Rockets 125, Nuggets 123

2010 March 16
tags: ,
by rahat huq

With the return of Kyle Lowry and Trevor Ariza, the Houston Rockets seem to have regained the mojo they had had back in 2009.

Aaron Brooks led the way for Houston with 31 points, while Kevin Martin and Luis Scola had 29 and 23 respectively.  Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 45.

Random Musings:

  • My first thoughts pertain to just how much better Ariza has looked since returning to his natural small forward position.  It has nothing to do with actually playing the ‘3′ as the position is essentially interchangeable with the ‘2′, but has everything to do with no longer sharing court time with Shane Battier.  Playing next to actual guards, whether it be Kyle Lowry or Kevin Martin, in addition to the point guard, has had on Trevor’s usage the optimizing effect for which I had prayed.  Ariza went 5-9 for 12 points last night, but that’s irrelevant.  The greater point is the manner in which he has been getting his shots since his return from the injury: running the floor, slashing, spotting up for 3’s; exactly what I had envisioned him doing upon the return of Yao/McGrady.  The addition of Kevin Martin just makes Trevor Ariza fit.  I didn’t count a single instance last night of Ariza attempting to create off the dribble.  Everything has come for Trevor in the flow of the action, just as it did last year with the Lakers.  It’s likely that Morey didn’t bat even bat an eye over Ariza’s abysmal first half as he knew things would change once he could bring in some talent at the wings.  I don’t want to get ahead of myself, and I’ll make a final assessment upon the season’s culmination, but this development comes as such a huge, huge relief.  If Ariza is truly back to his ‘08 ways, he’s a 24 year old 6′8 small forward tailor-made for this lineup, giving this team a starting perimeter trio that is the envy of almost every squad in the league.
  • Luis Scola had 23 and 11 last night, following up his 44 point outburst over the weekend.  The numbers are startling – he’s been an All-Star when playing regular minutes.  Though I don’t have the numbers in front of me, this was the case last year too after Carl was shot.  I said over the weekend that despite this production, I felt that we still needed an upgrade at the position as it was the most logical course of action.  I wonder how much of this mindset is grounded in some psychological subtlety?  Here’s a guy healthily producing over 20-10 when given starter’s minutes who plays team ball (runs the floor, is a good passer, etc.), is a proven winner, is a consummate professional, and might not cost more than a paltry $6million annually to retain, and I’m asserting that we need an upgrade?  What gives?  Some like the aesthetics of Scola’s game but I find him extremely, painfully awkward.  Oafish would be the term that comes to mind.  He hobbles down the court (albeit usually outrunning everyone else), travels every time on that goofy double-spin move, has no left hand, and has hideous form on his jumpshot, sticking one foot out further than the other.  At some subconscious level, is this why I have been underestimating his abilities all year?  I wonder if I would be singing a different tune if he looked like Carl Landry, replete with handles, textbook jumpshot form, small-forward post moves, and a body/running style made for the Olympics.  I claim I want Chris Bosh out of some belief that this team needs an offensive facilitator who can draw the double team, but who knows?  Am I guilty of the same transgression committed by the ‘Old Scouts’?  I shudder at the thought.
  • No podcast this week as Durvasa needed to tend to some prior obligations.
  • Final note: Sebastian Pruiti of TrueHoop NBAPlaybook.com did a nice breakdown of the mental mistakes committed by the Nuggets in this one.  Check it out here.
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  • I think Scola is worth around $10 million per annum in terms of his impact on the court.

    Given his age and style of play, he is highly unlikely get that much on the open market. I think he'll have multiple offers of five years at MLE money ($33 million) so the Rockets will likely try to improve on that and make an offer equal to that for less years ($8 million per annum for four years) or offer $35-39 million over five years.

    As for the Rockets big man rotation next season ...

    I think the Rockets should concentrate on finding a high quality reserve big man to backup both the power forward and center positions. I don't think they'll get much service out of adding another prototypical center because Yao Ming will still receive a huge chunk of the minutes at that position and they won't be able to play alongside one another well enough. They'll have to pay a lot of money (MLE type contract) to get someone with enough quality to be an impact player at center and that player will have his minutes minimized by Yao which isn't a great use of resources. Similar to Marcin Gortat in Orlando.

    So, a player who is capable of playing both the power forward and center positions at a good level should be the target. So that he can both backup Yao + play alongside him. A guy like Amir Johnson would be a very nice fit. Maybe Marcus Camby. Louis Amundson. Something along those lines. A player like that would allow the Rockets to go with a speed lineup with their second unit while Yao rests + would allow them to go a big when platooned alongside Yao. I like that flexibility.

