Rockets Daily: Thursday, November 18th, 2010

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5JoX2ZHQ9uU

Analysis and the daily links can be found after the jump.

As a man who takes more than a minor interest in the Houston Rockets, I am very familiar with all of the excuses (I dole them out on a daily basis, though much less regularly lately). I know, the Rockets tend to accumulate injuries like honey attracts adorable, animated bears. I know that this team has tried to maintain and enact new systems through a couple of coaches without being able to keep the personnel on the court or team long enough to ever implement anything of substance. I know that no team (except maybe the equally cursed Portland Trailblazers) in the league has had to deal with similar setbacks to the roster. I also know that this team, as currently constructed, doesn’t really have an excuse. Yes, the injury bug has returned (who among us didn’t really expect it to?), but that isn’t why the Rockets are 3-8. It’s not why this team couldn’t keep a team of Earl Boykinses (that seems as good a plural form as any) from getting in the paint. It’s not why the team couldn’t move the ball past halfcourt throughout the first half of Wednesday’s contest against the Thunder. The reason for all of this is much less complicated than the litany of justifications Rockets fans have memorized throughout the Yao/McGrady era: badness. Nothing comes easily for this team because it just isn’t that good.

Currently, this team’s best options are an aging, if perfect, role player and an occasionally non-existent star who has never been on a team that was any better than an 8 seed. The team honestly isn’t the train wrecks that Detroit and the Clippers are, but those kinds of collapsed messes are the Rockets’ competition these days. I simply can’t write sentences about this team without mentioning some underlying flaw, some major concern, some other reason this team won’t win again. Last night, even as the Rockets hung in the game prior to halftime, everything seemed wrong for Houston. Though the team was tied at 30 and often found itself right behind the Thunder, most of Houston’s early “success” in the game could be attributed to a brilliant field goal percentage (59% in the first half, which Houston finished down by 11), and even that was mostly thanks to a brilliant half of offense from one Luis Scola, who has sadly been this team’s best player this year. Scola can not be described as anything other than consistently great, but his level of great just isn’t that of a star in the NBA’s. Honestly, no NBA team could survive getting the offensive looks the Rockets did last night; yesterday’s was a team that could easily rival last year’s Nets in an anti-arms-race of futility. No shots were easy (Kyle Lowry has taken an absolute pounding from Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook in consecutive games on both ends of the floor) for the team, which didn’t win a quarter of play last night. As aforementioned, not even bringing the ball up the court seemed possible thanks both to the ridiculous length and athleticism of the Thunder (trying to pass the ball into an interior featuring Kevin Durant, Serge Ibaka and Nenad Kristic basically cannot happen when your best post player gives up about three inches to their small forward) and the Rockets’ complete and utter lack of playmaking. Ish Smith and Brad Miller, two consistent defensive liabilities (I’d also like to add that Smith having to consider shooting may be the team’s biggest liability with him on the court), have had to see serious playing time because no one else can deliver a pass, including point guard Lowry and backup combo guard Courtney Lee (whose head has appeared somewhere other than where the Rockets are playing about half of this season). No one on this team can seem to do anything of the things they are supposed to be able to consistently outside of Scola and Martin, who are the team’s worst defenders and consistently give up everything they earn on one end on the other. Without trying to oversell any point, this team lacks the inherent will and talent to be able to win games with any kind of consistency.

This game showed exactly where the Rockets are in the NBA landscape: as one team dealing with the weight of preseason expectations found itself grouping together and bonding as one cohesive unit, the Rockets watched OKC do so all around them, seemingly taken aback and petrified at once. The Thunder represent what just about every NBA team not named the Heat and Lakers envy: youth on the rise; Houston didn’t look as much in awe of the show around it as much as it did weary about it. And if the Rockets are already feeling tired and frustrated with all of the youth this league has to offer, be prepared for an extremely long season.

