I-10 Rivals – NBA.com’s Blogtable weighs in on whether Houston has a chance to leapfrog San Antonio next year. Skepticism abounds. Lang Whitaker says it best:
I think Houston will be pretty good and will probably finish in the top half of the Western Conference, but I learned many years ago to never bet against the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are the Jason Vorhees of the Western Conference — every time you think they’re out, they return and just keep coming after you.
Surprisingly, John Schuhmann made what may have been the weakest argument against Houston’s improvement:
The Rockets can get there, but it will take more than the addition of Dwight Howard, because they already had a great defensive center with Omer Asik. For the Rockets to improve 10 or more spots from 17th in defensive efficiency, they will need improvement on the perimeter.
Daryl Morey has gone on record several times saying that when Asik was on the floor, Houston was a top-10 defense, and that the problem came when Houston couldn’t play an elite defensive center. Howard eliminates that problem. Hopefully Asik’s and Howard’s remarkable durability continues.Rules They Are A-Changin’ – Overshadowed by the most predictable mascot change in the history of professional sports, was the fact that the NBA Board of Governors changed several rules. Three changes in particular will certainly have an impact on the Rockets next year. From ESPN:
They voted to expand the use of instant replay to include reviews on block/charge calls in the restricted area, better known as the “no-charge zone.” Officials now can stop the game to check and see if a defender was in the restricted area on such a call.
I’d call this a general positive for the Rockets, since with Asik and Howard guarding the rim the team will rely more on blocks than charges for defensive stops, unlike back in the Battier/Scola days. It also might give Howard a teensy bit more freedom while playing in the post or rolling to the rim, as he doesn’t usually get the benefit of the doubt on those calls. Next:
Officials also will be able to use instant replay to review whether a player had started his shooting motion on shooting fouls, and whether a foul was committed before a ball was inbounded.
There’s a potential problem for Harden on the shooting foul issue if refs decide that getting slapped on the arm while he’s gathering his dribble for a layup counts as a shooting foul, but it seems like this is really designed to curtail the Kevin Durant/Kevin Martin rip-through move. Next:
It will now be a violation and automatic turnover if an offensive player stands out of bounds and doesn’t immediately return to the floor. This addresses a recent trend in the league of players standing out of bounds under the basket in an attempt to pull defenders out of position or hide from the defense. There will be no penalty for extenuating circumstances such as injuries or saving a loose ball.
Well, this could hurt in two ways. First, corner three-point shooters occasionally trick the defense into spreading out too far by standing out of bounds, which is a useful ploy for giving extra space to post players or pick and rolls. Second, the nearly impossible task of creating an offense where Asik and Howard could co-exist just got harder. How, you ask?Check out this post from Mike Prada at SBNation on last year’s Denver Nuggets, and scroll down to point no. 3. Now watch this play:
And Prada’s comment afterward:
What better way to hide your cutters than to station them off the court? And if the Thunder’s defenders are so concerned about the cutters that they’ll follow them out of bounds, you end up with easier isolations. It’s just one of the many ways the Nuggets mask their lack of shooting in half-court situations.
Surely this is the kind of play that would be handy in a shooting-deprived Howard-Asik lineup. But now it’s illegal.A Different Kind of Dwightmare – Kudos again to 2016Champions for bringing up this tremendous article from Clutchfans, in which MIT Sloan genius Carl Fudge breaks down how devastating the Harden-Howard PnR combo could be. He also points out several of Howard’s strengths that clearly differentiate him from Asik, including this one:
Perhaps Howard’s favorite way to score is off the lob. As a 6’11” athlete with a 40” vertical jump, Dwight can go up two and a half feet above the rim to catch and dunk balls that few other players can even touch. While the Clippers have owned the term “Lob City” in recent seasons, there will be plenty of alley-oops in Clutch City too.
Alley-oops are much more than SportsCenter eye-candy in this case. Houston’s guards forced countless passes into Asik’s feet or into defender’s hands last year because everyone knew the stone-handed Turk was incapable of converting alley-oops. While many players can execute textbook two-dimensional positioning while defending the pick-and-roll, only a handful of athletes have the hops to contest a lob to Howard (and out of those, really only Serge Ibaka and Larry Sanders are elite overall defenders. Condolences to JaVale and DeAndre).Golden Oldies – Rumor has it that Houston is pursuing Mike Miller and Marcus Camby. ESPN reports that Miller may be turned off by Houston’s depth on the wings, while Camby is likely to sign because he called H-Town home. Either player would be a good signing–Miller as a clutch veteran sharpshooter or Camby as an insurance policy on Asik and Howard.Texts With Dwight – Just for fun, from Grantland.Got any sweet links or suggestions? Email them to email@example.com or message @EbyNews on Twitter.