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The Rockets Daily – December 12, 2013

Youth Group – ESPN Insider ranked the top 25 players under 25. James Harden ranked no. 4 on the list, his same rank as last year. He was leapfrogged by Anthony Davis, Paul George and Andre Drummond. As you may have guessed by Drummond’s high placement, these ranking are heavily weighted toward potential. About Harden the writers write:

Elhassan: The best shooting guard in the NBA, Harden has taken scoring efficiency to new levels. He gets to the front of the rim almost at will, and if the defense lays back he will seek and destroy from beyond the arc. A deft playmaker who makes his teammates better, Harden’s final frontier is conquering the defensive end.

Thorpe: Harden has taken Kobe Bryant’s place as the player who makes the most “bad” shots, but he still misses the majority of them. On this team, with the weapons he has around him, those just are not necessary. Taking a few more uncontested shots each game and displaying a willingness to play defense more often the way he does expertly on occasion would elevate him to MVP-level status.

Pelton: Players similar to Harden have tended to peak at an early age, often because of injuries. The pounding Harden takes while repeatedly driving to the hoop could take a toll.

Harden is the only Rocket on the list. Remember, Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin are both 25, and therefore too old for this one. If Terrence Jones keeps up his current level of production, it’s not hard to imagine him sneaking on to this list next year. More on these rankings in a minute.

Playa From Judea – Omri Casspi makes Henry Abbott’s list of some of the most surprisingly effective defenders in the NBA this season. Check out the numbers:

With Casspi on the floor, the Rockets have given up 94.8 points per 100 possessions, which is almost as good as the league-leading Pacers. When he’s on the bench, the team has given up 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which is pedestrian.

The defensive bottom line is that the Rockets have gotten 9.3 points worse on D when Casspi checks out. The number could be thick with early-season noise, but it’s eye-opening nonetheless.

Abbott also raises the question of whether the team could really get a better value than Casspi from any of the stretch 4′s (Ryan Anderson) that are often bandied about in trade rumors. And that’s a really good question.The strong play of Casspi and Jones explain exactly why Daryl Morey is reportedly demanding draft picks in any trade for Omer Asik–picks are the only way to match Asik’s value. No stretch 4 such as Millsap or Anderson would be enough of an upgrade to be worth the price. No wing defender short of Andre Iguodala (definitely not available) would be worth cutting Harden’s or Parsons’ minutes, no backup center would present equal value to Asik, and no true All-Star could be had in exchange for him. That means the only way Houston gets his value is by demanding role players for now and picks for the future. With the talent in next year’s draft, Morey will need an extra bottle of roofies to use on opposing GM’s to make that happen.

Eggs – Kelvin Sampson on Chandler Parsons, courtesy of the Houston Chronicle:

“He is our glue guy. He makes it work. I have watched enough cooking shows to know that you can’t make a cake without some eggs. They are a binder. That’s what he is – he binds us together.”

Ladies and gentlemen, give it up for Kelvin Sampson.

Let’s All Think About Trevor Ariza – In talking about the top 25 under 25 rankings, Henry Abbott and Amin Elhassan delve a bit into the great stats versus scouts debate. The subject of discussion is Kawhi Leonard.

I agree with Elhassan 100 percent on this because of our good friend, Trevor Ariza. Ariza was a great fourth or fifth option on a championship Lakers team. In L.A. he was a statistically efficient player who brought a lot to the court, but when he was handed the keys to the offense in Houston it was a dark, dark time. A cold time. A time of sackcloth and ashes and deep regret…

Anyways, all that is to say that holistic stats like WARP and PER have to be taken in the context of the role the player is asked to play. The stats that tell us how good a player is at specific tasks (many of the SportVU stats fall under this category) are a different story. They are finally quantifying individual skills that good scouts have recognized all along: skills that allow a player to carry an offense or anchor a defense.

While holistic stats like WARP tell us how effective a player is in his current situation, they are useless for exposing how he could perform in a different role. Harden was able to make the leap to becoming the focal point of an offense because his skill set doesn’t rely on other great players to set him up. Ariza couldn’t make that leap. I doubt Leonard can either, despite tremendous production as the Spurs’ third banana. Production and skills just aren’t the same thing.

Contributor Needed - I’m still taking applications for someone to replace me as news editor, which mostly involves writing the Daily. I’ll be writing less starting around Christmas. Email me at jeby901@gmail.com if you’re interested.

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About the author: John Eby got on the Rockets bandwagon in 1994 and never got off. He is a public relations guy and recovering TV journalist living in South Carolina.