The Sky Is Not Falling – After the loss to the lowly Jazz, I expected the Rockets to slip quite a bit in the stats-based Hollinger Power Rankings on ESPN, which heavily weights factors such as win margin, strength of schedule, and records over the past 10 games. And I was wrong. At the time of this writing the Rockets are still firmly in contender territory at no. 4.
So on a related note, here’s David Thorpe talking about how good the Rockets are despite the stumble in Salt Lake:
Thorpe tends to be generous in his analysis of the Rockets, and has been for several years. It seems that the team’s values with respect to player evaluation and on-court strategies line up with his own.
I was a little bit shocked to hear his comment about James Harden’s commitment on defense. The reaction to the Beard’s performance on that end, particularly against Utah, has garnered a lot of criticism. The more I watch Harden defend, the more I see the pattern emerging that he’s fairly solid when his man has the ball in isolation and he’s locked in. However, when he’s guarding a cutter or someone who is running around two or three screens on a single half-court set (as Hayward was the other night, and as J.J. Redick did when torching Houston), he struggles. It’s an issue that will need to be addressed not just through Harden’s personal effort, but through training with coaches and through communicating with teammates about adjusting when Harden gets splattered by a pick.
Loweball – In Zach Lowe’s latest column, he made two points that are of interest to Houston fans. The first concerns Iman Shumpert:
It’s hard for defenders rushing at shooters to stop their momentum, and Shumpert can drive by them, slice into gaps, and either score or kick the ball elsewhere. He’s a fundamentally unselfish player, happy to make the extra pass, though he has veered a bit toward me-first stuff at times this season — bad shots and highlight-reel dishes when something simpler would do. Stick this guy on the Rockets and you might have a player.
That noise you just heard was the sound of 100,000 Rockets fans firing up the Trade Machine to see what else we could get from New York in exchange for Omer Asik. Cool your engines and read the next sentence:
He’s overrated as a defender. He fouls a ton, and he ball-watches, making him prone to back-door cuts along the baseline.
Not only does he play the same position as our best player, he has the exact same mental lapses on defense! As much as I want to see a wicked high-top fade in Houston again, I’d be shocked to see Shump in a Rockets uniform this year.
The other point Lowe makes is about Chandler Parsons under “10 Thing I Like and Don’t Like”:
I’m not sure any player comes closer to an up-and-down violation more often. Parsons sometimes goes into his shooting motion legitimately unsure if he’s going to shoot or fake, rising to his tiptoes before bringing the ball back down. Just a fun player to watch.
Indeed, he is. Excuse me while I go burn some incense to the injury gods for Chandler’s back…
Best of the Month – In a recent 5-on-5 roundtable about the best teams of last month, Ethan Sherwood Strauss made a case for the Rockets as the West’s best team in November:
Strauss:Houston Rockets. San Antonio has played the best and Portland has been the biggest surprise, but Houston has been uniquely spectacular. GM Daryl Morey’s vision come to life could change the way basketball is played. Houston’s West-leading offense attempts the fewest midrange shots by far, while also pacing the NBA in 3s and free throws attempted. True, teams generally know that 3s and free throws are good, but the Rockets are so extreme in pursuit of their precepts that their success could dramatically influence basketball strategy league-wide.
Kudos to Strauss for the first use of the word “precepts” since the book of Psalms.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested.