The Rockets Daily – January 16, 2013

My Hero – James Harden squared up Austin Rivers, examined the defense and when no help came for poor Austin, he attacked.  He gave a good, hard jab-step towards Rivers’ left shoulder and popped back several feet with all the room he needed to knock down the easy 19-footer.  It was the kind of step-back jumper that an in-his-prime Allen Iverson would have been jealous of.  TrueHoop’s Kevin Arnovitz discusses this play and a few others from down the stretch in last night’s game against the Pelicans, and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t quite the hero-ball Rockets fans have become accustomed to in late-game situations.

But heroball this wasn’t. The Rockets didn’t run a 1-4 flat set with Harden pounding the ball into the hardwood until he felt inclined to put it on the floor. And though these shots didn’t originate from the Rockets’ preferred zones, each was cleverly crafted with one goal in mind: Take Harden’s primary defender, Eric Gordon, out of the play and draw a lesser perimeter defender on the switch. The way to accomplish that? A “small-small” pick-and-roll — one guard picking for the other guard.

Mr. Arnovitz breaks down how the Rockets used a 1-2 pick-and-roll on two late game possessions last night, with Jeremy Lin playing the role of screener, as a way to get Harden face to face with a smaller, less athletic defender when the team needed a sure bucket.  It’s really an ingenious way to get the match-ups you want, as smaller players are not used to having to show and recover the way big men are when defending the pick-and-roll.  It’s a play the Thunder have run for years with great success, although they run the 1-3 pick-and-roll to free Durant, and it’s nice to see the Rockets stealing something from their playbook to beef up their end-of-game attack.

The play may have ended with Harden one-on-one for the final shot, but if that shot is carefully thought out, well executed and not the hand-in-your-face chuck that we’ve seen before from the Kevin McHale Rockets, well then this is the kind of hero we’ve been waiting for.

More Big Three – Ian Thomsen of wrote a nice piece about something that I touched on yesterday: Chandler Parsons as the potential third star next to Dwight Howard and James Harden.  I have to admit, I was taken aback when I read the headline before I got into the article; the implication being Parsons had started slow in his NBA career and is just now rounding into form.  That, thankfully, was not his intention, but rather pointing out that Parsons never took basketball seriously until he was well into high school.

“I was a late bloomer. I played baseball my whole life; I didn’t really start playing basketball until my freshman or sophomore years of high school. I think it’s more beneficial when you draft a guy who’s been in college three or four years. He’s more game-ready. I experienced everything you could experience as a player in college with the NIT, losing games, winning big games, playing in front of crazy crowds, playing in the NCAA Tournament.”

I’ve heard Charles Barkley and Jalen Rose comment multiple times on the similarities of Tim Duncan and Kareem Abdul-Jabar, who both played four years of college, and how that experience didn’t slow their learning curve once they arrived in the NBA.  They are each legends who both won several championships and both had/are having two of the longest, most successful careers in NBA history despite their late starts.

There was also an enlightening quote from Daryl Morey on the role Parsons plays now and while he was at Florida.

“He breaks the mold in a bunch of ways,” said Morey. “Because he wasn’t a top scorer in college. Generally, all of the players who make the league were big-time scorers who played at much higher level in college, and then have to dial it back in the pros to play a smaller role. Where Chandler played the same role for a very good Florida team. He’s playing a similar role, but he’s playing it now in the pros.”

Parsons’ draft profile chided him for not scoring more despite being the SEC player of the year, even while applauding his do-it-all game.  But that is just the type of player you’d want playing alongside Harden and Howard.  It still flummoxes me how so many teams could pass up such a talented and productive college player, when so many of the guys taken ahead of him aren’t even in the league anymore.

Metropolis, it is not – Dwight Howard will not be a participant in this years Slam Dunk Contest, All-Star weekend in New Orleans.  The league asked if Howard would like to return to New Orleans where he became the Caped Crusader, but Howard rebuffed, informing them that he “couldn’t do it”.  This is a good thing for the Rockets, as Dwight still hasn’t gotten back to those explosive Orlando days and doesn’t need to add the strain to his body.  But it’s not a bad thing to reminisce the glory days.

“It was a night to remember,” Howard said. “It was probably one of the best memories of me being in the NBA being in the dunk contest here in New Orleans. The fans were amazing here. Every time I come in this building, I get chills thinking about it.”

For me personally, that was the greatest spectacle I’d ever seen at the Dunk Contest.  Not, mind you, the best in totality (Vinsanity will always hold that crown), but to see a man that large “fly” that far, that high AND he had the showmanship to dawn the cape?  I will never forget it.  And, that it was the preamble to all of Dunk City’s “not dunks”, only makes it that much more memorable.

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