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.