    The other option would be to acquire a starting power forward and move Scola into that primary backup big man spot. I'd love to see the Rockets go after Ryan Anderson. Use their lottery pick this summer to entice the Magic into giving him up. I think he'd make Houston a nightmare to defend. I also love the blend of skills between Yao, Scola and Anderson.

    Then sign a cheap backup center like a Johan Petro or a Rasho Nesterovic to round out the big man rotation (a legit seven footer) to go along with Chuck Hayes and Jordan Hill. No need for a Petro type of David Andersen is to remain with the team but I'd rather see him leave the club this summer.
  • Elhombredehuelo
    I agree with you on your idea. I don't necessarily like the players mentioned, but we need someone who can not only play both positions, but be competent enough at center to cut down on Yao's minutes and try to keep the stress on his foot to a minimum.
  • The Mynack
    Scola was the best big man at the 2008 Olympics...his moves gave Howard and Bosh fits. He's like a slightly less-efficient Kevin McHale (McHale was unstoppable at his peak, less gawky, better defensively)...but he creates matchup issues against other teams starting 4's. As Landry's numbers in SAC are showing...he doesn't. If I'm Darryl Morey, it's very hard for me to give up Luis - the only player I would give him up for is Bosh.
  • bob schmidt
    With the salary differences between Bosh and Scola, the 12 million difference might be better spent on other pieces to complement the roster. That's a lot of salary difference when you look at the stats.....
  • rahat_huq
    where else can you improve though? in baseball, its best to spread it out. but in basketball, you can only play 5 guys at a time, and those 5 usually play the bulk of the minutes. (not to mention the fact that individual players have a far greater impact.) we already have among the best backups in the league at the point and center (with hayes). it's true that bosh may not be $9million better than scola - but i think the increased impact is worth the additional salary. the only other alternatives are spending on backup wings/pf. i think the overall team output increases most by swapping scola for bosh, even if the dollars/production aren't exactly transitive.
  • Easy
    Rahat, I am not very good at cappology. Is it possible to get Bosh without losing Scola?

    I'd rather give up Ariza/Battier + Hill than give up Scola.
  • rahat_huq
    you have to come up with about 13 million that they would be willing to take. so it becomes very very difficult. they aren't going to take back both jeffries and battier - no chance in hell. so you would almost have to include ariza unless something like brooks, hill, and andersen. remember that our own pick also won't count salary wise in trades.
  • luislandry
    Agreed, this is the right way to think. It's like any high performance/quality/luxury item...each subsequent upgrade is going to cost more for less, but if you need that performance it's still worth it because it's the only way to get it. Designing a machine that's say 99% reliable after 3 years costs something, making it 99.9% reliable costs more, 99.99% reliable a lot more, etc...
  • Elhombredehuelo
    No, I disagree with making an upgrade over Scola. Maybe its just the fan-boy in me talking, but is Bosh even an improvement? No doubt Bosh is an upgrade if we compare individuals. But Scola means so much to this team in terms of chemistry and making everyone around him better. People always forget that he has been crucial at every moment we needed him. 22 game win streak, he took over the post and delivered after yao went down. 2009 playoffs against the Lakers, he dominated Gasol and bynum offensively in a few of those games after yao went down. This year, landry leaves and Scola appropriately puts up monster numbers. Also, Scola wants it more. I don't see that from Bosh on a consistent basis.
  • rahat_huq
    i disagree here. he dominated odom. defensively, probably the reason we lost was because he and landry didn't stand a prayer in hell against either of gasol/bynum. hayes couldn't guard them both at the same time.
  • Julia
    In China, we call Scola 4-carat diamond. The way he is playing is not that American, but he is a humble Olympic Champion. I truly wish he would stay with Yao and win a title for Rocket.
  • nbalaw
    Oh yeah, you have the best Rox blog ever!
  • nbalaw
    I have a very simple reason that the Rox would prefer to give up Luis and more for Bosh - the Lakers frontline. If the goal is to win a championship, we must beat LA. Yao can handle Bynum and Luis is quick enough to help out Yao with pic and roll defense, but defending Gasol and Odom is a problem. Bosh showed his defensive prowess during the Olympics and he's quick enough to defend the pick and roll.

    Though, the Rockets strong showing against the Lakers last year may suggest that Luis is enough to contend with the Gasol. He certainly has the heart, determination and durability. In fact, Luis is the type of player that could go for many more years despite being 30 years old. He doesn't rely on his athleticism, insatiable competitive spirit and has the strongest physical constitution of any Rocket.