Houston Rockets 99, Oklahoma City Thunder 116

Box Score

Daily Thunder

On to the links…

  • As Kevin Durant gets to coast to 24-point-games in victories that were decided before the fourth quarter began, his tormentee and object of the world’s pity, Greg Oden, got the kind of miserable, morale-crushing news that has become old hat in Houston (and in Portland): the oft-injured big man will miss yet another season thanks to another necessary microfracture surgery, the second of his ridiculously young career. For a few days of the media cycle, good doses of both snark and told-you-so-based, affected pity will be sprayed from the frothing maws of the mouth-breathers on sports radio (I love you guys, though), but this one won’t be fair. Not in the slightest. I mean, talk all you want about Sam Bowie, but even he got a proper rookie season. Greg Oden really hasn’t been given a chance by his body, the same overgrown body of a man that got him where he was and is now rapidly breaking him. Portland fans, I feel your pain, but I can’t even imagine how this weighs on a kid like Oden. Misery abounds for all involved here.
  • Going back to a more homegrown sadness, there has been so much hand-wringing about how bad this team is right now that it’s sometimes hard to remember that Yao Ming still hasn’t retuned from his ankle injury to help make this team mediocre instead of simply awful. The big fella did not travel with the team to OKC and won’t be in Toronto Friday, making Monday’s matchup with the Suns Yao’s first opportunity to return to the lineup. Bring him back against the Phoenix Suns; that makes total sense. Ugh. 3-8 records force me into 3rd-grade-type sarcasm. Excuse my petulance.
  • Jonathan Feigen knows that the Houston Rockets are not as bad as their 3-8 record implies, but that doesn’t change the fact that the team has already created a five-game-hole to climb out of simply to enter the realm of the pedestrian. Feigen talks a bit about the team’s past lapses proving to be the kinds of failures that teams rarely overcome: “That’s what comes with the losses that could have been — and especially those that should have been — wins. Drop a few too many of those, and then the understandable, road-weary, short-handed loss like Wednesday’s seems to cause far too much damage. The Rockets are not ready to match up with the Thunder. Oklahoma City is young and long and tremendously athletic, blessed with an MVP-caliber talent in Kevin Durant and a running mate, Russell Westbrook, who is not far behind… Nights like that happen, and will happen for them in matchups like these. They are 3-8, however, because of the nights in which they could have or even should have won and didn’t. The latest loss, the first one like it this season, just made it seem even worse.”
  • The Miami Heat features some of the best transition players in the NBA, so why does it play at one of the league’s slowest paces (94 possessions per game, good for 20th in the L)? Tom Haberstroh of the Heat Index breaks down why the Heat might not want to look at the SSOL-era Suns as a prototype: “Jones hits on a key point — the Heat aren’t stocked with 3-point shooters. But more importantly, the two ball-dominant scorers, LeBron and Wade, destroy opponents through attacking the basket, not distributing the ball to the perimeter. If LeBron and Wade were to suddenly stop driving to the rim, they’d see their efficiencies plummet from not toeing the free throw line every other trip down the court. Teams would rejoice.”
  • Remember when we all mocked David Kahn for his obsession with building a Darko-Love-Supercool Beas frontcourt? Mock away at the next four years of Milicic, but those other two are oh so serious.
  • In an ESPN Insider article released yesterday, John Hollinger wrote about a future without Yao that could feature a max free agent and a couple of lottery picks next year. Too bad the Rockets may never be able to truly sever themselves from their Chinese connection: “They can probably do it again. But the problem with life in the middle in the NBA is that it can be a tough place to escape, because it’s virtually impossible to get any better. Houston will never get a high lottery pick this way, and if it keeps this group together it will never have enough dough to make a big splash in free agency. In the grueling Western Conference, furthermore, a win total in the low 40s might still banish Houston to the lottery… It’s too early to say definitely that a change in course is needed. The Rockets will argue for patience with Yao, and for at least a few more months that’s the right way to play their hand. After they’ve seen Yao for half a season and trade-deadline urgency forces other teams to show their cards, the Rockets will have a much better idea of whether it’s best to max out the current roster or opt for dramatic restructuring.”






in columns
  • Bob Schmidt

    First, let me remind everyone that the Vipers tip-off the new season tonight! The Versus network will televise the game, so look for it. More details at http://www.nba.com/dleague/

    Now, to the Rockets… I refuse to declare them dead, and bury them. We have suffered unbelievably by the lack of Brooks at the PG. There is no way to describe Kyle other than horrid trying to run the team. His PER of 4.5% is testimony to his ineptness. By the same metrics used last year, he rated 15.5%. It may be that his effectiveness is related to being the energy guy off of the bench, and a contrast to Brooks.

    Beyond that, we have really missed Bud in the rotation. Even without his best shot, we really need him playing.. Lee has also disappointed me, not nearly as productive as I thought he would be. Yao has not hurt us so much by his absence because Miller has done well enough to plug the hole. Sure, we could use an elite player, but we are too quick to judge the start that we have had. Even the schedule has been unfortunate, too much travel and back to backs. Not to mention the quality of our opponents.

