Check out my preview in anticipation of tonight’s meeting with the Lakers for ESPNLA’s Land o’Lakers blog:
The Rockets lost the game in Phoenix when Goran Dragic went to the bench early in the first half with foul trouble. Courtney Lee has taken on the bulk of the backup playmaking duties but he isn’t a point guard. Courtney Fortson–signed to a 10-day contract–has been horrific in limited minutes. When Dragic sits, the Rockets fall apart. They need Lowry back as soon as possible if they want to remain this race.
Very tough loss yesterday from the good guys. Suddenly, Phoenix has closed the gap in the standings. Unless Kyle Lowry gets back quickly, this will be an uphill battle. A few thoughts from last night’s game:
Courtney Fortson has been pretty painful to watch in his two appearances thus far, and by that I mean that I teeter on the edge of cardiac arrest when he dribbles. He bounces the ball so high that you feel he’s on the verge of losing it at any moment. With that said, the kid is no doubt nervous and you really root for him to do well – he’s basically a normal guy trying to make it with the stars.
That stretch last night when Dragic sat in the first half–and the game was lost–illustrates the difficulty of playing point guard in the NBA. I think back to the Trevor Ariza saga and realize that most people don’t really understand how difficult it is to create shots and initiate an offense. People see a guy like Courtney Lee who can bring the ball up comfortably and seems to have functional handles and naturally assume he can run an offense. This is what happened when the team signed Ariza – many people thought he could be like McGrady. The logic was hopelessly flawed. Playing point/creating/initiating in the NBA requires so much more than just dribbling, from vision, to awareness, to a heightened level of body control. (For much, much, much more commentary on this topic, see my ‘Assessing Ariza’ series.)
Marcus Morris once again saw minutes with the team playing short-handed. He hit a nice turnaround on the baseline, but overall, like the previous night, didn’t do much offensively. He played pretty well defensively, however, which was encouraging as the issue of whether he could keep pace with perimeter players was the primary concern. He was able to stay in front of Jared Dudley and for the most part, Michael Redd. While Redd did score on a foul, it’s not an issue – he’s a shooting guard; not even a small forward. Some observations or I guess, affirmations, on Morris – he doesn’t have that athletic explosion. No burst. We knew this though. A lot of rookies are able to come in and impress and earn more playing time just by scrapping, without the ball. I think back to Carl Landry’s rookie year when he came in and dunked back every offensive board in sight, earning himself a spot in the rotation. Morris can’t do that because he doesn’t have the athleticism to get those loose balls. For him to be effective, he will need the ball, and therein lies the problem because as a rookie, he isn’t going to get the ball. Another example: Chandler Parsons and Patterson earned their spots by playing smart defense and picking their spots offensively. Marcus Morris’ value is as a one-on-one offensive player. See now why they kept him in the D-League? The few times he was able to pin his man down in the post, he looked pretty good. So calm down on Morris – it’s too soon to worry.
Today’s game offered a pretty interesting development which we hadn’t seen yet all season – a very healthy dose of Patrick Patterson in the post. In fact, during stretches in the 4th, this seemed to be the team’s exclusive go-to option. The decision was rather curious because a) we had never seen the team feature Patterson like this in any game in his entire career and b) based on recollection, Patterson isn’t particularly good in the post.
I decided to dig a bit into the numbers via SynergySports.
This year, in 77 post-up attempts, Patterson is shooting 40% and scoring 44% of the time.
Needing a frame of reference, I deliberated for some time on who to choose. Carl Landry? Luis Scola would be pointless as I figured his numbers would eclipse Patterson’s. I decided to look regardless.
In 214 attempts, Scola has shot 41% and converted 38.8% of the time, numbers very similar to Patterson.
Granted, Scola’s is a) a much larger sample size and b) comes against much better defenders. So it would be absurd to argue that the two are on equal level of effectiveness. But what the numbers show, I think, is that with the team short-handed and already without an isolation star, Patterson might be good enough to at the very least test out in the post, as was done tonight.
In light of three months of rumor-filled speculation, today’s acquisitions of veterans Marcus Camby and Derek Fisher can only be described as disappointing and underwhelming. Yet stepping away from that backdrop, this team today is much improved from the one that took the floor last night at Toyota Center.
In acquiring Marcus Camby, the Rockets have addressed their greatest weakness, adding a player who ranks amongst the tops in the league in rebounding and shot blocking per 48 minutes. Often forced to play forward Luis Scola at center, coach Kevin McHale can now rest assured knowing he will have a rim protector at his disposal for all 48 minutes (Samuel Dalembert). Jordan Hill, despite his energy and activity on the glass, simply could not maintain the defensive focus necessary to help a team with playoff aspirations. The veteran Camby is a massive upgrade.
Sitting now at 8th, the Rockets have a nucleus which should ensure a playoff berth this season and very well could shock a top-seeded team in a series. The neutral reports I’ve seen of this trade now rate the Rockets as rather dangerous, with a solid interior quartet of Scola, Dalembert, Patterson, and Camby. There is no star on this roster, but after today, there really are no holes. After some of the rumors and reports about this group, McHale must be beyond thrilled to be adding the 37-year-old to his lockerroom, heading into April.
At that cost, while not sacrificing financial flexibility, this was a very good move by Daryl Morey.