Huq’s Pen: On Greg Smith

  • In a move that came as a bit of a shock (to use that term loosely), the Rockets announced yesterday that they had waived forward/center Greg Smith and signed center Dexter Pittman to replace him for the remainder of the year.  First, before I dive into the obituary on Smith, a funny story on Pittman: our days at the 40 acres collided, though I can’t remember for how long and in what year.  That in and of itself is depressing.  In any event, one day, word spread that campus legend Vince Young was on site at Gregory gym.  Naturally, myself and a few trusted colleagues headed over to check out the scene.  (If it comes as odd to you that anyone would interrupt their daily schedule to see Young, realize that this was a) before it was realized that he isn’t a very good quarterback at the professional level and b) this was on the 40 acres where the man stands behind only maybe Jesus Christ and Elvis Pressley as the most significant figures in human history.)  Young and his entourage were partaking in a game of pickup on the main center court, much to the delight of a massive crowd of onlookers.  Pittman was part of the aforementioned entourage.  I can’t remember who else.  Maybe T.J Ford?  In any event, Young played it safe the entire game, launching lazy perimeter jumpers but at one point went crashing down after absorbing contact from a driving Pittman.  Young turned and remarked to the crowd, “damn, that’s a big boy.”  That’s it; that was the story.  Slow news day.
  • I swear I have a post somewhere, specifically about Greg Smith where I devote at least half of it to a monologue about how difficult it is to forecast young players because the likelihood of success is so small.  I’m serious, I wrote about this but can’t find it.  Anyways, wow – this is why you just can never feel safe about player projection.  It is hard to succeed in the NBA – it is hard.  We don’t fully appreciate that.  I said in the other Smith piece–and probably put it much more succinctly–we often look at ten year vets who never amounted to much and deride them dismissively as “scrubs”…and while they may not rank highly on the NBA totem pole, in the job market, lasting ten years in one of the most highly specialized workforces in the entire global economy is damn impressive.  Now, to be sure, Smith isn’t going to flame out completely.  He’ll catch on somewhere quickly.  But the greater point stands.  We too often see a tantalizing stretch of play and assume long-term extrapolation as a guarantee.  After that game last year where Smith outplayed Dwight Howard (the irony) to the tune of like 20 and 10, how many of you thought Smith was the team’s future at center?  At the least, how many of you thought he’d be a long term fixture in the team’s rotation?  Had I told you after that night, or hell, after the end of last year when Smith closed out the season at power forward next to Asik helping the team to a sparkling overall +/-, that Smith would be outright waived in less than a year’s time (in favor of Dexter Pittman of all people), it might have come as hard to believe.  But this is the NBA, man.  It’s hard to succeed.

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Denver Nuggets 123, Houston Rockets 116: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

If there was such a thing as a schedule loss, tonight was it.  The Rockets were playing in Denver, having played another late game the night before in Los Angeles, which thus meant that they lost an hour through time zones.  If that was not bad enough, Denver, a team which has plenty of energetic bigs who love to run like Kenneth Faried and Jan Vesely, was a terrible fit for a Houston team with such a thin frontcourt.  Combine that with Randy Foye going off against Houston like a mixture of Jason Terry and Jordan, and hey, there’s nothing that can be done, right?

If viewed solely from the perspective of wins and losses, perhaps.  But tonight was a test about whether Houston could have just a little fortitude and come one step closer to securing that home court advantage they have fought all season for.  But at the very end, it was not the Houston players who will be playing in the playoffs who showed toughness, but rather the D-League players fighting for their next contract who nearly pulled off a miraculous victory.

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Houston Rockets @ Denver Nuggets 4/9/14

Teams: Houston Rockets (52-25) @ Denver Nuggets (33-44)
Time: 9:00 p.m. ET
Venue: Pepsi Center
Television: CSN Houston

Notes: 

The Rockets will be going for a three game season sweep of the Nuggets tonight, after winning the first two games 111-122 and 125-130.

While the Rockets were toying with the Lakers last night, the Nuggets have been resting since they played in Houston this past Sunday.  In that game, James Harden (game-high 32 points) was one of seven different Rockets who scored in double figures, and six scored 14 points or more.  Arron Brooks gave his best to upset his old team, putting up a line of 24-8-15.

