• This was about as ugly as it can get for a team that fancies itself a contender.  The starters looked completely out of sorts, and even worse, soft and lethargic, offensively.  At the other end, Denver seemed to do whatever it wanted, shooting 51% on the night, and a blistering 48% on 3’s.  I forgot how bad this system can look when shots aren’t falling: a lot of one on one, and standing around, and nothing past the initial pick and roll; adding Lawson wasn’t going to magically change that lack of creativity.  Houston was a step or three slow defensively on rotations and just looked completely overmatched inside.  James Harden and Ty Lawson went a combined 9-31 from the floor.  Terrence Jones got his shot blocked on seemingly every play.  Clint Capela wasn’t ready for primetime.
  • But it’s going to be okay.  Lawson and Harden will figure it out, as primary ball-handlers serving as teammates have often had to do.  They were clearly feeling each other out, with Lawson especially overly deferential to the team’s established star.  That will change naturally, with time, and you’ll see more Harden off the ball, and more sets involving both players with double pick and rolls.  (On the latter, I hope).
  • As bad as this was, there were several bright spots.  Houston played its best with Pat Beverley and rookie Montrezl Harrell sharing the floor, along with Corey Brewer, blitzing the Nuggets at a frantic pace.  That trio will eat up bench units with relentlessness and physicality alone.  Add in Clint Capela, upon Dwight Howard’s return, and Houston’s bench looks like, as expected, it will be Houston’s strength this season.  During one stretch in the first half, Harrell did whatever he wanted, finishing off the catch and even scoring on a nifty post move he wasn’t supposed to have.  In the third, Beverley got every rebound that was there to be had.  He somehow actually had another gear.  This bench is going to murder people; the starters will just have to figure out their part.
  • Harrell’s surprise play, from preseason and into tonight, thickens the plot in what was already the most fascinating storyline of the year.  As I had been writing since summer, one of Donatas Motiejunas or Terrence Jones almost surely will be dealt, in-season, with both men expected massive raises.  What unfolds if Harrell develops at this current rate?  The fear in trading Jones, or even Motiejunas, in theory, would be that in making a deal to save dollars tomorrow, Daryl Morey would be crippling his team’s current chances by removing a vital rotation cog.  In a trade, the Rockets would need to get back a dependable veteran, or have an in-house replacement ready to go.  Enter Harrell, if he can keep this up.  It’s still early of course, but what happens when Motiejunas returns, if Harrell continues at this rate?  Both Jones and Motiejunas are far too talented to bench.  It’s a story we’ll have to continue watching closely.

in game coverage


Guess what! The NBA season is back! The offseason was long and boring, but now suddenly we get to watch the greatest league in the world until a champion is crowned in June. The 2015 -2016 season is back, and it’s time to predict how many games the Houston Rockets will win. As with every year, it’s a confusing and difficult affair because the Rockets are a confusing and difficult team. But confusion and difficulty have never stopped us before, so it’s time to roll out the


in essays


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.

in musings


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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in musings

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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in essays

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