Following that dagger, Harden had set two new goals for himself. First, he wanted to tighten his undeniably lax defensive focus and cut back on ball-watching. (He’d rank 10th overall in defensive win shares last season.) Second, he wanted to improve his right, weaker hand. (Per Synergy Sports, he’d rise to the league’s 86th percentile on iso drives to the right after ranking in the 56th percentile the year before.) Now, when I ask about his plans for this season, Harden says something you might not expect of a player who relished control of every lever in Houston’s offense.

“I’m looking forward to playing off the ball,” he tells me. His ultimate objective? Membership in the hallowed 50-40-90 club, reserved for those who shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 from 3 and 90 from the line in a season — which only six men in NBA history have ever done.

Yes, a year after assisting on more 3s in a single season than anyone in history not named Steve Nash or Chris Paul, Harden wants to let the offense run through point guard Ty Lawson, the playmaker he urged Morey to procure in July. The goal: to manufacture more efficient looks for a scorer whose shot chart already looks like it was crowdsourced at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. “He’s just amazingly self-motivated,” Morey says.

The above from Pablo Torre’s recent profile of Harden for ESPN the Magazine.

I noted many times last year that Harden had vastly improved at diversifying work with his off hand.  In previous years, we’d see him, when going left, almost exclusively drive all the way to the basket; going right, he’d step back for the shot.  However, he actually made improvements within the year last season, featuring a step-back off his left hand more prominently as the season wore on.  Defenders no longer could sit on his drive as they had been doing early in the year.

Adding Ty Lawson should be just what the doctor ordered in terms of reducing the burden on Harden.  But it’s interesting to hear the directive to have Lawson run the offense stemmed from Harden himself.  When speculation arose regarding the potential acquisition of other star point guards, Goran Dragic namely, many wondered whether Harden could co-exist with another ball dominant player.  I suppose in this case, however, it helps that the two subjects hold a close personal relationship.






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Cliffs: They killed it on the black, but I’m not sure what they were thinking on the other two.

The ketchup and mustard works, conceptually, especially with the classic ‘Clutch City’ theme, but the obtrusive sleeves kill off any good will the design would have gotten from me.  I mean, really.  Why sleeves?  Why overcomplicate a good thing?  At the end of the day, people just want–have been clamoring for–the f****** old school gold and red threads.  How hard is this to screw up?  As far as the monstrosity that is the grey alternate, really the only saving grace is that it doesn’t feature a flying dildo with teeth.

The black is fresh.  I didn’t even know I liked black unis until I saw those.  So kudos.

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Ty Lawson: Scoring at the rim

In trying to find something to write about, I found myself perusing Ty Lawson’s stats.  I didn’t glean anything of note that wasn’t already beaten to death in the weeks following the trade, but I guess in the middle of September, if you’re reading this, anything seems novel.  In drawing comparisons, I decided to use James Harden and Pat Beverley as controls because James Harden is really good and thus, an easy point of reference and Pat Beverley is the most skilled player in the league.  Also, Pat Beverley is the incumbent.

To begin, Lawson shot just 34% from 3 on the year, which might come as a surprise to those of you expecting Steve Nash in his prime.  Beverley shot 35.6%, a figure the cumulation of which caused me to dislodge numerous chunks of hair from my scalp, so that’s not good.  Beverley also shot about twice as many per game as Lawson, with most being wide the &**$ open, so maybe there’s hope.  Ty seems to have fared better from the corners (4-8 in the right corner; 4-8 in the left corner), so maybe that’s the solution, but wasn’t that the elixir for getting D-Mo and Terrence Jones up to respectable marksmanship?  (It seems like that’s always the response regarding any poor shooter.  Stick them in the corner.)  Do we have everyone stand in the corner?

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This is where half of you indignantly turn your nose up in faux maturity.  “We’re a month away from the start of preseason!  Why waste our time over some pipe-dream when we can enjoy the team we have?!?!”  Relax.  Take a deep breath.  This is supposed to be fun.  And half of the fun of sports is imagining the possibilities of new players on your team.  Especially when the potential new player is one of the three most talented players in the league.  So let’s have at it.

