What to expect from the Rockets’ upcoming season: Small Forward

It’s a tricky thing to discuss character in terms of sports, to say that one player is superior to another because of his or her mental, rather than physical, make-up. That sort of logic might lead to some absurd assertion like: “Dr. Jack Ramsey would take LeBron to school in a pick-up game,” or “John Hollinger could absolutely handle Dirk one-on-one!”

But that’s exactly what I’m about to argue, not that any of us could play professional sports if we just studied hard enough, but that an NBA player’s mentality might be just as important his physicality.

This consideration, I believe, is particularly relevant to the Rockets’ current cache of Small Forwards.

Chase Budinger

Budinger ended last season as the Rockets’ starting small forward and will most likely begin next season in the same position. He is a fantastic athlete, can finish on the fast break, dunk from the fifth row, and has a good (though odd looking) form on his jump-shot. When aggressive, he can drive and finish at the rim, hit 3’s, and generally convince everyone he’s really great at basketball.

The problem is that he’s wildly inconsistent on offense and consistently bad on defense. Last year, he shot 50% or better from beyond the arc 26 times but also, though he took a three in every game he played, didn’t hit a single one in 30 games, five times going 0-4 or worse.

The source of this inconsistency seems to be his confidence (Chase suggested as much himself in interviews last season). But this is a big problem (remember Luther Head?). Raw talent at just about anything isn’t enough to succeed. Success requires perseverance and commitment. Constantly being discouraged/disappointed can hurt your ability to improve, which, in a highly competitive environment like the NBA, can be disastrous. I hate to say this (and am prepared for the comment backlash) about a player with as much obvious potential as Budinger, but my hope is that the team can trade him this year while he still has value and before his confidence dips so much that he can’t stay on the court.

Terrence Williams

I was about to write a Williams’ preview/analysis when I noticed this article by Noam Schiller on Hardwood Paroxysm. Schiller extensively and eloquently articulates exactly how I (and many of us, I think) feel about Terrence Williams. Hopefully, this season he’ll prove us all wrong and live up to the potential he’s been teasing us with since his days at Louisville.

Marcus Morris

Morris is exactly the type of player that the two men above him on this list are not. His major limitations look to be physical, not mental. Honestly, he wasn’t a prospect I was especially excited about leading up to the draft as he’s not particularly a guy who screams star potential, but the more I read about him and the more tape I see of his days at Kansas, the more genuine interest I have in watching his development as an NBA player.

He has fantastic footwork in the post, isn’t afraid of contact, and is crafty around the basket. He rebounds well, has good handles and a textbook jump-shot that should extend to NBA three-point range. He has great awareness on defense, active hands, and plays hard on every possession. He was named the 2011 Big 12 Player of the Year, led Kansas to a Conference Championship and the elite eight in the NCAA Tournament. But, most importantly, he improved his game every year he was at Kansas and seems committed to continuing to do so.

So what’s not to like about the guy? He’s not exceptionally huge or athletic. I understand that to say this doesn’t matter in a sport that largely depends on hugeness and athleticism might seem naïve at best and plain ignorant at worst, but that’s basically what I’m saying. (Just ask Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Shane Battier, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Love) I’m not a betting man, but if I were, I would wager that Marcus Morris has a longer and more productive career than either Chase Budinger or Terrence Williams, precisely because of what he brings to the table mentally, and regardless of what he lacks physically.

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