Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings http://www.red94.net Red94 | Houston Rockets news and musings Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:02:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 2014-2015 Rockets season preview: win totalhttp://www.red94.net/2014-2015-rockets-season-preview-win-total/14561/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=2014-2015-rockets-season-preview-win-total http://www.red94.net/2014-2015-rockets-season-preview-win-total/14561/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:00:47 +0000 Forrest Walker http://www.red94.net/?p=14561 The new NBA season is just around the corner, and it can’t come soon enough. It’s time to get ready for the next chapter in Houston Rockets history, and therefore it’s time to make serson predictions. Until the first game ends, everyone starts out undefeated and all the potential is untapped. But what will the [...]

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The new NBA season is just around the corner, and it can’t come soon enough. It’s time to get ready for the next chapter in Houston Rockets history, and therefore it’s time to make serson predictions. Until the first game ends, everyone starts out undefeated and all the potential is untapped. But what will the Rockets look like at the end of the year?

The most direct question is also the most obvious. How many games will the Rockets win? A simple question with a simple answer, right? Simple? Yes. Easy? Nope. Predicting wins in most seasons is hard enough as it is, but with the off-season the Rockets have had, the challenge is doubled. Challenge or no, there’s an answer to that question and a process to that answer.

The first step is schedule analysis, something I’ve recently gone over to some degree. Houston’s schedule isn’t striking (for a Western Conference team) in terms of rest and overall strength. However, the West is a brutal war zone, and that tends to flatten out win totals for the playoff teams. Simply judging by this tends to give a number slightly below what actually ends up happening, and this year looks to be no different. The schedule suggests (through a process that is honestly not interesting enough to warrant much explanation) 49 wins for the Rockets, a number that the record may or may not show me railing against earlier this summer.

There’s more to a team than their schedule, however, and it’s this pile of factors that the Rockets are counting on. Players age, mature, learn, work out, and gel with one another between seasons. Players join and leave, and a team’s fortunes can also be looked at as a comparison between teams. This year’s team must be compared against last year’s, and this team’s progress must be compared against that of their competitors. Which factors do we have, then?

First and foremost: James Harden is getting better. If he hadn’t been playing in the FIBA World Cup of Basketball, this prediction would have been up sooner. Watching what Houston’s most core player (even though I think Dwight Howard gets the team MVP for last year) does on a national stage is important and edifying. He looks better. He still has trouble with help defense and he still can’t stay in front of his man very long if they attack the basket, but he at least consistently gave effort on defense… until a switch happened, in which case things got ugly. He won’t be a defensive weapon any time soon, but he will certainly be better last year, and actually is a serviceable man defender in many cases. His offensive game is lethal and is only getting more effective. When he plays off the ball, scary things happen, and he’s going to keep getting better for years. Fear the Beard, NBA. No matter what your impression of James Harden is, he’s gonna score on you.

The rest of the factors? The growth of the young guys: The Terrences Jones and Troys Daniels of the team. Motiejunas, Canaan, Jones and Daniels all have nowhere to go but up. Kostas Papanikolau and Nick Johnson are unknowns but certainly won’t hurt the team. Johnson in particular looks very promising. The team will also continue to gel. There was some roster turnover, but nowhere near what the team faced over the last two summers.

Losing Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin are all unhappy blows, but of the three of them Parsons’ loss will probably harm the team most. Lin was good but seldom even scraped the surface of his potential in a system that he didn’t mesh with. Asik was largely a non-entity that season, something many people forget. Newcomer Trevor Ariza will replace Parsons in the depth chart, and the jury is very much still out on how much of a loss that is, or even if it’s really a loss at all.

Then there’s the big factor, the hardest variable to account for of all. General manager Daryl Morey has a tendency to rock the boat with trades, and this season isn’t likely to be any different. He always makes a move at the trade deadline, even if it’s just a bench tweak. The plan will, as always, be to acquire an all-star talent. As always, that’s a longshot. Whatever trade the Rockets arrange will likely improve the team, as Houston has no real reason not to be in win-now mode. All of these things account for changes, both good and bad. So how many losses will this nasty off-season cost Houston?

Here’s the shocker: none. With the potential trade factored in, I actually think we can expect the team to have improved slightly, something that’s a little surprising. I give them 55 games based on a comparison to last year. Combined with the 49 from the season, that leaves us with an unsatisfying number: 52 wins. Enough to make the playoffs barring total madness, but probably not enough to grab home court. That’s a fifth seed, maybe a sixth if two of the Grizzlies, Warriors and Mavs have good runs. This season may be a bit of a letdown for Rockets fans in terms of win total, but it’s going to be fun. And perhaps most importantly, these Rockets will have something to prove. Maybe this year they’ll prove it.

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The Red94 Podcast: Episode 56http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-episode-56/14559/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=red94-podcast-episode-56 http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-episode-56/14559/#comments Sun, 14 Sep 2014 23:09:43 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14559 In today’s episode, we picked our team MVP and LVP for 2014. Download this episode (right click and save)

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In today’s episode, we picked our team MVP and LVP for 2014.

Download this episode (right click and save)

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Should the Houston Rockets pursue Eric Bledsoe? Part 3 – Offensehttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-pursue-eric-bledsoe-part-3-offense/14557/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-pursue-eric-bledsoe-part-3-offense http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-pursue-eric-bledsoe-part-3-offense/14557/#comments Wed, 10 Sep 2014 12:42:39 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14557 You can read Part 2 of this series here. Initially, a reader has taken great exception to the fact this discussion (continued on this week’s podcast) has not made mention of Bledsoe’s troubling injury history.  I’ll dissect that matter in the next installment. In Part 2, I compared Eric Bledsoe’s defensive stats with those of [...]

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You can read Part 2 of this series here.

Initially, a reader has taken great exception to the fact this discussion (continued on this week’s podcast) has not made mention of Bledsoe’s troubling injury history.  I’ll dissect that matter in the next installment.

In Part 2, I compared Eric Bledsoe’s defensive stats with those of Pat Beverley’s, concluding the two players were comparable on that end of the floor.  Offense is trickier.  In that assessment, Beverley was a logical starting point because a) he’s the incumbent, but b) he’s elite.  With whom do I compare Bledsoe on offense?  I could do Rondo, under the discussion of trade target preference, but is Rondo the true opportunity cost?  Again, I think the best bet here again is Beverley.  If we understand the degree of disparity between Bledsoe and Beverley on offense, already having concluded similar value defensively, we can gauge Bledsoe’s reasonable market worth.  (I’m fully aware I could just compare him to both Rondo and Beverley, but I don’t have that kind of time).

Here are the numbers:

Bledsoe shoots 47.7% from the field overall, while Beverley shoots just 41.1%.  From three, the two guys are comparable with Bledsoe shooting 36.2% and Beverley shooting 36.4%.  (By the way, this figure needs to go up to 39% for Beverley for the Rockets to comfortably contend with him in the lineup).

In isolation, Bledsoe scored on 41.6% of his tries, while Beverley scored on just 34.5% of his.  It’s nice that Bledsoe can score in isolation, but it also isn’t problematic that Beverley really can’t.

As the pick&roll ball handler, Bledsoe scored on 40.7% of his attempts, while Beverley scored on 47.1% of his.  I found that pretty surprising.  Bledsoe had 215 attempts while Beverley had just 77.

On spot-ups, Bledsoe scored on 46% of his attempts, whereas Beverley scored on 35.5% of his.  Bledsoe ranked 68th in the entire league here.  But again, Bledsoe spotted up just 87 times whereas Beverley spotted 234 times.

Coming off the screen, Bledsoe scored on 41.7% of his attempts, while Beverley scored on 27.3% of his.  Bledsoe had 12 attempts; Beverley had 11.

Off a hand-off, Bledsoe scored on 41.4% of his attempts, while Beverley scored on 43.8%.  26 to 16, Bledsoe-Beverley in total number.

On cuts, Bledsoe scored on 64.3% of his attempts, whereas Beverley scored on 38.5%.  14-13 in attempts.  I would have thought that figure would be much larger.

On offensive rebounds, Bledsoe scored on 56.3% of his attempts, whereas Beverley scored on 61.5% of his.  The number of attempts is 26-16 in favor of Beverley.  Beverley, in fact, ranked 9th in the entire league in efficiency here.

In transition, Bledsoe scored on 54% of his attempts, while Beverley scored on 49.5% of his.  187 to 105 in favor of Bledsoe here, in total number of attempts.

And last of all, for “all other plays”, whatever that means, Bledsoe scored on 37.5% of his 48 attempts, while Beverley scored on 38% of his 50 attempts.

The above data was pulled from Synergy Sports.  I wanted to check out a few other things, so I turned to BasketballReference next

Bledsoe shot 75% last year on 2′s, and 34% on 2′s from between 0-3 feet.

By comparison, Beverley shot just 47% on 2′s and just 20% on 2′s between 0-3 feet.  I had not realized how low this figure was and am actually finding this highly disturbing.

I’m not looking at assists at all because Bledsoe had a USG% of 25; Bledsoe also, obviously, gets to the line more often.

A point of relevance: this is what makes the Rockets great at what they do.  It’s not about having data or having access to data.  It’s about knowing how to properly apply it and draw the right conclusions.  Every person/organization will have a different opinion on which set of figures above holds the greatest relevance.  Whereas I may gloss over the 2% difference in hand-offs, someone else might see that as indicative of something far greater.  And this is how multi-million dollar corporate decisions are made.  At the margins.

Bledsoe’s clearly the superior player offensively, but we already knew that.  Is he $11-$12million better?  Absolutely not.  But that conclusion is skewered when remembering that a) Beverley will hit the market next summer and b) the Rockets have to make an upgrade somewhere, at some point.

Ultimately, I don’t even know what to think.  As I’ve been saying all along, I just wish there was a power forward available out there, because that would make the perfect sense.  If Beverley could just improve his three point shooting slightly, and the Rockets could pick up a veteran power forward upgrade, I think that route would represent the greatest gain.  At the moment, I’m not entirely blown away by Bledsoe.  Having said that, if there are no other alternate avenues for improvement, I would be satisfied with the move.

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The Red94 Podcast: Episode 55http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast/14555/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=red94-podcast http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast/14555/#comments Tue, 09 Sep 2014 11:48:52 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14555 Download this episode (right click and save)

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Houston Rockets’ summer assignment list: Part 5, Kevin McHalehttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-5-kevin-mchale/14554/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-5-kevin-mchale http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-5-kevin-mchale/14554/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 12:52:37 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14554 Management quickly moved to secure head coach Kevin McHale’s seat shortly after the team’s ouster from the postseason in the first round.  I speculated at the time that the move was more a show of cohesion on the public front (with the team very much in the free agent market) rather than an actual show [...]

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Management quickly moved to secure head coach Kevin McHale’s seat shortly after the team’s ouster from the postseason in the first round.  I speculated at the time that the move was more a show of cohesion on the public front (with the team very much in the free agent market) rather than an actual show of confidence in McHale’s abilities.  After all, even national observers scratched their heads collectively over some of Houston’s strategic miscues.  I noted, at times, the team did not even appear to have a gameplan, appearing lost defensively; and there was, of course, the last play of the season.

But to delegate the assignment of “learning to use a clipboard” as McHale’s summer task would be unfairly reductive and an improper commentary upon the head man’s role within the organization.  After all, he’s respected, liked by both his star players, and by all accounts, in ownership of full faith in his lockerroom.  And he brought Dwight Howard to Houston.  Those things are of tremendous value.

I’ve argued, and others have noted, that in today’s NBA, the duty of greatest import for the club’s head man is of leadership.  To that end, McHale, having had the ear of his players still several years in, has exceeded expectations.  That is not a common feat.  A coach should be able to lead and inspire and the former Celtic great has done just that, helping the team navigate the tumultuous waters of the Western Conference.

I’ve come to disagree with the team’s overall on-court philosophy (a gradual process eventually punctuated by this summer’s show in the first round), arguing that the team’s repudiation of the mid-range game was overall harmful to its intended goals.  I’m more firm than ever in my belief over the necessity of set plays.  But these matters are not at the feet of McHale.  The onus is on Daryl Morey to loosen his influence on non-personnel matters.  Above all, management must hire an experienced assistant head coach.  Not much of this has been made, but I’d argue now in hindsight, having concluded the Ariza-Parsons swap was an ultimate net gain, that the loss of Lionel Hollins from what seemed inevitable hiring was the actual second-biggest forfeiture of the offseason.

So what should be on Kevin McHale’s plate in what’s left of these hot months?  Keep doing what you’re doing.  Maybe read some self-help books on motivation.  Keep Dwight Howard happy.  Make up some story about how you and Larry Bird didn’t actually like each other but found a way to bond on the court and feed it to James Harden.

McHale should be lauded for his handling of the circumstances surrounding his tenure.  He knew the situation going in, but he’s handled the unconventional dynamics with nothing but grace.  It’s hard imagining any other legend as decorated as McHale accepting total subordination in his role as he has, and enduring the constant flux of personnel, year to year.  A coach wants to know that the guys he has are the guys he is going to war with – that the chemistry built will be a lasting foundation.  Kevin McHale, day to day, has not known who will be on his roster, with his boss perpetually (and rightfully) holding a glimmering eye towards the next star.

Much of McHale’s value is as a figurehead and recruiter.  I do not think, for instance, Dwight Howard would be in red had the man on the sidelines been 5’9 and spent the 80′s coaching high school rather than partnering with Robert Parish in the Boston paint.  But Kevin Love is gone.  There’s no one left on the market.  The third star will come by way of trade, if it ever comes at all.  If McHale has been retained for recruitment, that value has diminished.

With another disappointing loss in the postseason, the Rockets will have decisions.  They might turn to a more conventional hierarchy.  But for now, McHale needs to stay the course and Morey needs to hire an assistant.

 

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Should the Houston Rockets pursue Eric Bledsoe? Part 2, a defensive comparison to Patrick Beverleyhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-pursue-eric-bledsoe-part-2-defensive-comparison-patrick-beverley/14553/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-pursue-eric-bledsoe-part-2-defensive-comparison-patrick-beverley http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-pursue-eric-bledsoe-part-2-defensive-comparison-patrick-beverley/14553/#comments Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:03:40 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14553 The Eric Bledsoe negotiations continue.  I posed the question last week whether the Rockets should be in pursuit of the free agent guard.  It’s time to look deeper into the numbers.  To begin, Bledsoe’s greatest selling point may be that while he isn’t anywhere near elite offensively, he has developed a reputation as a true [...]

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The Eric Bledsoe negotiations continue.  I posed the question last week whether the Rockets should be in pursuit of the free agent guard.  It’s time to look deeper into the numbers.  To begin, Bledsoe’s greatest selling point may be that while he isn’t anywhere near elite offensively, he has developed a reputation as a true “two-way” player, someone able to provide significantly above average production on both ends of the floor.  Let’s dig in to Bledsoe’s defensive numbers.

The obvious point of comparison here would be Patrick Beverley, the man Bledsoe would be signed to replace in the starting lineup, if acquired.  As is the case with any statistical exploration, take these numbers with a grain of salt as any player’s individual production is inherently linked within the ecosystem of defensive schemes and interactions in which he exists.  Houston ranked 13th in the league last season in defensive efficiency; Phoenix was 15th.

Bledsoe’s man scored on 38.5% of his opportunities against him.  That figure was 39% for Beverley.

In isolation, Bledsoe’s man scored on 45.9% of his tries; Beverley’s man scored just 25.8% of the time, good for 18th in the entire league.  (Bledsoe ranked 208th).

When his man was the pick and roll ball handler, Bledsoe’s man scored on 39.8% of his tries; Beverley’s man scored on 37.9% of his opportunities.

In the post, Bledsoe’s man scored on 64.3% of his opportunities.  Beverley’s man scored on 50% of his tries.  (Keep in mind that in sharing the backcourt with point guard Goran Dragic, Bledsoe also often guarded the opposing shooting guard, depending upon the matchup).

When his man was the roll man in the pick and roll, Bledsoe’s man scored on 40% of his tries; Beverley’s man scored on 63.6% of his tries.  (While this is a high rate of accuracy, the actual numbers were just 7 for 11).

When his man spotted up, Bledsoe’s man scored on 30.6% of his tries; Beverley’s man scored on 43.9%.

When coming off of a screen, Bledsoe’s man scored on 38.9% of his tries, while Beverley’s man scored on 39.6% of his tries.

And lastly, off the hand-off, Bledsoe’s man scored on 30.6% of his tries, while Beverley’s man scored on 39.5% of his tries.

Reviewing the above results, aside from isolation, the two players’ defensive production is rather comparable.  As a side note, while Bledsoe’s man shot 40% against him in isolation, Beverley’s man shot just 26.7% from the floor when isolated.  That’s decadent.

What does all of this mean?  First, Patrick Beverley is a very bad man, especially when presented with an individual matchup sans a pick.  These numbers seem to confirm the observation many readers had previously noted that Beverley’s biggest (or more actually, sole) weakness is pick and roll coverage.  He often gets over-aggressive and can get lost against complex schemes.

This raises the statement: why pay Bledsoe all that money when Beverley is already putting up similar, slightly better defensive production?  Because if we’ve concluded Beverley is elite (maybe the best in the league?), what does it say about Bledsoe that his numbers are just as good?  Further, what does it say about Bledsoe that his defensive production is on par with Beverley but he provides offense as well?  (On the flip side, how much weight do we want to give to the isolation disparity?)

How much can these numbers be trusted?  For various reasons, I’ve refrained from including RAPM in this analysis.  These figures from Synergy are as close a thing to isolating metrics as are publicly available.  But as previously stated, the dust of team performance still remains.  Beverley had Dwight Howard behind him while Bledsoe had Plumlee and the freaking Morris twins.  On the other hand, Beverley was often concerned with containing Harden’s man as well, while Bledsoe shared the court with a similarly committed partner in Goran Dragic.  But then on the other hand, Phoenix has a coaching staff, while Houston didn’t seem to ever even practice.  But back on the other hand, Beverley’s entire focus was on the defensive end whereas Bledsoe was relied upon to shoulder a significant chunk of the offense.

Lastly, how significant is that isolation disparity as a factor of the overall production?  What does it tell us?  It means if they are facing an opponent one-on-one, Eric Bledsoe’s man is far, far, far likelier to score against him than Pat Beverley’s.  But if their men are still scoring at nearly the exact same rate (38.5% for Bledsoe, 39% for Beverley; 39.9% from the field for Bledsoe, 40.7% for Beverley), does that matter?  A good team like, say, all of the Western Conference, can scheme to get a guy a screen so he isn’t on an island.  But it must be of some comfort to know that if a particular player is guarding a player in isolation, that opposing player will not score, as is the case with Beverley.

A final note: Damian Lillard’s performance against Beverley in the playoffs is not an accurate indicator of Beverley’s abilities, so please don’t use that in this discussion.  There is a drastic difference between being medically cleared to play and being at sufficient performance level, much less peak performance level.  Being medically cleared to play basketball just means that the doctors have determined that if you play, you aren’t at risk of further injuring yourself.  At that point, it is up to you and your coaches to determine whether you can withstand the pain and whether your performance is not detrimental to the team.  This is a far cry from being in proper condition to compete against the best athletes of the world.

In the next installment, we’ll look at what Bledsoe provides offensively.

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Houston Rockets’ summer assignment list: Part 4, Terrence Joneshttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-4-terrence-jones/14551/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-4-terrence-jones http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-4-terrence-jones/14551/#comments Wed, 03 Sep 2014 12:57:14 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14551 Terrence Jones last year, in his first regular stint of playing time, at just 22 years of age, put up twelve points and seven rebounds per game on 54% shooting from the field.  Per 36 minutes, that already impressive production stretches out to a meaty 16 and 9.  Despite my criticisms, this is a chip. [...]

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Terrence Jones last year, in his first regular stint of playing time, at just 22 years of age, put up twelve points and seven rebounds per game on 54% shooting from the field.  Per 36 minutes, that already impressive production stretches out to a meaty 16 and 9.  Despite my criticisms, this is a chip.

In many ways, Jones was the very symbol of the Rockets’ 2013-2014 campaign.  It was Jones’ insertion into the starting lineup, in place of the plodding Omer Asik, that catapulted Houston into the upper echelon of offensive units, his cuts to the rim and overall deft finishing ability (72% on close field goals) providing Dwight Howard and James Harden the room they needed to operate.  It was Jones’ steady play that allowed Daryl Morey to hold his hand at the deadline rather than cash in on one of the unflattering Asik deals on the market, and it was Jones’ play, perhaps, that kept Morey from overpaying for the veteran he probably needed.  In the playoffs, Jones’ position was the difference where he had no business sharing the court with forward LaMarcus Aldridge – the team had no choice but to play Asik and Howard in concert, simply to keep Aldridge, relatively speaking, at bay.

I argued at last season’s trade deadline that entering the postseason without a veteran starting power forward would be the cause of the Rockets’ demise.  We don’t know if a deal was available, but looking back, I think that statement was true.  (Understand that I’m not criticizing the Rockets.  A deal simply may not have been available.  But the point is that, regardless of whether anyone was there to be had, this was the team’s biggest weakness).  Holding off on a deal, if one was there to be had, is what also set them up to pursue Chris Bosh.  In hindsight, that now, of course, is a moot point.  With how things played out, however, had I told you Houston would have struck out on every major free agent this summer, you would have gladly sent a package of Omer Asik and Terrence Jones to Atlanta for Paul Millsap at last year’s deadline, if that deal had been available.

After failing to upgrade the position, the team now enters next year, Dwight Howard’s 29th living on this planet, with Jones as the incumbent starter.  That’s troubling, in ways unfair to Jones.  In a vacuum, he’s a tantalizing prospect.  A full-sized (sort-of) power forward with plus athleticism and elite ball-handling for the position.  And most impressive of all, he’s done it!  As mentioned in the preamble, at just 22, the kid put up 12 and 7 in helping a sort-of contender into the thick of the playoff standings.  That’s significant and one wonders how the market may view him.  This writer, certainly, has honed in on his flaws on this very page and on Twitter.  But Jones’ production will increase simply through the dictates of age, even without further skill development; the defensive missteps will be fewer in number with increased exposure.

But does Houston–does Howard–have time to wait?  Typical of my scientific approach to all things, I threw a dart and chose Dirk Nowitzki randomly as a fair defensive comparison of a Western Conference foe.  (Choosing the likes of Ibaka, Splitter, Griffin, or Aldridge would not be very fair).  Overall, Jones’ man scored 41% of the time on Jones (in comparison to 36% against Nowitzki), 38 to 32 in isolation, 46 to 37 in post-ups, and 54 to 23 off screens.  And this is with Dwight Howard and Omer Asik providing weakside help as opposed to the hapless Samuel Dalembert.  (To Jones’ credit, when his opponent was the roll man in the P&R, he scored just 36% of the time, compared to 50% for Dirk’s opponent.  Jones’ ability to hedge and switch quickly on the perimeter may have been one of McHale’s early reasons for thrusting Jones into the lineup.  That and the fact the team was scoring like 13 points per 100 possessions with Asik).

In the loaded Western Conference, already at an offensive disadvantage, can the Rockets really afford inferior defensive production at the margins?  One has to hope that a summer in the weight room and increased focus leads to improvement on the important end for Jones.  Either that or the (unlikely) trade for the veteran.

One might argue that any offensive improvements would be gravy, but that would not entirely be accurate.  One theory behind Dwight Howard’s struggles against the Clippers and Thunder (perhaps Houston’s two most important foes) was that in not fearing Jones, the two teams were able to snuff out Howard in the paint.  While shooting 58% overall on 2′s, the Kentucky forward shot under 40% from mid-range, and just 30% on 3′s.  If already closing off the lane, and not respecting him from deep, those teams did not need to account for Jones.  (Jones did score a sparkling 70% of the time off cuts, leading one to make the brilliant conclusion those better teams rotated more crisply on the interior than the Milwaukee Bucks of the world).

In a perfect world, I would have locked Terrence Jones in a basement this summer with nothing but a DVR of Carl Landry’s second season.  In all my years following this team, I’ve never seen a player make a more significant leap in skill development from one year to the next than Landry following his rookie campaign.  Having lost the athleticism upon which he originally relied, due to various leg injuries and a gunshot wound (!!), Landry came back in year 2 with an assortment of dribble face-up moves and mid-range potency.  Jones, similarly sized, and with similar ability to dribble, would make a good mold.  But his release is so awkward and slow–essentially an overhead slingshot–that one has a tough time envisioning him developing as a plausible midrange threat.  For that to happen, he’d have to reshape his form, and that rarely ever happens in the NBA.

The short story is that the Rockets probably need an upgrade here to seriously contend.  But with few options left on the market, Houston had better hope that Jones continues to mature.  He will improve, but will it be enough?

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The Red94 Podcast: On the Jason Terry trade and Rajon Rondo speculationhttp://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-jason-terry-trade-rajon-rondo-speculation/14550/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=red94-podcast-jason-terry-trade-rajon-rondo-speculation http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-jason-terry-trade-rajon-rondo-speculation/14550/#comments Tue, 02 Sep 2014 02:33:12 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14550 In today’s episode, Forrest Walker and I broke down the trade that brought Jason Terry to the Rockets and also discussed the speculation surrounding Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo. Download this episode (right click and save)

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In today’s episode, Forrest Walker and I broke down the trade that brought Jason Terry to the Rockets and also discussed the speculation surrounding Boston Celtics guard Rajon Rondo.


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Should the Houston Rockets pursue Eric Bledsoe? Part 1http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-pursue-eric-bledsoe-part-1/14545/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-pursue-eric-bledsoe-part-1 http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-pursue-eric-bledsoe-part-1/14545/#comments Tue, 26 Aug 2014 13:23:14 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14545 There is one sole impact free agent remaining on the market and subsequently mentions of his name fill my timeline regularly with readers inquiring as to both the feasibility and advisability of an acquisition of said player.  I’m speaking of course, of Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe who has yet to reach terms with his [...]

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There is one sole impact free agent remaining on the market and subsequently mentions of his name fill my timeline regularly with readers inquiring as to both the feasibility and advisability of an acquisition of said player.  I’m speaking of course, of Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe who has yet to reach terms with his incumbent suitor, staring a potential qualifying offer in the eye.  If the Rockets were to roll the dice, the feat would require a sign&trade with Houston jettisoning the glut of non-guaranteed contracts they’ve been hoarding over the past month.  In fact, a deal like this is specifically why Daryl Morey has moved quickly on so many unconventional agreements.

But would Bledsoe be a smart play?  This series seeks to ascertain the answer to that very question.  (I am aware the ‘summer assignment’ series has not reached its natural conclusion, but the final installment–regarding Terrence Jones–is rather lengthy, as you’d imagine).  One caveat: please do not link or tweet to this post/series in sourcing Houston interest in Bledsoe.  This post is intended as pure speculation and due diligent prior analysis in the event of a forthcoming deal; I do not have any information on this front nor have I heard anything.  So please don’t do that or I will be very irritated and will write angry tweets.

To begin, the initial point of this discussion is Patrick Beverley, the incumbent starter at point guard.  I’ve lamented that one of the most unfortunate consequences from the loss of Chris Bosh is the shattered hope of absolute roster parity.  In essence, in acquiring a star power forward, the Houston lineup would have had no weaknesses.  With only point guard targets remaining as realistic (Rajon Rondo, Bledsoe, etc.), and a gaping hole at power forward (summer assignment: Terrence Jones, coming soon), that dream is gone.  The Rockets would need to rob Peter to pay Paul in trying to improve, upgrading from a very capable player in Beverley while not addressing their achilles heel.  But what is Daryl Morey to do?  They let Parsons go for the sole reason of future improvement.

Using Synergy, I’ll examine Bledsoe’s offensive and defensive proficiencies, in certain categories, in the later posts.  Initially, however, I’m curious as to how Daryl Morey views Bledsoe’s ultimate trajectory.  Is this another James Harden situation?  Probably not nearly to the same degree (Harden is, after all, the league’s best all-around player), but perhaps Bledsoe is still just scratching the surface of what he can become.  Last season’s breakout would seem to be indicative of that point.  Will he keep growing?  And lastly, and most importantly, is a Harden/Howard/Bledsoe core sufficient?  The predicate of everything that happened this entire offseason was the premise that whoever the last guy is, Chandler Parsons or whomever, that last guy is really the last guy, for the duration of the Howard era.  Is Daryl Morey comfortable with Eric Bledsoe being that person?

 

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The Red94 Podcast: Episode 53http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-episode-53/14541/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=red94-podcast-episode-53 http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-episode-53/14541/#comments Sun, 24 Aug 2014 17:07:46 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14541 In today’s episode, Forrest Walker and I discuss James Harden’s proclamation that he himself is the best all-around player in the NBA. Download this episode (right click and save)

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In today’s episode, Forrest Walker and I discuss James Harden’s proclamation that he himself is the best all-around player in the NBA.


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On James Harden and Team USAhttp://www.red94.net/james-harden-team-usa/14539/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=james-harden-team-usa http://www.red94.net/james-harden-team-usa/14539/#comments Fri, 22 Aug 2014 12:58:06 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14539 Surely you’ve heard by now that James Harden declared himself to be the best all-around player in the game, some days ago.  Much has been made of the comment, but I personally don’t see a problem.  Obviously, the statement isn’t factually correct, but what does it matter?  I want my best player to exude confidence.  That’s [...]

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Surely you’ve heard by now that James Harden declared himself to be the best all-around player in the game, some days ago.  Much has been made of the comment, but I personally don’t see a problem.  Obviously, the statement isn’t factually correct, but what does it matter?  I want my best player to exude confidence.  That’s a far more preferable scenario than the one in which the early 2000′s Kings found themselves when their star player, Chris Webber, literally ran away from the ball late in games, deferring to Mike Bibby.  You could counter this shows a lack of self-awareness, but I’d offer that maybe this means higher expectations.

But anyways, of greater personal interest were Coach K’s comments about Harden’s leadership with Team USA.  Maybe they’re true?  Maybe they’re a motivating technique?  (Remember how Jeff Van Gundy would routinely praise Kelvin Cato?)  In any event, as I’ve been saying for some time now, the experience this summer can only be a good thing for James.  When Kevin Durant pulled out from the team, I’ll be honest: I secretly hoped Harden would as well.  Seeing Paul George take the spill he did left a lasting impression, and it has not been fun holding my breath afterward every time Harden has driven the lane.  But players can get hurt anywhere.  True, the basket support was directly contributory in George’s case, but you can land awkwardly on the blacktop at Rucker as well.

Durant leaving was sort of a blessing.  Remember the stories about Lebron James getting to see how hard Kobe Bryant worked day in and day out after their summer together?  That wasn’t going to happen here as Harden and Durant are already familiar.  But now, Harden is establishing himself as the go-to player on a team comprised of some of the best in the world.  And he’s learning the way to win under a coach he purportedly respects.  This overall experience, and the confidence borne from it, can be nothing but positive.

If Harden comes back focused, transformed, maybe that’s better than any transaction Morey could have made.  He looks much trimmer in these games.  And as I noted earlier in the week, Dwight Howard already seems locked in.