    Finally, Luis is my favorite player because he is so awkward and unique. This league needs more players like Luis, who were not brought up in the AAU system and taught the same shooting form and technique. One of the amazing things about basketball is the differences in style and technique and the ability of players to excel by breaking the prototypical form - see Kevin Martin's jumper, Reggie Miller's jumper, just about everything about Pistol Pete (though he wasn't awkward).
  • Rockets 125, Nuggets 123 | Red94 | essays and musings on the nba ...: With the return of Kyle Lowry and Trevor Ari... http://bit.ly/d2qrVB</span>
  • Glenn Fayard
    Bill Simmons (I think) has commented on all the players having the same type of technique now on account of all of them coming up through the same camp system. It's probably that factor. Scola has exactly the technique he needs, and where he might not be so polished he probably confuses opponents with unorthodoxy. But, yeah, just compare his effort level to, say, Carmelo. Just universes apart. You can't find that easily.
  • Easy
    If we could get Bosh (by trading a major piece from the wing positions -- plus some young talent and draft picks, of course) without giving up Scola, a Yao-Bosh-Scola front court rotation would be devastating. And Yao would be able to play a lot less PT to hopefully preserve his health.

    As to awkwardness, you know, Kevin Martin looks awkward too. But somehow he just quietly scores 20+ points night in and night out. Anyway, this is why advanced metrics are so important. The naked eyes have a tendency of favoring the pretty. But in basketball, prettier is not necessarily better.
  • rahat_huq
    regarding scola traveling: i was mainly exaggerating to get across the point that i may be biased against him b/c his game is so ugly. you guys are probably right that he doesn't travel.
  • JohnnyS
    I like your assessment of Scola, and I also like where his salary is set. He should NOT be paid more than this, and he should NOT be getting paid less than this. He should not receive superstar money, because frankly he has not been seeing the defensive attention that comes along with being expected to carry your team.
  • Rockets 125, Nuggets 123 | Red94 | essays and musings on the nba ...: With the return of Kyle Lowry and Trevor Ari... http://bit.ly/cqNK8E</span>
  • Tommy
    ... "travels every time on that goofy double-spin move" ??

    He may get called for it on occasion, but if you watch, he doesn't move his pivot foot. Well, he moves it by pivoting, but it doesn't slide around or lift at all. He doesn't usually travel, and certainly not "every time" (though I understand that may just be exaggeration). After traveling calls, replays show quite clearly that he doesn't travel on those pirouette moves.
  • echu888
    Agreed, Ariza looks much better, probably playing within reasonable parameters for his skills. And, at this point, it looks like, why upgrade from Scola, when you look at bang for the buck? You could consider what he gives up defensively from the 4, where he gets backed down by bigger taller players (remember Gasol in last year's playoffs? we had no way of stopping him).

    Question: why do you think Scola travels on his double-spin move? He establishes his pivot foot and then rotates on it... maybe some slo-mo tape footage would be useful.
  • Alituro
    I'd have to agree with the assessment on both counts. Ariza is fitting well at the 3. Looks way more natural because the ball and plays come to him much the same way they have his entire career. As much as the numbers disagree, our offense thrives without Battier on the floor, or without he and Travor sharing floor space as you said.

    Scola's awkwardness is perhaps the most intriguing thing about his game, because as soon as you want to joke about him, he's scoring points with scoops, some crazy pivot thing, or beating everyone down the floor on the break. A befuddled Artest last year said something to the effect of "I don't know how he does it, the guy's got like a 2" vertical leap, but manages to get the job done night in and out". The only reason I've been up on acquiring another major post piece is to reduce Yao's minutes, not to replace Scola. For salary reasons, maybe we're setting our sights high with Bosh if we're not going to replace Scola, maybe we'd be better suited going after a cheaper piece to complement Yao and Luis, maybe someone like Gortat or Kaman, just to have two big bodied, decent players down there for all 48 minutes each game. With half of our offense coming from the Brooks/Martin tandem, there is going to be a fire sale of scoring opportunities down low, we need to always have 2 players down there able to capitalize at all times. If those two guys are able to also shut down the paint defensively, this team will be hard to beat. I get excited thinking about it, almost want to go into a coma until early November simply because I can hardly bear to wait.
  • bob schmidt
    Could be that Scola's 2" vertical leap is part of the reason for his success, he doesn't get off-balance or caught up in the air like many good leapers do. A guy who is firmly planted on his feet has better body control so maybe this lack of leap is really a weapon in disguise. I want Scola on this team next year.

    Everyone, including Ariza, is looking better to me as their roles are becoming more defined. To me, that is the biggest improvement with Trevor. It bothers me a little that Bud is losing minutes and not being given much opportunity offensively, but that will hopefully change. He and Hill have good skills that should not be overlooked.

    As usual, this blog is spot on, and probably the best on the Internet......................
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