  • Anonymous

    Would you all undo the Ariza-Lee trade? I personally would not as I do feel Lee will come around, but am curious to hear everyone’s thoughts. Ariza was one of the most frustrating players I’ve ever watched in a Rockets uniform, but his production last year after the Martin trade is undeniable. Would that have continued?

  • Rocket Fan in Santa Barbara

    I couldn’t agree more about Lowry–just awful. He looked like a Derrick Fisher who can’t shoot threes

  • I would not undo it. I think Ariza took way too many stupid shots (kinda like Kyle Lowry’s jump shots).

    Ariza did play the passing lanes very well and could make a clutch shot or too when it matter (like the one against the Heat this season).

    That said, it may have been interesting to see Ariza in the Rockets when he wasn’t supposed to be one of our primary offensive weapons.

  • Bob3296

    I disliked Ariza from the start. He struck me as low basketball IQ, with bad attitude.

  • Patrick

    No it wouldn’t. He’s playing alongside a way better creator and scorer than Martin and he’s shooting in the mid-30’s. Lee is having a rough stretch, but he’s been virtually turnoverless and is a decent defender.

  • Majik

    At least Ariza made his presence known in games. I can’t even tell when Lee is out there most of the time. I really expected a lot more out of him: similar numbers to Ariza, but on fewer shots, higher fg%, and less turnovers. (Also less gambling, since that can break a defense.)

  • Majik

    Everyone sure is being tough on Lowry. I’m not willing to put this all on him for the following reasons:

    1) The guy barely played the preseason and didn’t start the season. There is no way he is in good condition. He had to play a ridiculous 43 minutes against Chicago b/c Rose would make Ish look like a high schooler. And Lowry averages about 24 mpg for his career.
    2) We all know he can’t shoot. So I will give you that.
    3) Try to remember he played against two of the best, biggest, and fastest point guards in the NBA today. And Westbrook is a good defender.
    4) Is anyone else on the team hitting shots for him to pass to? Martin was 5/15 against Chicago and 4/9 against OKC. Miller isn’t a good shooter. Lee hasn’t shot well. Battier isn’t a good shooter anymore. Hayes isn’t a good shooter. Hill isn’t a good shooter. The drive and kick doesn’t work very well when everyone else misses.
    5) Also remember (this isn’t an excuse, but i’ll throw it out there) these are two of the better defensive teams in the NBA. Tom Thibodeaux always maximizes a defense.

  • Anonymous

    I thought Kelly Dwyer summed it up best when he said that the Rockets are a team full of players that are only great on one end of the court. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense – Morey has picked out the diamonds in the rough because they fit the skill set he is looking for, but at the same time the don’t have any of the skills he isn’t looking for. And so we end up with Scola, Martin, Brooks, Battier, Hayes, Jeffries, Smith…it’s a long list. On paper, sure, it sounds like it might work, but on the court it essentially means we’re playing short-handed at both ends, and that’s just not going to cut it. We need some Jack of all Trades guys to allow us to balance things out.

    Having said that, I agree with Bob that it’s still too early to give up on the team yet. The injuries have made a difference – people were down on Brooks at the start of the season, but we need him for the balance he brings to the PG rotation. And as mentioned above, we’ve got a team of players who are well suited for highly specific roles. It’s going to take time to fit the pieces together right, but we’ve got time. There are still plenty of games to play, plenty of mediocre teams to punish, plenty of games in the dark days of Jan/Feb to win with the hustle and fight that has defined this team for the last few seasons. When the pieces align and the team we were dreaming of before the start of the season comes together down the stretch, we’re going to look back and wonder how we could have been so down on these guys at the start of the year.

    I hope.

  • Easy

    I still don’t understand. We haven’t changed the roster that much compared to the later part of last season. We were playing much better then. In fact, the first game of the season against the Lakers, we looked like we were picking our game right up without missing a beat… for 3.5 quarters.

  • Stephen

    Easy,
    The Rockets did start the season like they ended last season.
    After the McGrady trade Martin played in 24 games-w/Brooks as starting PG. In those 24 games the Rockets gave up 110+ points 10 times w/4 games of 120-129 and two of 130+. They were 2-8 in those games,10-4 in the rest. Roughly 40% of the Brooks/Martin games saw the Rockets give up 110+ points. This season 2 of 4 Brooks/Martin games saw the Rockets give up 110+ points.