We’ve been focusing on the personnel game for some years now.  But player transformation has been the traditional path to success.  Hakeem finding inner peace and trust in his teammates.  Lebron reinventing his game.  Harden can be the second best player in this conference.  If he puts in work on the defensive end, he will be.

To date, I like what I’m seeing thus far.  If you asked me now, I’m expecting a big year.

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The Morey Fallacyhttp://www.red94.net/morey-fallacy/14538/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=morey-fallacy http://www.red94.net/morey-fallacy/14538/#comments Thu, 21 Aug 2014 13:04:40 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14538 I would have been much better served writing this post back in July when the topic was fresh and relevant.  But I didn’t, so now will have to do. In the days following the apex of Houston’s disastrous summer, when the team lost Chandler Parsons after striking out on every major free agent, the critics [...]

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I would have been much better served writing this post back in July when the topic was fresh and relevant.  But I didn’t, so now will have to do.

In the days following the apex of Houston’s disastrous summer, when the team lost Chandler Parsons after striking out on every major free agent, the critics came out in waves, celebrating Morey’s plight.  Some of the assertions made were true.  Many were regurgitated, the same things that had been said before the Rockets’ coup of James Harden and Dwight Howard in subsequent summers.  One critique of Morey, in particular, has consistently been levied throughout his tenure.

It’s said often that the Rockets’ general manager does not value, or does not understand the importance of chemistry.  This charge usually is made in hand with the one that claims he is far too active on the trade front.  Not only is this premise inaccurate, it is based on an unwarranted assumption.

The thinking goes like this: because Morey makes so many deals, he must necessarily be overlooking the importance of team chemistry.  If Morey gave proper worth to chemistry, and just let his teams grow, he’d see that they’d improve on their own.  ”How can these teams ever grow if he just keeps making moves every year?”

What the critics are overlooking is the ceiling analysis.  I’ve used this analogy before and its more apt than ever: if I and four of my readers formed a team, just by staying together, we’d inherently improve over time.  We’d learn each other’s tendencies, we’d gain cohesion.  We’d ‘build chemistry,’ as they say it.  But that doesn’t mean this Red94 team would ever win an NBA title.  Why?  Because the ceiling is limited.  The five of us don’t have the size and talent to compete in the NBA.  What’s the lesson here?  Just because something can or will improve doesn’t mean it’s a goal worth pursuing.  You have to look at the probability of achieving the end result.

For the Rockets, Morey keeps blowing up his roster because he doesn’t see championship upside in any of them.  That Kyle Lowry-Chuck Hayes-Luis Scola team would probably be better this year than it was back then, had we kept it together.  But what would be the point?  They weren’t winning the title.

Now the question of whether a team of Howard/Harden/Parsons could ever win the title is subject for debate.  But if Morey has made that determination that that team can’t ever win it all, then it only logically follows that he blow it up.  If he keeps it together, he’s only wasting time.  Several of you will possibly misconstrue this point, so I’ll reiterate: the Howard/Harden/Parsons trio very well might be good enough to win a title.  But in Morey’s opinion, it is not.  Because he chose to blow that team up doesn’t mean he doesn’t value chemistry.  He blew it up because he made the determination that team’s ceiling wasn’t high enough.

The goal for Houston was to put together a team that had a championship ceiling.  Had they gotten Bosh, they would’ve stopped tinkering.  But Houston’s current course is not about an improper appraisal of chemistry.  To say otherwise is incorrect and a misunderstanding of Morey’s thinking.

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Houston Rockets’ summer assignment list: Part 3, Dwight Howardhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-3-dwight-howard/14530/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-3-dwight-howard http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-3-dwight-howard/14530/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 12:26:01 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14530 Many of you were very upset by my characterization of James Harden in my last installment of this series.  There, I said that in Harden, “I [saw] a player who is selfish and not as committed to the team and winning as he is to himself.”  I stand by those comments and by that opinion. Dwight Howard [...]

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Many of you were very upset by my characterization of James Harden in my last installment of this series.  There, I said that in Harden, “I [saw] a player who is selfish and not as committed to the team and winning as he is to himself.”  I stand by those comments and by that opinion. Dwight Howard is another matter altogether. To begin, Howard put any doubts to rest last season over whether he was worth the maximum contract to which he was signed.  More than just his dominance in the playoffs, he exhibited a newfound sense of maturity that would seem to bode well for the future. But for purposes of this series, what is Dwight Howard’s summer assignment?By some measures, as was chronicled on this very blog by Richard Li, Dwight Howard post-ups were the Rockets’ most inefficient play last season.  At the same time, the stretch of games where the Rockets’ center looked closer to his mentor than not was undeniable.  Howard also basically ate Robin Lopez for lunch in the postseason.  I’m not sure what to think.

Many have said they hope Howard carries the momentum of his playoff performance into next season.  I’ve countered, asserting that predication of an overall ability assessment of Howard upon the Portland series would be flawed – they were the single best matchup for him out of the seven other playoff teams.  As a representative sample of the opposite extreme, I’d point to his play against the Thunder and Clippers.  The argument then usually goes that those teams’ success against Howard is more an indictment of Terrence Jones (in those teams’ strategy to shift full attention to Howard, off of Jones).  I’d then counter that those two teams are the only opponents who really matter, for the long haul, and for now, it doesn’t look like a power forward upgrade is on the way.

Howard is what he is, at this point.  I can’t expect him to drop 35 and 15 on those conference rivals.  But as I mentioned, the development we saw last season was staggering.  He looked like Olajuwon at times, and I mean that seriously.  The footwork rapidly improved and the touch even softened.  Can he keep molding his post-game and sustaining his dominance for longer stretches of the year?  That would be miraculous, and would lengthen the team’s window.  But it’s house money, and I’m not holding my breath.

What Howard gives us right now is more than enough and it puts us in the conversation.  Further skill development would be great, but its not really a priority or something this team needs to win.  All I hope, regarding Dwight Howard, is that he continues recovering from the back surgery and maintains a high level of health.  Without him, there’s no chance.

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Taking a look at the schedulehttp://www.red94.net/taking-look-schedule/14533/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taking-look-schedule http://www.red94.net/taking-look-schedule/14533/#comments Wed, 20 Aug 2014 07:45:18 +0000 Forrest Walker http://www.red94.net/?p=14533 The one interesting thing in August has happened: the NBA schedule was released last week. Now that we all have the full schedule at our fingertips, it’s time to take a look at Houston’s slate of games and check for items of note. There are always peculiarities to the schedule each year, and this one [...]

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The one interesting thing in August has happened: the NBA schedule was released last week. Now that we all have the full schedule at our fingertips, it’s time to take a look at Houston’s slate of games and check for items of note. There are always peculiarities to the schedule each year, and this one is no different. Back to backs are back, the Mavs are in for a nasty surprise, and there’s a surprise that’s not so surprising.

How many back to backs are there in this schedule? That’s a good question and it’s one of the first ones people ask. This year there are twenty sets of them for Houston, a fairly unremarkable number. They have nineteen games against teams on the second night of a back to back, so it’s not a huge factor. There are two instances of four games in five nights, one right before the All-Star Break (with another back to back immediately after the break) with another four in five spanning the end of March and the beginning of April.

What this means for Houston is that they won’t be particularly fatigued. The first year of Harden, the 2012-2013 season, contained a horrifying gauntlet of back to back and four in fives, something that really put a damper on the team at the end of the calendar year. This year, like the 2013-2014 season, is lighter on the endurance trials, something the Rockets should be relatively thankful for.

The Dallas Mavericks, however, are getting the opposite of a Christmas present from Houston. As division rivals, the two teams square off four times. The new and improved Mavs get four shots to exact revenge for Chandler Parsons against his old team… except that they’re on the tail end of a back to back every time. The Rockets are also on the second night of a back to back… the last time. The previous three, Houston will have the endurance advantage every time. That’s good news for a team that needs every advantage they can get in a brutal division. On a related note, two of Houston’s meetings with San Antonio come on the second day of a back to back for the Spurs.

The biggest non surprise is that the Rockets’ schedule starts out nasty, as always. The period before the All-Star Break is noticeably tougher than the period after, which features a lot fewer second-round teams. November may be a smooth start, but December and February in particular look to be unpleasant stretches of road for a Rockets team hoping to prove the world wrong.

Next time we’ll look at what the schedule means for Houston’s win-loss record, and I’ll give the best predictions I can. The numbers might surprise you, just like whatever insane trade Daryl Morey’s lining up will.

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The Red94 Podcast: The most boring episode so farhttp://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-boring-episode-far/14531/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=red94-podcast-boring-episode-far http://www.red94.net/red94-podcast-boring-episode-far/14531/#comments Mon, 18 Aug 2014 02:18:58 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14531 Today’s was one of the more underwhelming episodes we’ve had in some time, with not much going on, but we did discuss the impact the Team USA experience might have on James Harden.  Also, you know how when the battery in a fire alarm gets close to dying and so the alarm keeps beeping intermittently? [...]

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Today’s was one of the more underwhelming episodes we’ve had in some time, with not much going on, but we did discuss the impact the Team USA experience might have on James Harden.  Also, you know how when the battery in a fire alarm gets close to dying and so the alarm keeps beeping intermittently?  Yeah, that is going on right now in my apartment, where this was recorded.

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On contentionhttp://www.red94.net/contention/14528/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=contention http://www.red94.net/contention/14528/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 18:27:53 +0000 Forrest Walker http://www.red94.net/?p=14528 There are about four questions that people ask over the course of the NBA season. “How does he compare to Jordan” is probably number one, asked about seemingly half the league, with “Will this team make the playoffs soon” at a close number two. The last two, in no particular order are “Will this player [...]

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There are about four questions that people ask over the course of the NBA season. “How does he compare to Jordan” is probably number one, asked about seemingly half the league, with “Will this team make the playoffs soon” at a close number two. The last two, in no particular order are “Will this player get traded” and “Is this team a contender.” Well, Houston’s more or less a playoff lock now, nobody on the team is comparable to Jordan, and everyone is always on the trading block, so that leaves the last question to burn in the minds of Rockets fans. But what makes a contender in the first place? What’s the rubric there, and how do we use it to judge Houston?

To jump to the end a bit, the answer is no. The Rockets aren’t a true contender. (They could potentially win it all but it would take a few major things to swing their way. Some people call these teams “sub-contenders.”) They were in the same boat last year, and probably aren’t greatly different in terms of overall team strength. They’ve changed out parts but what they haven’t changed out are the pieces that a team needs to win it all: stars, elite coaching and cohesive, skilled role-players.

Do you want to know my theory of what makes a true contender? Probably you do, or you’d have stopped reading by now. I briefly outlined it in a recent podcast, and it’s worth a longer look. It’s really a simple mathematical equation. You need at least three points. Star level players are worth one point each. An elite coach and an elite supporting cast are each worth one point each. The math is really that simple. The process of getting those three points, of course, is anything but.

The Rockets, as with a number of teams, are stuck at two points. Those two points are James Harden and Dwight Howard. The supporting cast last season was quite good, but not on the same level as the clockwork that was the San Antonio Spurs or the blue collar perfection of the Pacers (when they were good). That cause was also hindered by not having an elite coach. Kevin McHale isn’t elite. In fact, he was so loathe to use his bench depth that he may have pulled the Rockets back from contention a bit.

This explains why the Spurs are always right there: Tony Parker is a legitimate star, even if Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan have slid a bit. Gregg Popovich is a top three NBA coach of all time, and their supporting case is like alien technology so advanced that it seems like magic. Heck, with Tim playing like a star, the Spurs may have achieved the elusive four-star team, which is basically unstoppable. Oh, and look what happened. The Heat, with their three stars initially, bulldozed their way in. It’s largely overlooked, but Erik Spoelstra evolved into an elite coach for that team as Dwyane Wade faded.

The most frightening thing about this metric is that it paints the Dallas Mavericks as potential contenders. Dirk is probably still a star, Rick Carlisle is a top three coach right now, and their supporting cast might be great. If any year has looked like a potential repeat of 2011 for Dallas, it’s this season. It’ll be a roll of the dice, but if Dirk and the role players click particularly well, Houston could have a realistic shot at the conference finals and still end up being the worst team in Texas.

Houston has a similar hope to Dallas, which is that the role players just get it. It’s possible, especially given the number of prospects Houston is bringing in. (And that like Dallas, the coaching won’t be improving… but for different reasons) There are more veterans, too, like Trevor Ariza, who will somehow be a boon to the team, despite some hard feelings from last time he wore Rockets red. General manager Daryl Morey is surely planning a trade this season, and the main question is whether he’ll land that elusive third star or upgrade the supporting cast into an elite squad. Either way, Houston wants that third point this season, and they might just get it. If we’re really lucky, this might be the year we get to see the Rockets lose later than the first round.

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Houston Rockets’ summer assignment list: Part 2, James Hardenhttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-2-james-harden/14525/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-2-james-harden http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-2-james-harden/14525/#comments Tue, 12 Aug 2014 12:53:30 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14525 Read Part 1 where I discussed Pat Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas, and Trevor Ariza. James Harden:  First, the obvious – Harden needs to show commitment on the defensive end.  It’s simple, really.  This team doesn’t have a chance until its star player brings consistent effort on both sides of the ball, though the Parsons/Ariza swap should [...]

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Read Part 1 where I discussed Pat Beverley, Donatas Motiejunas, and Trevor Ariza.

James Harden:  First, the obvious – Harden needs to show commitment on the defensive end.  It’s simple, really.  This team doesn’t have a chance until its star player brings consistent effort on both sides of the ball, though the Parsons/Ariza swap should mitigate the problem and increase their odds.  As I told a reader last week, when asked my thoughts regarding the reports of Harden’s defense with Team USA, it’s not an issue of ability with The Beard.  It’s the same “too cool for school” mentality that you see so prevalently in any pickup game amongst amateurs.  Certain people think they’re just too cool, or too good to try defensively, and that they can just get the points back on the other end.  Odd considering how much the defensive greatness of Michael Jordan and Lebron James, the two best players of the last thirty years, is lauded and pointed out.

Wrongly or not, Harden has quickly become the most hated superstar in the league, after experiencing a brief honeymoon as a fledgling darling during his first year with the team.  His recent comments regarding his ‘mates added fuel to the fire and of even more recent relevance, the clarification that he and Howard actually do eat with the team saved the row from reaching outright unbearable levels.  Is he aware of the perception?  Does he know that the ten minute production highlighting his unwillingness went more viral than anything Jenna Jameson ever produced?  One wonders why, at the least, such public shame and notoriety hasn’t nudged him to bend his back.

When the deal was made with the Thunder, what now seems like eons ago, some reports surfaced of Harden’s selfishness – that he didn’t fit the “culture” in Oklahoma City.  One story went that shortly after a loss in the Finals, Harden grumbled in the lockerroom over his lack of touches.  At the time, we brushed it all aside, and rightfully so.  As I’ll expound upon later, none of those things should’ve been seen as alarming enough to not make the trade.  But looking back, I see the truth.  Watching this past season, watching James Harden, I see a player who is selfish and not as committed to the team and winning as he is to himself.   You see how he is completely out of shape, huffing and puffing late into games when needing to guard an active wing; you see his disinterestedness in the huddles; and worst of all, you see the body language when things don’t go his way.  When he essentially quit on this team in an overtime loss to Portland in round 1, after Kevin McHale made the call to ride Dwight Howard to the finish line, I remarked that I had never seen anything like it in twenty years as a Rockets fan.  In hindsight, its even more alarming looking back.

Some of you have no doubt recoiled in disbelief over my criticism of Harden.  A reader asked earlier in the year, “why are you trying to run James Harden out of town?”  That’s a pretty simplistic worldview.  You can criticize, but still be supportive.  And more importantly, I don’t suggest these issues are irredeemable or mean he’s fatally flawed.  Harden is still just 25 and there are countless examples of selfishness exhibited by some of the all-time greats.  Remember Scottie Pippen refusing to enter a game after Phil Jackson drew up the last play for Toni Kukoc?  Remember Kobe’s entire career?  Selfishness isn’t prohibitive to winning.  The distinction though, is that those guys consistently brought it at both ends, at least in the postseason.  As has been beaten to death, that’s something that James Harden has yet to do.

Harden is one of the four or five most brilliant offensive players in basketball.  With age, and a style of play nondependent upon athleticism, I expect him to only get better.  His skill level will improve, as is the case with elite wings.  The footwork, already at a high level, will become even more fine-tuned.  The stepbacks from the midrange will become more lethal from different areas, and hopefully more encouraged from the front office as well.  We saw a post game in spots, and that too, hopefully will be built upon.  Might as well put that extra girth to use.

Harden’s offense will be there.  And his attitude towards his teammates may never change.  But that’s ok.  For Harden, the only thing that matters, the only thing standing in his path to realizing full potential, and this team’s full potential, is full commitment on the defensive end.  He’s talked the talk for some time, but will he finally walk the walk?

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Houston Rockets’ summer assignment list: Part 1http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-1/14521/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-1 http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-summer-assignment-list-part-1/14521/#comments Wed, 06 Aug 2014 13:07:18 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14521 The summer before I began third grade, my mother resolved to teach me multiplication before commencement of classes.  I taped the entire ‘times tables’ onto my closet door, every morning drilling through the combinations.  By early August, I had them down cold.  I finished the year with something like a ’99′ average in ‘math’, more [...]

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The summer before I began third grade, my mother resolved to teach me multiplication before commencement of classes.  I taped the entire ‘times tables’ onto my closet door, every morning drilling through the combinations.  By early August, I had them down cold.  I finished the year with something like a ’99′ average in ‘math’, more importantly developing a reputation as a ‘times’ assassin amongst my peers.  We’d play a game in ‘math’–the name escapes me–where all of the students sat in a circle, with one standing up behind someone else.  The pair would battle, getting a multiplication question, with the winner advancing to the next pairing.  I’d absolutely kill it.  9×9.  Boom.  81.  6×5.  Boom.  30.  They didn’t have a chance.  My self esteem was soaring.

Looking back, my mother and I never did this again in any other summer and consequently, I never again enjoyed such a head start over my classmates.  My mother will tell you it was obstinance on my part.  But I wonder what made me so driven that one year.  The point of this story was to attempt to tie in the larger moral that success is built in the heat of July, or something poetic like that.  For NBA players, the greats always come back one notch better having added a new move in their spare time.  The middle class works on flaws, hoping to either take the next step or not get swallowed up by the most competitive labor force in America.

I got to thinking yesterday about what each player on this team should be focusing on this offseason and decided to write this post.  It made sense because there’s only like six players I need to write about.  So here it goes:

Patrick Beverley:  What hurts about the Bosh thing is that it represented resource efficiency.  A simple massive upgrade at the team’s weakest spot.  No robbing Peter to pay Paul.  But all of these other scenarios being tossed about–the likes of Rondo, Dragic, Bledsoe–involve relinquishing assets to improve an area where there really isn’t that much need.  You can win a title with Patrick Beverley as your starting point guard.  As things stand, I’m not entirely sure the same can be said about Terrence Jones.

I made the argument a few weeks ago that Beverley was basically the ideal fit next to Harden.  He protects the ball, manages the game, rebounds, shoots threes, and when he doesn’t have torn ligaments in his leg, is a terror defensively.  (Don’t let Lillard’s output in the first round fool you: it’s not easy moving around on a messed up leg, even if you’ve been cleared to play by the medical staff.  NBA players represent the very cream of the athletic crop.  Every split second, or nanosecond, matters, and when one loses even the slightest bit of reaction time, unlike the case with amateurs, performance can drop off drastically).  Several of you scoffed.  While I stand firm, there is no doubt some validity to the counter sentiment.  How many times last year did the Rockets seem to close out the game with James Harden and four scrubs?  Beverley will never be a player who can attack the rim – while he has the handles and quickness, like his forebear Rafer Alston, he just doesn’t have the body strength to finish near the rim.  What he can do is make himself into a better three point shooter.  Last year he shot 36% from deep, and for a guy whose only job on offense is to hand the ball off to James Harden and stand in the corner, that’s not acceptable.  That number needs to go up to around 39%.  The form could stand to improve.  A few on Twitter scoffed when I brought this up, but its a a very slight subtlety.  Beverley’s wrist doesn’t seem completely taut on the release, introducing variability to the mechanics.  If he could fix this, I think the results would improve, but of course, that won’t happen – NBA players very rarely put in the work to alter their form.

Trevor Ariza:  Trevor Ariza needs to burn every tape of the 2009-2010 season, destroying with it any preconceived notions that his role this time around will be anywhere similar.  Also, he needs to try to somehow hypnotize himself into thinking this is a contract year.  If Ariza duplicates his production from last season, it will be all Houston could have asked for.

