Player Power Rankings: Week 7

Every Friday all season long I’ll be ranking every active player (who sees the floor) on the Houston Rockets based on his performance from the previous week. If you missed last week’s installment, here you go.

11) Ronnie Brewer (Last week: 11)

The Rockets only played three games this week, so the sample size is even smaller than usual. Does that have any impact on how we’re going to evaluate Ronnie Brewer? Of course not, because he’s Ronnie Brewer.

10) Donatas Motiejunas (Last week: 10)

With Greg Smith and Omer Asik hurt, Motiejunas still barely received any playing time this week. And whenever Dwight Howard needed a breather last night against Portland, Kelvin Sampson replaced him with Terrence Jones instead. It’s been a tough year for Motiejunas, who probably feels like he could be this team’s “Terrence Jones” if given the opportunity. On that note, here’s my favorite play of the week:

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Houston Rockets @ Golden State Warriors on 12/13/2013.

The middle of a roadtrip is the last moment when a team wants to find itself in limbo, and yet this is currently the situation for the Houston Rockets.  Coach Kevin McHale will miss tonight’s game as well as Sunday against Sacramento in order to mourn for his recently passed-away mother, and the Omer Asik situation appears to be finally reaching a conclusion, as David Aldridge tweets that a trade should be expected by next week.  But even amidst confusion, basketball must be played, and after a game where four Rockets played above 38 minutes due to bench play so horrid that I thought I was watching the Yao-McGrady Rockets again, they will take on the high-flying Golden State Warriors.

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Dwight Howard made some amazing post moves last night

Dwight Howard had a monster game last night in Houston’s loss, scoring 32 points and grabbing 17 rebounds.  But the story was how he did it.  With the Blazers opting to play Howard in single coverage, the big man punished Robin Lopez in the post with an assortment of moves so uncharacteristic of his usual self that even TNT analyst Shaquille O’Neal was at a loss for criticism at halftime.  This move in particular was sickHoward looked like Hakeem right there.  I’ve been as vocal a critic of Howard’s post abilities as anyone out there, but last night makes you wonder…perhaps there’s hope?

What I’ve noticed in these first 23 games is that Howard actually has all of Hakeem’s moves.  As sacrilegious as that sounds, I’m serious.  Okay, aside from like the faceup crossovers and baseline turnaround fadeaway, he has some of the more basic stuff down (if anything of Hakeem’s can be considered basic).  I’m talking about the reverse pivot spins and that psuedo-Dreamshake move cited above.  And that’s really, really incredible if you think about it.  What he doesn’t have is touch, timing, awareness, and the good fortune of being born in a generation with rules more favorable to big men.  On that latter point–something Howard even himself noted–he’s dealing with way more arms in the paint and more bodies even prior to the catch than Hakeem ever faced (except when the Sonics did it illegally.)  There’s not really much that can be done about that.  As for touch, who knows?  It’s said that it can’t be developed so we’ll just have to wait and see.  But timing and awareness are factors upon which Dwight can improve.  His struggles come primarily against double teams as he struggles to react and pass out.  And it’s said that recognizing double teams is one of the last stages of development for great post players.  So I think there is hope on that front.  Howard for now will need to make his moves quickly before the double arrives.  He won’t always face single coverage like he did last night.  And we’ll have to hope that as he matures, when those doubles arrives, he’ll be able to react better.

We’ll have to file this under “pending.”  I was ready to consider Howard’s post game a lost cause before last night.  There’s still a long way to go.  But this is highly critical for both the player and the team.  Dwight Howard is 28 now and it’s not exactly breaking news that he’s a shell of himself physically; the days when he could just leap over and through defenders are long gone.  But Hakeem dealt with that physical deterioration too.  Let’s hope there is more to what we saw last night.

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Portland Trailblazers 111, Houston Rockets 104 – Aldridge dominates

The Rockets played a pretty good game on the road, against the best in the West, and came away a short.  It was the defense that really let us down (we only had eight turnovers).  Aldridge had a career game of 31 points and 25 rebounds.  Jones got into foul trouble halfway through the second quarter and his youth showed against the hyperactive Aldridge.  Jones simply had no answer for the superstar.  When Jones got into foul trouble it was up to Parsons to guard him and that was even worse.  It all unraveled at the end of the fourth quarter. Finally, Sampson put Howard on Aldridge and it worked a little better, but a big 11 – 1 run toward the end of the quarter cemented it.

Tonight was a battle of the bigs and the Rockets truly missed Asik and his defense (the veracity of his injury and complexity of his situation seems questionable, leading up to the Rockets preferred trade window).  Howard had another giant game with 32 points and 17 rebounds. He nearly carried the Rockets and is really rolling.  Still, Lopez and Aldridge were way too much for Howard and Jones.  Lopez played very well with a 16 and 10 double double. They really do have a twin towers that works.  Jones just got outplayed tonight by an elite player.  He got 10 points, but only two rebounds and his plus minus was an incredible -26, damn!

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The NBA’s Most Unstoppable Play. Potentially.

James Harden and Dwight Howard are two great basketball players with skill-sets that could only compliment each other any more if Howard had a reliable 18-foot jumper. But asking for that would be like getting a Lexus for Christmas, then criticizing where the cup-holders are located.

They don’t “need” a reliable 18-foot jumper. It’d be nice, but isn’t necessary thanks to what’s already there. And what’s already there is basketball’s most foundational two-man sequence: the pick-and-roll. How successful are Harden and Howard running it? If you’ve been paying attention to the Houston Rockets this season, you know it’s a bit like watching a live jack hammer ravage an ant hill.

But how are they so successful? And why don’t the Rockets pound opponents into submission with it until either Harden or Howard passes out from exhaustion? Sports are filled with “pick your poison” scenarios, and in the NBA there’s almost nothing deadlier than a pick-and-roll featuring Harden’s handle and Howard’s magnetic pull.

These two are great on their own and even better working together. Through the season’s first 22 games, here’s a closer look at how they’ve been so successful, and why they need to do it more. Read More »

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