    In the other 58 non-Brooks/Martin games they 110+ points in 10 games,w/ 1 in the 120s and 1 in 130s. They were 2-8 in those games and 28-20 in the rest. They gave up 110+ points in roughly 1 in 6 games. Coincidently(yeah it’s early) the Rockets have given up 110+ points in 1 of the 6 games Brooks has missed.

    The more games played,the greater the strength of the trend. A Brooks/Martin backcourt is a defensive sieve. Whether it’s Brooks or Martin is debatable,what is increasingly not is the two together combine for a horrendously bad defensive pairing.
    As for the whole Brooks scores more to make up for his defensive lapses argument,please note so far this season and all of last season the Rockets are 4-18 in games where Brooks plays and the Rockets give up 110+ points.
    (Note I’m not counting SA game as Brooks was injured and couldn’t play Second Half. No way of knowing what would have happened if Brooks played the rest of game.)

    On the other end of spectrum,last season the Brooks/Martin backcourt saw 6 opponents held under 100 in their 24 games,25% of the games. They gave up 120+ points as often as they held teams under 100. They were 4-2 in those games.
    In the other 58 games the Rockets held their opponents under 100 28 times,almost half the time and close to three times as often as they gave up 110+ points.(And 14 times as often as thy gave up 120+ points.) They were 20-8 in those games. Thru the OKC game the Rockets are 3-2 when holding the other team under 100.
    In limited games this season,Brooks/Martin have not held a team under 100,and w/out Brooks the team has done it 5 of 7 games(including SA).

  • Stephen

    Easy,
    The Rockets did start the season like they ended last season.
    After the McGrady trade Martin played in 24 games-w/Brooks as starting PG. In those 24 games the Rockets gave up 110+ points 10 times w/4 games of 120-129 and two of 130+. They were 2-8 in those games,10-4 in the rest. Roughly 40% of the Brooks/Martin games saw the Rockets give up 110+ points. This season 2 of 4 Brooks/Martin games saw the Rockets give up 110+ points.

    In the other 58 non-Brooks/Martin games they 110+ points in 10 games,w/ 1 in the 120s and 1 in 130s. They were 2-8 in those games and 28-20 in the rest. They gave up 110+ points in roughly 1 in 6 games. Coincidently(yeah it’s early) the Rockets have given up 110+ points in 1 of the 6 games Brooks has missed.

    The more games played,the greater the strength of the trend. A Brooks/Martin backcourt is a defensive sieve. Whether it’s Brooks or Martin is debatable,what is increasingly not is the two together combine for a horrendously bad defensive pairing.
    As for the whole Brooks scores more to make up for his defensive lapses argument,please note so far this season and all of last season the Rockets are 4-18 in games where Brooks plays and the Rockets give up 110+ points.
    (Note I’m not counting SA game as Brooks was injured and couldn’t play Second Half. No way of knowing what would have happened if Brooks played the rest of game.)

    On the other end of spectrum,last season the Brooks/Martin backcourt saw 6 opponents held under 100 in their 24 games,25% of the games. They gave up 120+ points as often as they held teams under 100. They were 4-2 in those games.
    In the other 58 games the Rockets held their opponents under 100 28 times,almost half the time and close to three times as often as they gave up 110+ points.(And 14 times as often as thy gave up 120+ points.) They were 20-8 in those games. Thru the OKC game the Rockets are 3-2 when holding the other team under 100.
    In limited games this season,Brooks/Martin have not held a team under 100,and w/out Brooks the team has done it 5 of 7 games(including SA).

  • Stephen

    BTW,so far Brooks w/out Martin and Martin w/out Brooks see the Rockets play adequate defense. But when they combine,yikes!

  • Stephen

    The problem w/the whole letting Yao walk and clear cap space for a FA run is….has anyone looked at the 2011 FA list?
    There’s Carmelo and…and…and…and…
    We already know Carmelo doesn’t want to come to Houston or he would have been traded already,and why would he want to come to a Rockets team stripped of Yao and co.?

    The draft’s best potential players are Freshman,which even assuming they come out in face of lock-out and Rockets have one of the top 3 picks,means they are going to be a couple of yrs away.

  • Anonymous

    Like Sohum i would’ve liked to see how Ariza went this year as a role player rather than a focal point. i guess you need to take a trade when it comes up so I wouldn’t undo the trade. His defense would really help this team right now.

  • Anonymous

    Miller is a pretty good shooter for his position. Hill hasnt been too bad.

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