Donatas Motiejunas:  I’m not really sure what he can do.  The guy improved drastically upon his biggest weaknesses–defense and rebounding–and still couldn’t get consistent burn.  Maybe he should just work on his people skills and find a way into Kevin McHale’s good graces.  Motiejunas could stand to add more arc onto that flat jumpshot, but as I said earlier, that won’t happen.  The range people had been raving about since before D-Mo was drafted hasn’t really paid off, primarily I think due to the flawed form.  Overall, he just needs to keep his head up and keep trying.  Skill-wise, there is not really much to improve upon.  His problems are that he fouls too much and doesn’t see consistent playing time, with the former being a factor of the latter, I’d argue.  It was a numbers game last year, but with Asik gone this time around, this is Motiejunas’ last chance.  He either breaks through, or that’s it for his Houston Rockets’ career.  In all likelihood, the 7-footer doesn’t pan out, and that’s really a shame.

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On Injuryhttp://www.red94.net/injury/14520/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=injury http://www.red94.net/injury/14520/#comments Tue, 05 Aug 2014 15:44:25 +0000 Forrest Walker http://www.red94.net/?p=14520 Injuries are a part of life in the NBA. In fact, injuries are part of any professional sport, and there’s no way to prevent them completely. The latest example of a horrible freak injury in the NBA sphere was the gruesome and tragic leg injury suffered by Paul George at the end of a Team [...]

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Injuries are a part of life in the NBA. In fact, injuries are part of any professional sport, and there’s no way to prevent them completely. The latest example of a horrible freak injury in the NBA sphere was the gruesome and tragic leg injury suffered by Paul George at the end of a Team USA scrimmage. “Leg injury” is extremely euphemistic for the severity of the break he suffered just above the ankle, but my recommendation is to avoid watching footage of it and just leave it at that. It’s a horrible injury, it was a freak accident, he’s already begun the recovery process, and the sooner he heals, the better.

This injury brings up an important topic, which is the reaction to and planning for freak injuries like this. Debates over stanchion placement aside, there’s not a lot of blame to go around, here. It’s normal to want to find the culprit, to rectify the wrong. The only problem is that in the case of most injuries, there’s no such party. Much is being made of this injury changing the way NBA teams and players interact with FIBA, but really this changes nothing. There was a tiny chance a player might get seriously hurt playing basketball anywhere, and those chances haven’t changed. The only difference is that now people can see the difference between a tiny chance and no chance at all.

The Houston Rockets have had their share of injuries in recent memory, spanning from Yao Ming’s tragic career-ending foot injuries to Tracy McGrady’s knee issues to the bizarre infection Kyle Lowry suffered to the lingering thigh problems that apparently cost Omer Asik most of a season. Like any team, the Rockets have suffered at the hands of probability and human mortality. They have, however, suffered less in recent years.

Its possible that the Rockets’ relatively low injury rate is a quirk of fate, but the conscious choice to avoid injury-prone players would be a natural response to the spate of season-ending injuries that plagued the Rockets in the late 2000’s. Injuries like McGrady’s knees and Yao’s feet were chronic, repeated and systemically caused. These are the sort of ailments that can be predicted, prevented, or sidestepped entirely. These are the sort of ailments Houston doesn’t want to see any more.

Acquiring Kevin Martin may have seemed like the antithesis to that plan, but his reputation for being injury-prone was overall undeserved. A groin pull and an ankle injury are two unrelated injuries, and the shoulder tear he suffered while in Houston similarly didn’t correlate with either of the other two. Dwight Howard similarly has become an injury concern, but apart from having to recover from a bizarre incident in which one of his spinal discs herniated (possibly due to a punch) and tearing a shoulder muscle in the process, he’s been exceptionally hale and healthy his entire career. Even James Harden’s worst injury was a result of being elbowed in the head. These aren’t expected risks. These are flukes.

Therein lies the rub. The Rockets seem to prefer players who are free from chronic or predictable injuries. The Phoenix Suns goes one step further and actively prevents them, but avoiding them is also a viable strategy. Freak injuries will happen in either case, from a horribly broken leg to some strange abdominal infection which sidelined Kyle Lowry for months. The important thing to remember about those kind of injuries is that they can always happen. Just walking down the stairs was enough to break Carlos Boozer’s hand. You can’t prevent them all. You can only administer medical care and hope for a speedy recovery when they do happen. Heal soon, Paul George.

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Potpourri for August 4, 2014http://www.red94.net/potpourri-august-4-2014/14517/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=potpourri-august-4-2014 http://www.red94.net/potpourri-august-4-2014/14517/#comments Mon, 04 Aug 2014 12:34:34 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14517 One thing I’ve always found odd is the flurry of questions regarding the medical exception upon injury to a star player.  ”How much do they get?”  ”What are their options?”  ”Will the Pacers land Shawn Marion?”  This is not to point fault at news providers whose job it is to provide such information.  But why [...]

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  • One thing I’ve always found odd is the flurry of questions regarding the medical exception upon injury to a star player.  ”How much do they get?”  ”What are their options?”  ”Will the Pacers land Shawn Marion?”  This is not to point fault at news providers whose job it is to provide such information.  But why do fans even care?  This happened after Yao Ming was ruled out for the season, as well.  Upon news like that, you just pray for the player and start planning for the future.  Short-term contingencies are of little relevance in the grand or even immediate scheme.
  • You have to really feel for the Pacers who, essentially in the span of mere months, lost their three best players with whatever happened to Hibbert, Stephenson’s departure, and now this injury to George.  This time last year, Indiana appeared poised to remain a mainstay in the Eastern Conference over the next half-decade.  Now, it remains to be seen how they’ll even move forward.  And what about the East?  I hope Carmelo Anthony makes good use of the extra money he pocketed by staying in New York, because he would have had a guaranteed path to the Finals for some time had he left to Chicago.  Now, Cleveland looks like it has the inside track.
    • You know how the more time that passes after you’ve been spurned in some situation, the more you start to convince yourself you’re better off?  That’s how I feel now regarding the Parsons-Ariza swap and I’m really beginning to wonder if that’s a product of bargaining or rather, genuinely objective analysis.  Now, to be clear, Houston currently, as things stand, is an inferior team to the one that finished last season, just by virtue of the simple fact of having lost Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin.  But looking at the Ariza-Parsons swap in vacuo of other considerations, I’ve somehow managed to convince myself that Houston ended up with the better player for its team.  I wrote at the end of last season, after one particular loss when Nic Batum and Wes Mathews literally took turns driving into the teeth of the Houston defense, that I was not sure if a Harden-Parsons wing tandem was sustainable long-term.  I think back to that a lot now and wonder.  Age is a wash because Dwight Howard’s prime isn’t too long anyway and Parsons has maxed out his potential regardless.  Ariza is arguably the superior shooter.  The question becomes whether Ariza’s defense adds more to the team than what it will lose in Parson’s playmaking off the pick and roll.  I think it will.
    • I never weighed in on the Parsons-Howard-Harden controversy and maybe it’s too late, but my thoughts: I found the whole thing, particularly Harden’s reaction, extremely peculiar.  To recap, Parsons said he felt disrespected by the Rockets, Howard said Houston wouldn’t really skip a beat, and then Harden one-upped that saying, essentially, only he and Dwight were of relevance, with the other parts being interchangeable.  Now, what Howard and Harden each said was true.  Well, scratch that.  What Harden said was true, maybe not what Howard said.  But in any event, I thought it was really odd that they even said those things because…why?  Why was there even anger directed at all towards Chandler?  It’s not like he bolted.  It’s not like he trashed the team.  He wanted to come back but was told to go seek out an offer.  They can’t fault him for that – he went out and signed the Dallas offer sheet thinking Houston would match, or at the least, knowing that signing an offer sheet was something he had to do.  Moreover, Parsons’ comments were directed towards Houston’s front office, not the team itself.  Dwight Howard maybe, but James Harden does not strike me as a guy who would take offense over someone dragging his general manager through the mud.  Maybe I underestimate Harden.  But that’s how I felt.  So I found the whole thing really odd.  Was there some beef there that we don’t know about?  Probably not because Houston was set to keep Chandler had they gotten Bosh.
    • All that being said, I kind of like it.  Maybe its just wishful thinking, but this is really the first time you’ve sensed ownership from James Harden of not just the team, but of the Harden-Howard pairing.  All along, they’ve seemed to have a very uncomfortable relationship whereby, sure they got along, but it never really seemed like they were the closest of individuals.  You’ve seen the GIF’s of Howard hugging Harden and Harden kind of pushing him away with an annoyed look etc.  And all of that is perfectly fine – you don’t have to be best friends to dominate on the basketball court.  But that bond undoubtedly helps.  This is really the first time he’s even remotely articulately that “Dwight and I are enough” and this is about “Dwight and I.”  That’s important, I think, and sort of exciting.  If they truly embrace each other, they can push each other to greater heights.

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    I’m the cornerstone of this blog. Everyone else is a role writer.http://www.red94.net/im-cornerstone-blog-everyone-else-role-writer/14514/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=im-cornerstone-blog-everyone-else-role-writer http://www.red94.net/im-cornerstone-blog-everyone-else-role-writer/14514/#comments Thu, 31 Jul 2014 23:01:01 +0000 Richard Li http://www.red94.net/?p=14514 See what I did there? Couldn’t resist! Now that everyone has had a chance to simmer down slightly, let’s attempt to have a somewhat rational conversation about what has recently transpired. Harden’s quote He shouldn’t have said it. Regardless of how truthful the statement is, almost all people would agree that it was better left [...]

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    See what I did there? Couldn’t resist! Now that everyone has had a chance to simmer down slightly, let’s attempt to have a somewhat rational conversation about what has recently transpired.

    Harden’s quote

    He shouldn’t have said it. Regardless of how truthful the statement is, almost all people would agree that it was better left unsaid. Human beings are fascinating and fickle creatures. For some reason we can be perfectly content with knowing something, but blow a gasket when someone has the temerity to say what we all know. When deconstructed, this behavior seems strange, even hypocritical. Nevertheless, for the purposes of maintaining relationships, it is a social and professional code to which everyone adheres.

    For instance, your boss is more important to your organization than you are. He just is. The CEO of your organization is more important than your boss, and definitely more important than you. Every person in your company shares this opinion. No one is fooling themselves into thinking otherwise. However, the CEO is unlikely to publicly announce his/her more important position relative to you. He/she will not send an all staff e-mail proclaiming that he/she is the most important person in the company and that everyone else less important. Nor will the CEO tell anyone this in person. Doing so makes his/her subordinates think poorly of him/her and damages the morale of the company. In fact, most people in such positions will go out of their way to appear humble and “like everyone else.” CEOs might, for instance, work with their subordinates in completing some menial task such as setting up or cleaning up.