I’ve already discussed why the Rockets will, at the very least, be given token consideration.  As they do every year, they’ll find the way to manufacture the cap space necessary to make this doable.  And unlike the previous free agents they’ve recruited (Bosh, Carmelo, Aldridge), Durant is close with resident superstar James Harden.  There isn’t even any cause this time around for the “do other stars hate Harden/Howard” doubts we’ve tried unsuccessfully to push from our minds after the previous failed attempts.*  And that last post on this topic was before this became relevant:

Kevin Durant and Ty Lawson were AAU teammates!  I mean, really, how perfect could that be?  We already learned last year that AAU saves lives and is the greatest force for good in the free world.  But now this, another connection.  And it’s not even like Lawson and Durant played together but secretly hated each other, and carried over that hatred into their respective adulthoods while everyone else speculated they were friends.  They are still friends!  Here’s a quote from Lawson about Durant, from earlier this year:

“I’ve talked to him about it, but I probably can’t tell you what he said,” Lawson laughingly told CSNwashington.com when the Nuggets visited last month….

“We talked about it. Everybody going home and playing for their respective cities,” Lawson said. “It would be cool, especially playing with the people you grew up with. I grew up with KD. It would be fun to play with them on one team.”

Wait, that might actually be bad for the point I’m trying to make here.  Never mind.  But the point is, the two persons in questions converse in the present day.  And through Google, I found some other quotes that weren’t so interesting, but which also confirmed the two are still friends (ie: the discourse is of pleasant nature).  So there you have it, folks.  James Harden and Kevin Durant.  Friends.  James Harden and Ty Lawson.  Friends, (though that one tweet a year or so ago about Harden’s defense was very mean-spirited).  Kevin Durant and Ty Lawson.  Friends.  *Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard.  Probably not the best of friends.  (But I have to seriously question the social aptitude of anyone who thinks that simply because Durant called Dwight Howard a p**** in the heat of the moment, it unequivocally rules out any consideration the former might have given to playing in Houston, where the latter is employed.  Is Dwight Howard, personally, unbearable to such a degree that one might avoid his team?  Possibly.  But one on-court incident, during a heated game, is not probative independently of such intent.  I bring this up because I’ve seen so many fans in different corners of the internet cite that moment as a “I guess that means Durant won’t come here!” proof.  Stop).

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On bringing back Jason Terry

Isn’t our collective exuberance over bringing back Jason Terry a sign of the times?  This was the same guy who rained threes all over the Toyota Center, doing that obnoxious flying motion in humiliating McGrady’s Rockets ten years ago in bringing Dallas back from an 0-2 series deficit.  Oh, and he also claimed Rockets legend Kenny Smith’s nickname and asserted it as his own, even though being given the nickname because of one’s quickness is obviously much cooler than a self-prescribed acronym in using one’s initials.  But Terry is back, and we’re all thrilled, because he’s been there and we’re trying to get “there.”  I didn’t think he would even sniff the court last season and was brought on primarily as trade bait (due to his contract), and maybe the former would have been true (the latter certainly was) had Pat Beverley not gotten hurt and had Isaiah Canaan not had whatever issues he and Kevin McHale had.  But there Terry was, somehow starting games for the team in the freaking Western Conference Finals.  I won’t talk about that last round, but while Chris Paul was hurt, sure, isn’t it amazing to reflect that the Rockets actually didn’t really get killed at the point guard position in the semis?  That alone is further proof that those of you freaking out over Ty Lawson’s defensive problems need to chill the hell out.  We’re going to be fine.  Because we were fine with Terry and Prigioni manning the spot.

By the way, where are the people who said the Rockets don’t value chemistry?  After experiencing their best season in two decades, the team brought back Terry, Corey Brewer, and Pat Beverley, keeping its core intact.  Funny how that works, right?  As we had been writing, in previous years, it might not have made sense to bring back the former two, because the team wasn’t really in a place to value veteran contributions.  But now that they’re in an actual position to win, continuity is at a premium.

Despite his contributions last season, hopefully Terry won’t have to see the court this season.  Lawson and Beverley should split the lion’s share of the minutes at the position, allowing the old man to bring value in the lockerroom.  I didn’t really understand the importance of veteran leadership until last season when, time and time again, the team refused to give up until the very end.  You have to believe that guys like Terry and Trevor Ariza played instrumental roles there, convincing the team that every champion faces adversity.






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