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The Rockets Daily – January 6, 2013; Farewell John Eby, Welcome Mitchell Felker

When I hatched the idea of a Rockets Daily (also briefly known as Rockets Blast), I was skeptical.  A daily news gazette isn’t anything unique in the sports blogosphere, but I wasn’t sure I wanted such a thing on Red94 – some days there’s just not enough news and the piece itself could appear as fluff.  That’s why it’s such a tough loss losing John Eby who, for the last year, wrote these Dailies filling in the pieces with his own editorial touch.  It’s been pretty neat coming to my own site every morning to get filled in on the day’s news and I’m fairly certain you, dear reader, have gotten the same utility out of Mr. Eby’s writing.

A lot more goes in to running a blog of this scale than just what you see appear on your page.  In the early days, when it was just myself and Durvasa, I handled everything on my own.  Now, with a staff that has ballooned to 11 writers, in addition to four forum moderators, there’s a lot of juggling that takes place behind the scenes.  In addition to the Dailies, Mr. Eby coordinated the schedules every week to ensure that a preview and recap went up for each game in a timely manner in accordance with each writer’s availability.  That was a task that I just could no longer handle on my own.

John, as you know, will be retiring from the Dailies due to the expected birth of a child.  He’ll still be with us, penning his DwightLife series, however.  Taking his place, I’m excited to introduce Mitchell Felker who we were lucky to find after a very extensive candidate search process.  Mitchell is a native Houstonian and a former Army air traffic controller.  Below is his first Daily. – Rahat Huq

Until Death Do Us Part - Ken Berger of CBS Sports has heard that the Rockets are expecting to keep Omer Asik for the rest of the season.

“Teams that are tanking don’t want him to make them better and winning teams want to steal him,” one rival GM said.

Now, I know we were all so excited to see what kind of haul Morey would be able to pull down with perhaps his most valuable trade asset yet, but this doesn’t necessarily mean keeping him is bad news.  As has been said many times on this site, there is real value in having Asik come off the bench and provide 48-minute rim protection, even if it makes him the most overqualified, overpaid part-time player in the NBA.

The Rockets were 5-4 during the failed Twin Towers experiment, but rolled off a downright dominant stretch of games, going 8-1 over the next 2 weeks after committing to Terrence Jones full time at the 4 with Asik coming off the bench.  Since Asik’s injury though, the team is 9-8 and continues to battle with consistency issues.  That’s just two games over .500 combined with Asik not in a reserve role.  If that doesn’t spell value, I don’t know what does.

I commend Morey for being proactive and trying to move Asik while his value was still (somewhat) high after realizing the need to do so, but that time has passed.  And maybe this team can still be improved with a trade, but I sure hope (and truly believe) that he will continue to practice patience and not just make a move to pacify Asik’s request.

Proof is in the pudding – The guys over at Hickory High have created their own take on the metric Expected Points Per Shot (XPPS). XPPS is a metric that figures out how many points a player should get per attempt, based on league averages, from a shot in one of the five league-recognized areas: Restricted Area, Paint, Mid-Range, Corner 3 and Above the Break 3.  Ian Levy has created his own take on this metric by adjusting it to show what each player can expect to score on each shot based on his shooting percentages in these areas, as opposed to the leagues average.  It gives a truer picture of what players really dominate in which areas of the court.  His first area of concern is the most coveted shot on the court: the restricted area.  It’s no surprise that Lebron dominates this area in his metric.  The rest of the list does offer one pleasant surprise:

And while wings are scarce among the top 25 for this category (predictably populated mostly by low-block presences at PF and C), the others beyond King James all fit the bill perfectly – Manu Ginobli, Dwyane Wade, and Kevin Durant are all elite rim-attacking wings, and their RA-Adjusted XPPS reflects it.  Likewise, while seeing a name like Jeremy Lin might be a surprise to some, SportsVu data backs up his inclusion – he’s one of the most efficient and most frequent drivers to the hoop in the league.

That’s a pretty impressive list to be on for a guy who takes flack for not being his team’s starting point guard.  And if you click the SportsVu link, you’ll also notice James Harden and Chandler Parsons’ names on the list of players with the most points per game off shots at the rim.  After playing with the filters a bit, requiring players to average at least 4.5 ppg on drives with a shooting percentage over 48.5%, I managed to whittle the list down to just 14 players in the whole league who fit that criteria.  And all three Rockets remain on that list.  This can help us further understand why Lin is better suited as a sixth man for this team.

Morey has always said he prefers two attacking guards in his lineup, but with Parsons’ continued improvement across the board, adding an elite attacking guard to the bench reeks of sense.  Patrick Beverley’s perimeter defense is a bigger addition to a starting 5 that already consists of Harden and Parsons.  Jeremy Lin was already somewhat redundant playing next to Harden before you even take into account how much Parsons’ offensive game continues to grow.  It’s just a crying shame that Lin and Asik haven’t been able to spearhead the second unit together much this season, just three games by my count, because they are both elite at such important aspects of the game.  How many bench units can make a claim like that?

Expectations vs Reality – Taking a look back at last year’s schedule, the Rockets ended their 35th game of the season with a 125-112 win over the Lakers.  James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Carlos Delfino all had at least 19 points, with Harden leading all scorers with 31 points.  More importantly, it was the Rockets’ fifth straight win and pushed their record to 21-14.  Not bad for a team that not only featured one of the league’s youngest rosters and paid almost 130 million dollars to three players with less than a full season of starts combined, but also prominently featured Toney Douglas.  Those Rockets were loveable gunners that no one expected much out of come playoff time.

This year’s team, which features 2 of the top 10-15 players in the league, has the NBA’s best value contract in Chandler Parsons and is considered one of the 5-6 teams with a legitimate shot at the Finals, has rushed out of the gate to a record of….22-13.  Let me save you the trouble of looking for a calculator; that’s only a one game improvement.  Both teams faced similar problems.  Consistency, chemistry and defensive question marks are all issues that have plagued the Rockets since two summers ago.  While the talent level and overall ceiling of the current incarnation is somewhat higher, the results just haven’t been there.

For those looking for a bright side in that comparison, last year’s Rockets lost their next seven games and barely played .500 ball the rest of the season.  These Rockets will surely continue to grow and are much more suited for the grind that is the NBA schedule.  It’s just interesting to remember the euphoria of last season’s first few weeks, reveling in James Harden’s breakout, and how even with a one game improvement, this year’s team feels slightly underachieving.

 

 

 

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