In the first game of the season series way back in November, Ty Lawson was a beast going for 28 points and 17 assists.  But it was not enough to overcome another seven Rockets scoring in double figures, this time led by Dwight Howard’s 25.  The Nuggets tried unsuccessfully to “Hack-A-Shaq” Dwight, as Howard scored 18 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, including 13 of 19 free throws in a 2½-minute stretch.  Read More »

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Huq’s Pen: Is James Harden underrated?

  • During a recent nationally televised broadcast–against whom I can’t remember–one of the play by play men said something like “Harden is one of the 10 or 15 best players in the league” and judging by his tone, you could tell he wasn’t fully confident in his assertion.  The other day, I heard a host on local radio muse “it’s getting really hard to name 10 players in the league who are better than Harden.”  Getting really hard?  What am I missing here?  Now, to be sure, prior to the season’s start, ESPN’s panel ranked Harden as the 4th best player in all of basketball, but that panel is composed primarily of geeks like myself so it isn’t really reflective of the conventional wisdom.  So why is the conventional wisdom so down on Harden?  Obviously, his defense is the easy answer, but I’d venture to say that his offense isn’t fully appreciated.  (People who have watched this team day in and day out would agree that Harden’s defense has actually come quite a long way but his struggles early in the year were so widely publicized that he has not been able to recover in the court of public opinion.  As with most things, there is a bit of lag time before public perception catches up with reality and some of the commentary on Harden is reflective of that.  He’s bad but not atrocious as he was earlier.)  If we assumed that if Harden had average-level defense, he’d be considered the 4th best player in the league, then his actual defense should suffice to push him down to like 6th or 7th.  But I think if you asked most mainstream observers, they’d have Harden around 10th or 11th in the league.  That’s insane.  The guy is an offensive juggernaut.
  • Which leads me to my next point.  A big part of why Harden’s greatness offensively isn’t being properly recognized is that, as our own Forrest Walker put it to me on Twitter a few days ago, we are in a period right now where we have, essentially, two GOAT-candidates playing in the primes of their careers.  Let that sink in.  I listen to The Dan Patrick Show on my commute to work every morning and yesterday, some idiot called in ranting some nonsense pertaining to “the greatness of the college game” and “the watered down product of the NBA.”  What?  We’re in the midst of a golden age right now in the NBA.  Why is that so hard for people to accept?  I think it stems from two phenomenons.  For older folks, there’s a sort of contrived snobbery associated with romanticizing the past.  But I think with younger people, there’s a fear that acknowledging the significance of the present can be seen as naive or unsophisticated.  I remember when Rockets fans would say that Clyde Drexler was better than Tracy McGrady or would feel sheepish about opining the inverse.  Nonsense.  McGrady was the far more talented player.

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Houston Rockets 145, Los Angeles Lakers 130 – That little 130? I wouldn’t worry about that little 130

One hundred forty five. Depending on the context, that can be a lot of different sizes. 145 pennies? Not very impressive. 145 dollars? That’s getting somewhere. 145 yachts? Yikes, that’s a lot of opulence! Somewhere in the middle is the scale of NBA points. That’s about 40% more than the average NBA score. That’s a score of 115 at the end of the third quarter. That’s a score that nobody, no other team has managed in a game this year. It’s no coincidence that it happened against the “defense” of the remains of the Los Angeles Lakers, but a point is a point, even if Robert Sacre is on the floor.

On a grander scale, something awesome and tragic all at once took place during the game, and it actually had nothing to do with the Rockets. Steve Nash tallied his 10,335th assists in his career, passing up Mark Jackson for 3rd all time in total assists. That’s a major milestone, and he came out of the game immediately after. That was clearly what the team was gunning for, and they got it. In a season like the Lakers are having, where nothing goes anywhere near right, hanging onto bigger picture moments like that becomes a necessity. This season will pass to dust soon enough, but Steve Nash’s historic career is something people will not only remember but also want to remember. Kudos, Nash, and kudos Lakers for helping him do it. Now we just have to hope his career isn’t over, because a league without Steve Nash is less magical by far.

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