    Similarly, the most attractive person in a group of friends is not going to tell everyone else that he/she is the most attractive, even though everyone knows. The smartest student in a group is not going to tell everyone else that he/she is the smartest, even though everyone knows. And the best player on a basketball team is not going to tell his teammates that he is the best, even though everyone knows. Except that he did. Oops.

    The back-patting side of me feels vindicated because I actually wrote about this exact scenario, referencing when my former boss told our then office that he was a visionary while the rest of us were worker bees. Regarding the Rockets’ “inferior” players, I wrote, “They don’t feel like their roles are valued. They think their role is just to run around until the more important guy isn’t tired any more.” Harden’s quote, unfortunately, seemed to dovetail with these sentiments perfectly, and it doesn’t speak well of the team’s chemistry.

    All that being said, I still don’t think it’s a big deal. Far worse mistakes have been made in far worse contexts. Bruised egos have healed before. If anything, this might be the catalyst required for the team to directly address its issues related to its institutional culture.

    Everyone hates the Houston Rockets

    Not really. I completely understand that, through the lens of Houston Rockets fans, it can seem like the team is being attacked from all sides. That’s the inside-out perspective. However, the outside-in perspective is that… well, there just aren’t that many people looking in from the outside. This is a Google Trends chart for the Rockets, Howard, and Harden.

    Cornerstone

    Click for a full-size version

    The reference point for interest is when the Rockets lost Game 6 to the Trailblazers. Nothing in the past 90 days has come close to reaching that level of interest in the Rockets. Lin’s trade to the Lakers comes in second (for the Rockets), at not even 40% as much interest as Game 6. Howard’s episode with the underage woman created about 50% as much interest for himself as Game 6 did for the Rockets. And then we have Harden’s recent quote. You can see the very tiny bump it created at the very end of the chart, generating something like 10% of the interest for himself as Game 6 did for the Rockets. The attention the Rockets receiving matters to us, as insiders. But to outsiders, it’s just a blip.

    I understand the feeling of camaraderie that being portrayed as an antagonist can create, and “nobody likes us” certainly has been an effective rallying cry for many organizations. But let’s not lose perspective, here. There’s enough spin out there in internet land; we don’t need to contribute to it.

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    The problem with Parsonshttp://www.red94.net/problem-parsons/14505/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=problem-parsons http://www.red94.net/problem-parsons/14505/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 17:30:11 +0000 Forrest Walker http://www.red94.net/?p=14505 Daryl Morey runs the Houston Rockets like a fantasy league. That’s one of the rallying cries of Morey’s detractors, along with other bon mots like, “he treats players like assets” and “Houston has a crisis of leadership. The problem isn’t that the detractors are wrong. The problem is that they’re probably onto something, and it [...]

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    Daryl Morey runs the Houston Rockets like a fantasy league. That’s one of the rallying cries of Morey’s detractors, along with other bon mots like, “he treats players like assets” and “Houston has a crisis of leadership. The problem isn’t that the detractors are wrong. The problem is that they’re probably onto something, and it just bit the Rockets in the backside. But why it all blew up? “Why” is the most important question of all, and it’s been lost in the shuffle. The why is something fans of NBA video games have known about for years. The why is staring us in the face.

    There’s a reason that Courtney Lee and Goran Dragic and Kyle Lowry and now Chandler Parsons have found other homes. It’s also the same reason that Ish Smith and Jeff Adrien and Joey Dorsey are back in Houston. In the end, it’s a problem born out not of failure, but of the hazards of success. It’s a problem that plagues every would-be dynasty in an NBA 2K association mode. It’s the intersection of personal pride, talent evaluation, player development and the salary cap.It’s the video game problem, and it’s not going to stop any time soon.

    Putting aside any speculation about backroom deals handcuffing houston into letting Parsons become a free agent a year early, Parsons is a perfect example of why it’s so hard to hold onto complementary talent for any team, especially the Rockets. Chandler Parsons was picked in the second round and signed to the kind of team-friendly (read: cheap) deal that comes with that territory. He turned out to be a tremendous value for the money, and a total success for Houston. His name became synonymous with second round steals and Houston was lauded for having him on such a low contract.

    What everyone forgot was the thing that Daryl Morey is accused of forgetting: that contract is a person. When Parsons expressed his feeling that Houston should have anointed him as the third star, he taught us that his fate in Houston was likely sealed before the off-season even began. Like so many players in Houston before, Parsons wasn’t a star. He’s a great player, to be sure, and a ludicrous steal at under a million dollars a year, but he’s not now and probably will never be worth the $15 million dollar per year contract he received.

    We know how his situation played out, but what would have happened had Houston exercised their team option and held onto Parsons at under $1 million this coming season? The most obvious consequence is that he would still be a Rocket. The second clearest consequence is that he would become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, a risk that’s greater than most people care to be aware of. The last consequence is that Parsons would have a different but equally compelling reason to be angry at the Rockets.

    If Parsons was insulted by the idea that Houston wanted to sign another max-level player before re-signing him, if Parsons had qualms with the idea that he couldn’t carry them to a championship as the third star on the team, he would certainly be upset with a team choosing to pay him less than a million dollars yet again. The move that armchair GMs across the nation cite that Houston got wrong was still going to be a problem either way. Kicking the can down the road would probably have been the better call, but the damage was going to happen either way. Overpay and lower your team’s ceiling or insult one of your key players. That’s the option set faced by Houston over and over.

    The reason is that the Rockets are great at identifying and developing talent but lack the team culture necessary to hold onto them. Only the San Antonio Spurs have much success retaining their second and third tier players, and that requires the best Coach in the league and the best locker room guy in history in Popovich and Duncan respectively. For Houston, excellent role players see their game blossom, see the contracts teams want to hand them, and they do what any reasonable person would: they leave. The desire for more money and a bigger role are just normal ramifications of reserves and role players having amazing years.

    Having your bench be too good is a problem players of NBA 2K games have wrestled with for years. Players demand more than the team can possibly give them in role, minutes and money. When Morey allegedly treats the team and players like a video game, should we be surprised that the video games predict the problem? The only real solution in the games is to trade those players, and the same goes for the NBA. The reason the Rockets should have kept Parsons on his rookie contract wasn’t to keep him around long-term, or to avoid offending him. Those were both probably lost causes. The real benefit would have been the ability to package him in a trade before he could bolt. And if Morey is as calculation as people think he is? He’s more aware of that loss than anyone else.

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    History in Hindsight: The Houston Rockets, The Seattle SuperSonics, and Hakeem Olajuwon’s greatest foe.http://www.red94.net/14511/14511/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=14511 http://www.red94.net/14511/14511/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 11:00:49 +0000 Paul McGuire http://www.red94.net/?p=14511 On May 12, 1996, the Houston Rockets were swept by the Seattle SuperSonics. It was a hard-fought sweep. Seattle blew Houston out 108-75 in Game 1, but won the rest of their games by single digits. In Game 4, Houston rallied from being down 18 points in the 4th, and 9 points with less than [...]

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    On May 12, 1996, the Houston Rockets were swept by the Seattle SuperSonics.

    It was a hard-fought sweep. Seattle blew Houston out 108-75 in Game 1, but won the rest of their games by single digits. In Game 4, Houston rallied from being down 18 points in the 4th, and 9 points with less than 2 minutes left, to tie the game and force overtime. But Seattle prevailed 114-107, and a sweep is still a sweep.

    It was Seattle’s 13th straight victory over the Rockets.

    In addition, Seattle had also beaten Houston in a tight 7-game series in the 1993 Western Conference Finals – a game which it should be noted had some controversial calls at the end. And as great as the two Houston championship runs were, they did not face Seattle in either year. Both times, the Sonics were upset in the first round of the playoffs, in 1994 as the number one seed. While it is impossible to know for certain, it could be argued that things might have been different if the Rockets had faced Seattle in those two years.

    How did Seattle stymie the Rockets so badly? How did the Rockets respond? And with today’s Rockets built around another (albeit inferior) post player, what possible implications are there for the present? We should first begin by looking at the Sonics. The Sonics in 1993 and in 1996 did not possess the exact same players. But not much had changed. Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp were the stars, George Karl was the coach, and the Sonics were much deeper than the Rockets. The Sonics routinely had 6 to 7 players play more than 24 mpg during the Payton-Kemp years. The Rockets from 93-96 normally had 5. On the wings, Ricky Pierce and Derrick McKey were key players for the 1993 Sonics, and Detlef Schrempf and Hershey Hawkins fulfilled the same role in 1996. Sam Perkins and Ervin Johnson filled up the middle.

    Kemp in particular was the biggest problem for the Rockets. Kemp was never as smart as Hakeem, or as polished or coordinated. But he was just as big, just as strong, and possibly even faster, especially by 1996 when Hakeem began to falter. When Hakeem went for the block, Kemp was there for the offensive rebound. He was too athletic for Otis Thorpe and Robert Horry, and Kemp came up huge against the Rockets whenever Seattle needed him.

    But beyond Kemp and Payton was George Karl’s “unique” defense. Up until the 2001-02 NBA season, the league did not allow zone defenses. Double teams were permitted, but players had to commit to the double and were not allowed to hedge. Otherwise, the result was an illegal defense violation. However, the Sonics under Karl used a pressing, trapping defense which had elements of zone. Hakeem was always relentlessly doubled by the Sonics regardless of whether he had the ball. Whether these were legal doubles or otherwise was a controversial matter.

    At best, Karl skirted the line between legal and illegal defenses. At worst, he borrowed the Detroit Bad Boy’s maxim of “we will play as rough as we like and foul as much as we like and dare the referees to foul us out” and applied it to the illegal defense rules. The Rockets were far from the only team to complain about Seattle’s zone defense over the years. Phil Jackson and Scottie Pippen stated that the Sonics played a zone defense before the 1996 NBA Finals began, and teams like Sacramento and the Lakers also complained. In 1996, Seattle received by a significant margin the most illegal defensive violations in the league.

    It should be noted that Seattle was not the only team in the league to employ a quasi-zone defense with an emphasis on trapping. The Knicks and the Jazz were other teams who employed similar strategies. The NBA got rid of the ban on zone defenses in 2001 partly because they believed that the discussion over what was an illegal zone and what was not gave too much power to the referees. But the Sonics did it better than everyone.

    (Side note: The legalization of zone defenses is important to understand in the context of Dwight Howard and the frequent question of “where have all the big men gone?” If a big man like Hakeem Olajuwon could struggle so much against Seattle’s zone defense, what hope does someone like Dwight Howard or Marc Gasol have? In addition, the fact is that building around an offensive big man is far more difficult and not as rewarding than has been assumed over the years. Centers and power forwards by the very nature of their position have difficulty getting the ball. One can only look back at the Yao Ming years and recall that however skilled Yao was in the post, getting the ball to him was an utter nightmare. Given these factors, the interest in an offensive big man has declined in favor of dominant wing players who can get the ball more easily and who under current defensive rules are just as capable of getting to the rim.)

