When the Houston Rockets signed Samuel Dalembert, seemingly minutes prior to tip-off of the opener against the Orlando Magic, I proclaimed that they would make the playoffs. (Whether or not that’s a goal they should pursue is a different matter I won’t discuss here), but after a shaky start, I still stand firm by my prediction. (It helps that they’ve recovered to go 1 game above .500.)
The reason I felt so confident about this team’s chances was that Dalembert filled its most glaring weakness from the season before. The Rockets were near tops in the league in offensive efficiency but their defense left much to be desired, to say the least. They had some solid individual defenders in the likes of Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, and Chuck Hayes, but they just didn’t have the ‘length’ that allows a defensive scheme to come together, enabling guys to work as a unit and cover spaces instead of individual men.
Last night, against the Hornets, Samuel Dalembert won the game with his play in the final minute. Watch below as he leaves his man to cover Jarret Jack:
But look more closely.
What made Chuck Hayes so unique was his quickness – he was/is perhaps the most nimble big man in basketball, always moving his feet to beat opponents to their desired spot on the court. Chuck Hayes’ MO was to contest through anticipation, before the shot, on the ground. But what happened if he didn’t get there in time? What happened if there was a break-down, resulting in a second opportunity or a broken play without time to set up? The other team usually scored. Last year, the Rockets didn’t have anyone who could account for mistakes. This year they do. Look at the still above: Jarrett Jack has gotten past his man into an open space with Luis Scola and Samuel Dalembert not yet having rotated.
Last year, Jack gets the shot off. This year, it doesn’t matter that Dalembert was slow to rotate – he recovers through his length, stretching his arm to block the shot and save the game.
You could argue that Hayes would have been quicker to rotate, beating Jack to the spot. I’d counter that A) a blocked shot beats a contested hand-in-the-face challenge and B) at a macro level, if your big man has to stay closer to home on a shooting power forward, the shot blocking athlete has a greater chance to recover and disrupt than the fleet-footed Chuckwagon that has to trek perfectly to the exact spot. Point being: when you’re 7 feet, there’s much more room for error for both you and your team. When you’re Hayes, you have to be perfect, to contest or set up for the charge.
It’s not just defense though where the 7-footer earns his shekels. Above, Dalembert scored the winning basket by just being long.
Were he younger, we’d have thrown a parade over having found the long-term solution at center. A pity. But for this season, I think Dalembert will be the difference.
Samuel Dalembert, C43 MIN | 7-14 FG | 1-1 FT | 17 REB | 2 AST | 15 PTS | +7I cannot for the life of me understand how a game that was almost completely dominated by Houston came down to two overtime putbacks by Samuel Dalembert, but it did. And my, were those offensive rebounds glorious. Against a tiny frontline (or at least one that plays tiny) like the Hornets’, the Bear saw an opportunity to eat up boards, doing so with a game-high nine offensive boards, including those two that gave Houston the game. I’d give him the game ball if I didn’t already think he had it comfortably nestled in his hands.
Kevin Martin, SG43 MIN | 12-27 FG | 3-3 FT | 8 REB | 0 AST | 32 PTS | +9Whoa. Where’s this Kevin Martin been all year, and can he retroactively play in all of those early losses? Martin scored from anywhere he wanted Thursday night, most importantly from behind the arc, where his 5-9 mark posted as his second best three-point shooting night of the year. He also saved the game with his off-balance fadeaway in the last two minutes of regulation, which would have made him the game’s savior until the rampaging Dalem-Bear “took over” in OT.
Kyle Lowry, PG42 MIN | 4-11 FG | 1-1 FT | 9 REB | 8 AST | 10 PTS | +4As with most games this year, his stat lines will look pretty admirable at the end of this one, but Lowry’s hesitance in the clutch, along with Luis Scola’s, made a Houston offense that was chugging along for the first 3/4 of this game come to a miserable halt.
Courtney Lee, SG26 MIN | 7-12 FG | 1-2 FT | 2 REB | 2 AST | 17 PTS | -5Despite his semi-disappearance along with the rest of the team’s offense in the fourth quarter, Lee represented a burst of hope back onto Houston’s bench, someone who could score both in transition and off the pass, draining seven of his first 10 attempts. His string of three steals on consecutive Hornets possessions in the third quarter also emphasized his importance to this team.
Patrick Patterson, PF17 MIN | 0-4 FG | 0-0 FT | 0 REB | 1 AST | 0 PTS | -6Despite blocking a couple of shots in the third, Patterson really showed exactly how out of place he’s seemed all year in Kevin McHale’s offense, and his size issues on defense have basically placed him out of the rotation. If he expects minutes similar to last year’s, he’ll need to find a way to get points on his own in the simplistic system McHale has in place.
Five Things We Saw
What a horrific trainwreck the end of that game was. The Horents played like the New Orleans Hornets, while the Rockets caved into to every bad tendency and vacillation that’s made them look timid against this league’s more dynamic outfits. Only through a small miracle (Jason Smith’s missed jumper at the end of regulation), typically awful Hornets offense and some gigantic Sam Dalembert plays (yup, still feels weird to write that) did the Rockets escape this one with their shirts intact. I’d breathe a sigh of relief if I didn’t feel a foreboding sense of doom clouding over Houston called the San Antonio Spurs.
Also a week ago, I complained liberally about Martin’s inability to put together the kind of scoring efficiency that he had in past years, that is, a ton of threes and free throw attempts even without brilliant numbers from the field. Over the last five games, there’s been an uptick in Martin’s attempts from the line of over two a game (up to almost six a game), and the Rockets have, not so surprisingly, won a lot more. In Thursday night’s victory over New Orleans, his three-point shooting returned, if only for one brilliant half. Any true renaissance for these Rockets will involve a return to form for Martin.
