length’ that allows a defensive scheme to come together, enabling guys to work as a unit and cover spaces instead of individual men.
Last night, against the Hornets, Samuel Dalembert won the game with his play in the final minute. Watch below as he leaves his man to cover Jarret Jack:
But look more closely.
Last year, Jack gets the shot off. This year, it doesn’t matter that Dalembert was slow to rotate – he recovers through his length, stretching his arm to block the shot and save the game.
You could argue that Hayes would have been quicker to rotate, beating Jack to the spot. I’d counter that A) a blocked shot beats a contested hand-in-the-face challenge and B) at a macro level, if your big man has to stay closer to home on a shooting power forward, the shot blocking athlete has a greater chance to recover and disrupt than the fleet-footed Chuckwagon that has to trek perfectly to the exact spot. Point being: when you’re 7 feet, there’s much more room for error for both you and your team. When you’re Hayes, you have to be perfect, to contest or set up for the charge.
It’s not just defense though where the 7-footer earns his shekels. Above, Dalembert scored the winning basket by just being long.
Were he younger, we’d have thrown a parade over having found the long-term solution at center. A pity. But for this season, I think Dalembert will be the difference.