    All of these factors led to the 1996 sweep. After yet another loss to Seattle, Rockets management had to ask how they were going to get past them. Time was not on Houston’s side. Hakeem and Clyde Drexler were 33 and 34, while Payton and Kemp were 27 and 28. The Sonics had won 64 games in the regular season, took the best variation of Jordan’s Bulls to six games, and had even managed to keep His Airness in check. It was clear that the Sonics were going to become the team of the future – unless something ridiculous like Seattle signing a journeyman center to far too much money, resulting in an angry and underpaid Kemp demanding out, happened.

    So what was to be done? There was an answer. Seattle was a ferocious defensive team, and on the offensive end they were a terror on the transition thanks to their athleticism. But they were a mediocre half-court offensive team. As noted above, Kemp lacked the offensive skills to be a reliable half-court scorer. While Gary Payton was a terrific defender and is one of the greatest point guards ever, he was a step below other elite point guards like Stockton when it came to creating offense. The Rockets needed a power forward who could work in the transition offense to counter Seattle, was large enough to do a better job defending Kemp than Robert Horry, and yet could also work in a half-court offense. If the Rockets were really fortunate, perhaps this power forward would have a long history of great performances against the Sonics.

    In the 1996 offseason, it turned out that there was one available. A power forward with the Phoenix Suns, desperate for a championship, was interested in playing alongside Hakeem Olajuwon. And so on August 19, 1996, the “Round Mound of Rebound”, Charles Barkley, was traded to the Houston Rockets in exchange for Robert Horry, Sam Cassell, and two other players. Barkley would turn out to be the difference, as for the first time in franchise history, the Rockets defeated the Sonics in the second round of the 1997 NBA Playoffs. Barkley scored 20 points on 13 shots and had 14 rebound in the deciding Game 7.

    But in the next round, the Rockets would find themselves up against the Jazz and an even better power forward in 1997. And after that six-game series, the Rockets would be scrutinized for their decision to trade for Barkley, their victory over their seminal rival Seattle forgotten and turned to ash.

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    Will James Harden mature?http://www.red94.net/will-james-harden-mature/14503/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=will-james-harden-mature http://www.red94.net/will-james-harden-mature/14503/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 13:06:10 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14503 I was watching some old Youtube clips of Steve Francis this past weekend and reflecting back on that dark era in Rockets history.  When he came in, that rookie year, he was just an absolute sensation, viewed as almost a new-age Isiah Thomas.  He couldn’t handle a zone defense or run a fastbreak* to save [...]

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    I was watching some old Youtube clips of Steve Francis this past weekend and reflecting back on that dark era in Rockets history.  When he came in, that rookie year, he was just an absolute sensation, viewed as almost a new-age Isiah Thomas.  He couldn’t handle a zone defense or run a fastbreak* to save his life, but we ignored that – he was breaking ankles and making posters, a walking triple-double with one of the most exciting games in the league.  We ignored his flaws assuming he’d mature.  As he had never actually played point guard, it was reasonable to assume he’d learn the position with time.

    *Someone always expresses bewilderment upon my making this statement, citing Francis’ catalog of open-court slams.  What I mean when I say Francis couldn’t run the fastbreak is that he didn’t run it in the role of a point guard.  If he was alone, he’d take it in for the slam, which is fine, but if there were any defenders back, his natural inclination was to go to the wings rather than keeping the ball in the middle of the floor as a point guard is taught to do.  This is why it was oh so ironic when he basically described himself as a shooting guard in one of his more infamous quotes, regarding what the team should do with the #1 pick, saying, “With Lamar running the break, and me and Cuttino on the wings, it’s over.”

    But of course, he didn’t learn the position or improve.  He eventually was traded for Tracy McGrady while he actually still held value.  The Magic let him play the way he wanted, and his numbers improved, but when they too cut back his role, again his game couldn’t adapt.  Steve just wasn’t a point guard and didn’t know how to be one.  If he wasn’t the focal point of the offense, he couldn’t really bring much to the team.  (I’ve made the comparison to Jeremy Lin many times previously).

    This brings me to James Harden.  He’s one of the three or four best scorers in basketball, so good that he basically was able to single-handedly assure a playoff berth in the loaded Western Conference.  But will he ever bend his back on defense?  Will he stop pouting and be a leader? We made excuses for Harden too, like we did for Francis.  2013 was his first as a go-to option, he didn’t have the energy to play both ends.  But then after getting Dwight, things didn’t improve.  His effort levels improved over the season, before reaching ridiculous lows in the playoffs against Portland.  Not giving effort defensively in the postseason is unforgivable.

    Harden will be turning 25 this season.  I pointed out recently that 25 was the age at which Tracy McGrady was last considered a true superstar, deeming it a reminder of how short opportunities can last.  Many of you rushed to Harden’s defense, pointing out McGrady’s reliance on athleticism, completely missing my point.  What I’m trying to say is that windows are often shorter than they seem; anything can happen, for any reason, not just injury.  The Wolves didn’t think Stephon Marbury and Kevin Garnett would clash; the Magic probably didn’t see Shaq leaving Penny behind.  Things happen.

    As acknowledged, James Harden’s game will age gracefully.  But will he ever “get it” during Dwight’s prime?  It’s tempting to say Harden’s just 25, giving us a 7-year window, but we actually have a team right now, due to Howard, that can contend.  This team would undoubtedly be better if it weren’t getting a complete ’0′ defensively from one of its wing slots; Howard won’t always be around.  I hope Harden gains some urgency before that window slams shut.  The Rockets can’t control free agency, but they can help themselves in other ways.

     

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    Houston Rockets go down in Summer League title game to Sacramento Kingshttp://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-go-summer-league-title-game-sacramento-kings/14502/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=houston-rockets-go-summer-league-title-game-sacramento-kings http://www.red94.net/houston-rockets-go-summer-league-title-game-sacramento-kings/14502/#comments Tue, 22 Jul 2014 12:57:59 +0000 rahat huq http://www.red94.net/?p=14502 After leading the whole way HOU has completely collapsed here at the end. Guys should fit in well with the big league team. — RedNinetyFour (@RedNinetyFour) July 22, 2014 Don’t even act as if you’ve never admired or felt the urge to admire your own joke. As the tweet indicated, the local JV guys led [...]

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    After leading the whole way HOU has completely collapsed here at the end. Guys should fit in well with the big league team.

    — RedNinetyFour (@RedNinetyFour) July 22, 2014

    Don’t even act as if you’ve never admired or felt the urge to admire your own joke.

    As the tweet indicated, the local JV guys led most of the way before completely collapsing down the stretch, squandering the title to the Sacramento Kings.  Just playing the odds, this is the closest the Rockets will get to a championship in the next few years, so this one hurt pretty bad.  Well, not really.  But it did hurt having to watch through this game while laying on my couch when other things were on television, most notably anything else.  There were several points where I found myself falling asleep only to rouse myself up once more out of some self-inflicted sense of duty.  Those of you who didn’t watch this – I bit the bullet for everyone; thank me later.

    First, Motiejunas: while not filling the box score as he had done in previous nights, the big man did a little of everything, once again showing the tantalizing versatility that has left me confounded over his lack of success.  He scored from the post with running hooks, a baby hook over his opposite shoulder that got wiped out, hit an outside jumper, and drove in on multiple occasions from the three point line.  Most encouragingly, as Chris Finch noted afterward, D-Mo stayed big inside and rotated smartly against incoming opponents.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so invested in a Rockets prospect and relatedly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so confused over a prospect’s lack of success.  Why has D-Mo not panned out?  What is going on here?  This is a legit 7 footer who can score inside with either hand, can put the ball on the floor, and who possesses NBA range (well, sorta) who, by all accounts, is a tireless worker.  He’s added significant weight to his frame since being drafted and made tremendous strides defensively last season, as most famously evidenced by one particular outing against Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies.  I just don’t understand.  If he’s not in the rotation by January, or was shipped away for some worthless conditional second rounder by mid-season, we missed a big opportunity.  Were he to have come over this season, I think he’d have been a lottery lock.  While I empathize with the immediate need to win games, I just think players can’t get comfortable if constantly glancing over at the bench upon each mistake.  So naturally, Motiejunas will likely end up on the Spurs and realize his true NBA destiny, spelling Tim Duncan off the bench in helping San Antonio win the NBA title.  Naturally.

    Nick Johnson: I really hope this kid cracks the rotation because I’ve already fallen in love with his game.  Johnson has a smooth jumper, an insane vertical, a tight handle, and a brute force mentality to complement his strong upper body.  He reminded me immediately of Bobby Sura watching him attack bigger guys off the dribble and finish at the rim while absorbing contact.  Simply put, Johnson is a man’s man, a pitbull.  The only problem is that he appears extremely slow-footed, to the point where I worry he won’t be able to create separation at this level, much like his forebear, Sura.  That’s not to say one cannot be an effective NBA guard if lacking quickness (see: Andre Miller), but it’s something of a concern.  Johnson is sort of a paradox, much like former Rocket Chandler Parsons, in that he has incredible leaping ability–which naturally leads observers to label him as ‘athletic’–but not much in the way of lateral quickness.  We’ll see.  But I think he will succeed, if for no other reason than that the guy is a complete badass.  Oh, and also because we currently only have one player on our bench.

    Canaan: Isaiah Canaan didn’t do much of anything in this game, but was in God-mode earlier in the tournament, at one point looking Andrew Wiggins in the eye and high-stepping him straight to the basket.  The jumper was wet and the first step had been unguardable.  It’s hard to know with these types of guys whether they can make it at the next level.  For one, you can’t drive in relentlessly in the big leagues unless you’re historically elite like James Harden.  But secondly, can he defend at his size?  And most importantly, as a point guard, can he make smart reads?  That’s really the thing about evaluating point guards.  Unlike bigs, where you’re just checking to see whether they’re capable of running in a straight line without tripping over, every single man under 6’3 at this level is insanely talented and naturally competitive.  Which ones are NBA smart?

    I think Nick Johnson will end up winning the backup point guard job over Canaan for several reasons, namely that Kevin McHale loves tough guys.  His slow-footedness won’t be much of a problem here as the point guard job description on this team is to simply bring the ball up and hand it off to James Harden.

    Now we wait two more months for the next game.

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