How important is Ariza?

By now, if you’re a capable Internet user, you’ve heard the talk – the Rockets again this offseason intend to be active in free agency.  The names tossed about, as par for the course for Daryl Morey, are the two big fish at the top of the class: LaMarcus Aldridge and Kevin Love.  Unfortunately, barring some feat of cap gymnastics I have yet to conceive, any outgoing permutation suitable for a match would involve Trevor Anthony Ariza, Houston’s esteemed emotional leader.  Is it worth it?

The examination requires various questions.  First, we’re all in agreement that the Ariza role is definitively essential.  Last year, at this time, I posed the question of whether the Parsons-Harden duo could go deep in the playoffs.  The premise was that the team’s defense simply could not sustain the pressure of having two weak points at the wings.  Through this past season’s results, that question has been unequivocally answered.  I hate to mix causation with correlation, but let’s be real – Houston doesn’t even get past Dallas with that kind of ease without Ariza on the wing, much less make it all the way to the West Finals.  We learned that you absolutely must pair James Harden with a stout defender at the ‘3’ to go deep.  There just weren’t any other variables overwhelming enough to directly attribute to Houston’s success.

The question now becomes whether Ariza himself is replaceable.

First, can you even replace him?  People toss around the ‘3 and D’ phrase nonchalantly as if these guys grow on trees, but how many of these players really exist?  You can try and develop one, but we’re no longer in a phase to be waiting on player development at critical positions (see: Jones, Terrence).

But lets say you’re even able to replace him with another veteran wing – maybe K.J. McDaniels shows signs this summer of developing an outside shot.  Is there something intrinsic to Ariza himself, after this run, that is indispensable?  What is the value of continuity?  I’m not really sure.  It helps of course, to keep a group together; the value of chemistry cannot be overstated.  But if you think someone else can replace that same production, how much are you really sacrificing, if it means the ability to also add an elite piece?

To me, it’s emotional.  I, like every other fan, become attached to certain players, especially after a run like the one the Rockets just had.  It’s important to disentangle those emotions from the raw, cold analysis, and that’s why Daryl Morey is paid the big bucks to make the decisions.  I tell myself that the Rockets need Ariza next year because they’ll lose the experience they gained in giving up a vital cog who was part of the run.  But in the end result, I don’t know how much that even matters.

in musings


2015 Red94 Season in Review, sort of

Hello all.  This is Rahat.  You may remember me.  Well, if you’re wondering where I’ve been, and why I went silent on Twitter following the Game 2 thriller, I got married this past Sunday.  But Mrs. Red94 is asleep right now, so I have a few moments to reflect back on this season.  Where to start?  I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about the team’s prospects following a season.  Maybe 2004-2005 after the Game 7 loss to Dallas?  The Rockets basically gutted their entire team this past summer in a failed pursuit of big game, appeared to be punting on the season in letting Chandler Parsons walk, and ended up as the third best team in the league.  Remarkable.  We learned many things along the way, but our prolonged season also gave rise to many new questions looking ahead:

[read more…]

in columns


I’m going to start talking about this Rockets team by not talking about the Rockets.

Instead, I’m going to start by talking about a team that existed 14 years ago and also won 56 games before making a deep playoff push. Specfically, the 2001 Philadelphia 76ers under Allen Iverson.

There is a school of thought on that specific team which challenges the conventional wisdom that Iverson’s heart and will carried that team. Iverson may have played an important role offensively, but the 76ers made the NBA Finals and won one game against an all-time great team on the strength of their defense and rebounding. Players like Eric Snow, Dikembe Mutombo, and Aaron McKie were good defensive players that were actually able to win games even when Iverson had bad shooting nights.

Well, that may have been true for the 76ers and their one offensive superstar then. It was not true for the Rockets and their one offensive superstar in Game 5. Because while Terry, Brewer, Ariza, and Howard all contributed, James Harden had possibly the worst game I have ever seen from him. And all the defense, Terry three-pointers, and Brewer transition buckets are not going to beat one of the best teams in NBA history when Harden plays this badly.

[read more…]

in game coverage


What James Harden did last night

James Harden’s line last night: 45 points (on 22 attempts!), 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 2 blocks, 3 turnovers.

How many players this postseason would you guess had a better line? (Where “better line” is assessed according to Basketball Reference’s Game Score, which measures a player’s production/efficiency taking all box score statistics into account.)

The answer: 0.

It is highly unlikely that any player this postseason will outdo what Harden did last night. Not even LeBron’s 37-18-13 game came close (mainly because LeBron took 37 attempts compared to Harden’s 22).

How many players would you guess had a better postseason line this CENTURY?

The answer: 8.

Here they are:

Dirk (3x, ages 22, 27, and 32)
LeBron (2x, both at age 24)
Kobe (2x, ages 22 and 29)
Allen Iverson (2x, ages 25 and 27)
Shaq (2x, ages 26 and 28)
Paul Pierce (1x, age 24)
Vince Carter (1x, age 24)
Karl Malone (1x, age 36)

Maybe it’s a fluke. Maybe Harden got unusually hot one night  — e.g., sinking 80 footers — and he does not actually belong on a list with these [future] hall of famers. Maybe. But his performance over the full season suggests otherwise.

[read more…]

in musings

Jalen Rose is fond of saying, “The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.”

Well, the Golden State Warriors beat the Houston Rockets four times on their way to winning 67 games this season. And of the 16 teams before them to win 65+ games, only LeBron’s ’09 Cavaliers, Dirk’s ’07 Mavericks and the post-Russell ’73 Celtics failed to win the title that year. Golden State was also 39-2 at home in the regular season. Only the Spurs, Bulls and Grizzlies (in Round 2) have managed to beat the Warriors at home so far this season.

Numbers like that make you wonder if the Rockets ever really stood much of a chance.  [read more…]

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