In the Morey Era, it’s seemed that every year has brought with it some surprise rookie over which the general Rockets populace could drool at the endless potential (Carl Landry, Chase Budinger, Patrick Patterson, even Ish Smith), and this year’s no different as Chandler Parsons has taken all bystanders by storm. Strangely, though, there does seem to be one real change from past years: Parsons’ numbers really aren’t all that great. Instead, it’s been the giant wing’s instincts that have gained him the fawning of Rockets fans, a shift in attention that can be applauded. The highlight dunks have been genuinely riveting, but his ability to swing the ball to the right spot and overall activity in the transition offense, as well as his exceptionally long limbs that can one day be turned into dangerous defensive weapons, all mark Parsons as more than a passing fancy for Houston followers.
Courtney Lee’s jumper. Oh yes. That’s all there really is to say about tonight’s comeback by Lee. Yeah, he played some minutes the other day, but tonight, Lee swallowed the court, being just about everywhere that the Rockets made a good play, at least until the ultimate collapse that was the Rockets’ fourth quarter. Otherwise, more please.
So, that Chris Kaman fella really doesn’t seem like he should be playing NBA basketball for a living. Maybe as a hobby on one of those NBA2K video games that seem to receive so much acclaim, but certainly not as an occupation. Just a few years ago, Kaman operated as one of the NBA’s most dangerous post presences, a guy who had manifold ways of scoring on this league’s weaker post defenders. Maybe it’s the years of injuries or the disheartening deal that sent Kaman to yet another miserable rebuilding organization; whatever it might be, Kaman doesn’t have the heart for this game anymore, or any of the other requisite body parts apparently.
The gist: The Rockets take on their division foes who have dropped 11 of their last 12 games, with the loss of Eric Gordon hampering the Hornets’ offensive production. The Hornets are producing a measly 86.7 points, 28th in the league.
Key matchup: Luis Scola vs Carl Landry
The Hornets are a complete mess right now and much of the blame falls on Carl Landry, who has failed to register a double-digit performance and looks completely lost on the offensive sets. Scola might not have to do much defensively, his former teammate Landry is already imploding by himself.
X-factors: Courtney Lee
In the absence of Gordon, Marco Belinelli will have no true backup to rely on. Kevin Martin has the luxury of one with the return of Lee, and Lee’s inside-out game will be counted upon to spark some plays while the starters get a breather.
Code Red: Jarrett Jack has been on a tear the past three games, posting averages of 23.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 5.3 assists on 59% FG shooting, 62% from downtown and 94% from the stripe. It will be Lowry’s job to take the sting out of Jack’s numbers.
Very few acts in the world of sport assert manly dominance like the put back dunk. With its abrupt barbarity and one-upmanship, taking a ball that wasn’t meant for you, and slamming it through the rim, is the Miller Lite of basketball production.
In the moments after one occurs, seeds of unparalleled embarrassment are planted deep in the victim’s brain, while the dunker’s energy extends like sharp tentacles—from the other nine guys on the court, to the lonely man sitting in section 403 who just removed his pants and is madly waving them over his head.
For a split second, the move impacts the game greater than a 16-foot jump shot ever could. It causes a crowd to either enter brief pandemonium or sit on its collective hands like a reprimanded kindergarten class. It’s an opportune hustle play, not done for personal glory or individual accolades, and when it’s complete everyone is affected.
The put back dunk takes timing, intuitiveness, and, obviously, incredible leaping ability. Some players who possess all three go entire careers without tasting one. Its existence is their white whale (or Robert Redford’s Demi Moore). Others have felt the great feeling, and will someday relay the one-of-a-kind euphoria to their grandchildren.
Through his very first handful of games, Chandler Parsons has nearly half a dozen of them, each one inspiring greater awe than its predecessor. It’s become as unexplainable as it is amazing; the nightly put back dunks are somehow overshadowing what has become the league’s most pleasant, and consistent, surprise.
Parsons isn’t just a rookie, he’s a second round throw in on a draft night deal designed to shed a little salary space. Houston sent Brad Miller, Nikola Mirotic and a future 1st round draft pick to Minnesota for Jonny Flynn (booo), Donatas Motiejunas, and a future 2nd round draft pick. Later that night, Parsons was traded yet again, this time from Minnesota back to Houston for cold hard cash.
That doesn’t sound like the type of player who’s truly valued as a possible starter, now does it? Parsons is this year’s Landry Fields, only more athletic and far less vulnerable. He’s locking down John Wall and glaring at Blake Griffin. If opposing NBA teams don’t start boxing him out when Houston’s shot goes up, we may have a serious cult following on our hands. Add to this he’s locked down for the next four seasons at a ridiculously small salary, and what we have is pure gold.
Before placing most of his dunks in this post and exploding your internet connection, here are a few quotes Parsons—along with his teammates and coaches—has had to say in reference to what everyone else is already talking about.
Parsons, on if he’s surprised: “I really am. I’m not gonna lie and say I’m not. Because I had a lot in college, but, like, to keep doing this consecutively, it could be luck, getting lucky bounces off the rim. But I’m just going to keep going hard until somebody stops me.”
Kevin McHale, on possible reasons for Parsons’ success: “He just does things,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “He makes plays on the ball.”
Patrick Patterson via SB Nation: “He’s got a knack for getting to the rim. He seeks it out every single game, you know, he will get one.”