In 2009, the Houston Rockets purchased the rights to Sergio Llull, the 34th overall selection, from the Denver Nuggets for approximately $2.25million. This made Llull the most expensive player to ever be selected in the NBA’s second round. The Rockets clearly feel highly about him.
In the summer of 2010, Llull reached an agreement with Real Madrid to extend his contract until 2014.
Llull is one of the top point guards in Europe and by all accounts, an athletic specimen. Here’s video of Rockets VP of Basketball Operations Sam Hinkie breaking down Llull’s game. The average fan probably hasn’t heard about him, but die-hards are wondering when, if ever, he’ll come over and bring his talents to the local team.
I decided to ask Ricky Rubio who starred with Llull on the Spanish national team. Here’s a clip of Rubio tossing Llull an alleyoop, a great example of some of the athleticism I had mentioned.
The normally active Parsons was a shell of himself tonight. Possibly due to his task of defending Beasley on an island for extended stretches of time. Also, he can’t make free-throws.
Samuel Dalembert, C28 MIN | 2-5 FG | 2-2 FT | 8 REB | 1 AST | 6 PTS | -19
However Sammy Dalembert plays defense dictates ultimately dictates how the Houston Rockets play defense, and tonight the barometer was tapped out. He IS the weak side help on most possessions, and tonight it simply never came.
Kevin Martin, SG34 MIN | 9-15 FG | 7-11 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 29 PTS | -16
29 points in 34 minutes is marvelous. Martin did his job yet again, and played some tough defense to boot.
The slump continues. I’m now at the point where I’ve got to ask if he’s seriously hurt because the combination of almost no fourth quarter minutes with a constant tentativeness to attack the basket is just so out of character. Judging it relative to this past week, Lowry went from the second best point guard in the Western Conference to the second best point guard on his own team.
Courtney Lee, SG22 MIN | 3-7 FG | 2-2 FT | 2 REB | 1 AST | 9 PTS | +2
Lee was a bit undersized in his matchup with Michael Beasley, but still, he allowed him to go left on several occasions. Left and straight to the basket.
With Lowry struggling to make plays, Dragic continues to thrive as a consistent spark plug. He penetrated at will, and had several drop off passes leading to simple layups for teammates.
Four Things We Saw
As Michael Beasley began to heat up early in the second quarter, I made a note of Kevin McHale’s quick decision to throw timely double teams at him. The strategy worked; I noted the coach as a genius. Then the rest of the game happened, and Houston refused to double Beasley again until he’d scored over 30 points. Guarding a player whose loud talents have taken a considerable backseat to the Love/Rubio van ride of good vibes, Houston’s defense was deplorable.
The Rockets gave up 42 points in the third quarter. That’s a franchise high for Minnesota. To surmise it with quick analysis: the defense was shoddy.
Have I mentioned that the Rockets didn’t play defense tonight? Minnesota shot 58% from the floor, scoring their 100th point with 9:30 left in the fourth quarter. It was disgusting.
Houston started the fourth quarter with a VERY small, but effective lineup. Dragic, Lee, Patterson, Parsons, and Budinger. They were anything but slow and dull.
The gist: The Timberwolves gave the Lakers a scare before dropping a 106-101 decision. This will be the Rockets’ last home game before embarking on seven road shows in their next eight games that will extend until Valentine’s Day.
Key matchup: The whole Rockets frontline vs Kevin Love
Love’s svelte frame makes him a tireless workhorse on the court, putting up 25-13 averages, definitely worth an MVP conversation. He will crash the boards with ferocity and frustrate whoever is boxing him out. Jordan Hill will need to produce twice the effort he delivered against the Knicks, and even that still might not be enough.
X-factor: Chase Budinger and Chandler Parsons
Specifically AND, not an OR. With Kevin Martin’s status still uncertain, these two players both need big games to stave off a deep T’Wolves backcourt and also to draw attention away from Kyle Lowry, who left his jump shot somewhere in the Target Center when these two teams met last week.
Code Red: Goran Dragic and Patrick Patterson both lit up the T’Wolves the last time they met, combining for 27 points off the bench. Rick Adelman will have his drawing board ready for these two tonight.
The Rockets have been stingy in second halves, only allowing the Wizards 35 points and the Knicks to put up 38. In an ironic twist, they allowed the offensively inept Bucks to go off for 63 markers, including a 20-0 run.
Houston is getting the ball in their hands and forcing it out of their opponents. Their recent 3-1 stretch has them at a +7 in total rebounds and a -3.5 in turning the ball over.
Even Brandon Jennings would cringe at Kyle Lowry’s shooting the past four games. Lowry is a dismal 8 out of 42 (19%).
Stat of the week: Chase Budinger strung together 40 points over a span of 48 minutes the past two games.
Hakeem Olajuwon is why I’m a Rockets fan today. He did everything; hung around with the team through early playoff exits and losing seasons due to a weak supporting cast, led us to the promised land (twice) and set way too many statistical records to mention here. After everything Houston and Hakeem had been through, watching him wither away in a Toronto Raptors jersey was pure torture. I was younger at the time and I did not understand the move at all, as I’ve grown older and learned more about draft picks and contracts, my position on that trade remains unchanged. Do you know what we got for Hakeem? A draft pick that led to Bostjan Nachbar, a total bust who’s wasting away in some Russian D-league right now. Hakeem had requested the trade due to the front office being cheap. Next time the greatest player who has ever worn a Rockets jersey asks for a max offer, you give it to him. At this point, its not about winning or rebuilding or drafting or next season. This is one of the few times that sports transcends winning and statistics. This is about a city’s admiration for a man. Out of all the Rockets games I’ve yelled, cheered and bled through; loss to the Jazz in the playoffs, the early exits with Tmac, including that Game 7 blowout in Dallas, the end of the 22 game losing streak (guess who we lost too?), the news that Yao was done while we were battling the Lakers in round 2 and the lakers opening night come back which ruined the whole season last year, the worst moment of being a Rockets fan was when I turned on the TV and saw this: