The title is for grins, a running shtick with my loyal followers on Twitter who so kindly checked on my wellbeing upon news of this acquisition. This was a very good signing. Make no mistake about that. If viewed from the prism of Bosh, it is difficult not to be incredibly underwhelmed. In relation to the team’s master-plan, coming away with Trevor Ariza instead of Carmelo Anthony or Chris Bosh, can only be described as a total disappointment. I can assure you Daryl Morey and friends will not be going out for drinks upon completion of this deal. But in vacuo of those considerations–as difficult as it is to distance oneself from prior expectations–this was a good signing, especially at this cost.
When I first saw the news, I was firmly anticipating the numbers to come in at above $11 million per annum. Trevor Ariza at 8 is very good value, undoubtedly better value than the money the team will be paying Chandler Parsons once they match his offer sheet later today. Ariza hit 41% on 3’s last season, the highest mark of his career, chipping in a shade over 14 points per game. He instantly becomes the team’s best shooter and arrives as its sole competent wing defender. If they match on Parsons, the Rockets today are a better team than the one that closed out the regular season. (I’m not going to go so far as to say they are better than the playoff version because Asik played a significant role in the playoffs, unlike the regular season, and it remains to be seen if added wing depth holds a greater impact than depth on the frontline).
I learned a lot about basketball from Trevor Ariza. He was the first player whose game I ever closely looked into; he was the most frustrating player I’ve ever seen in a Houston Rockets uniform. Watching him play made me understand the nature of ball-handling and ‘creating’ in the NBA, propositions which were only reaffirmed these past few years during my observations of Jeremy Lin. Ariza has a functional, aesthetically above-par handle, and plus-level athleticism/quickness. Upon his initial signing, fans with whom I interacted in those days (this was right before the launch of Red94)(and even the team’s broadcasters), immediately assumed Ariza could be the new torch-bearer, sort of a McGrady-lite. The thinking went that if you can kind of dribble and you can blow by your man, you were a “creator.” These assumptions were categorically false.
A lot like Jeremy Lin, Ariza would blow past his initial defender but never know what to do against the second line of defense*. He’d get caught in the lane, picking up his dribble and having to toss it back out to save the play. You can’t just always drive in. This point was reaffirmed by the return of Tracy McGrady, as I wrote extensively, even as a complete shell of his former self. Go to your local gym and watch a pickup game between amateurs. Want to know the difference between the very best and guys that are just good? By and large, most guys with quickness and a competent handle get tunnel vision when driving the lane. They’re just going straight in without a plan – their entire objective is to get past their own man. The elite–the McGrady’s, the Paul’s–are playing chess. They’re not just trying to blow by and get to the basket. They’re thinking about the second defender, so they’re slowing down their dribble, attacking at different speeds, squeezing off midrange shots, anticipating the help. I think the most important skill for a perimeter player is to be able to attack at different speeds.
Due to the presence of James Harden, Ariza won’t be given the opportunity to waste the team’s possessions this time around. He’ll spot up from ‘3’, where hopefully his touch from last year will be retained, he’ll play defense, and he’ll run the floors. Again, at $8million, this is a good deal.
The team has other avenues to improve and some other options which they are still exploring. While the last few days’ chain of events no doubt comes as a disappointment, this signing in and of itself was a good one, and it helps the team. We’ll see what else they are able to do.
*In a conversation that I found utterly fascinating, Steve Nash told Bill Simmons that Amare Stoudemire came into his own in the season when he began being able to read the second line of defense before making his initial move.