By: Paul McGuire
Elfrid Payton was the 10th pick in the 2014 draft by the Orlando Magic.
He is shooting less than 40% from the field, less than 22% from three-point range, and less than 50% than half of his free throws. He possesses a catastrophic .421 TS% this season.
And the Houston Rockets, who have talked about playing defense and have been much better on that end compared to last year, could not stop Elfrid Payton in the fourth quarter.
To be fair, they could not stop Nikola Vucevic either. Or Victor Oladipo. Or Channing Frye. Or Ben Gordon’s corpse. Tonight, the Houston Rockets made last year’s squad look like defensive geniuses, as they collapsed late in the fourth and gave up 16 points in the final 2:42 of play as well as an eminently winnable game.
Zach Lowe wrote today that “The Magic are trying to be a fast-paced spread pick-and-roll team, with three shooters spotting up around (mostly) Payton/Vucevic pick-and-rolls.” That was not really what Orlando did tonight. To be fair, the fact that they had Devyn Marble ( who cannot shoot at all and went 0-8 from the field tonight) starting instead of Tobias Harris limited their shooters, but they relied more on Oladipo and Vucevic dominating the ball, similarly to how Houston does it with Harden and Howard.
Houston could not stop Orlando’s attack. Vucevic really did not go after Howard in the rim/post, though he did do it a few times with success. Instead, he either stood out of Howard’s range and hit jumpers, or grabbed the ball and the put back after Howard guarded the rim from a driving Magic wing. Howard actually played well unlike the past few games(23 points on 15 shots, 8 rebounds), but he was once again outplayed by the opposing center. Outside of Vucevic, the Rockets were sent scrambling on pick switches far too often. Consequently, Oladipo was not guarded by Ariza as often as should have happened, and so the guard took advantage.
Turnovers were the other big problem. We know that the Rockets are a high turnover team, but that is still not excuse to give up 20 tonight. What was worse than the number was just how stupid so many of these turnovers were. At least half a dozen of them were passes from Josh Smith or Harden or Beverley which looked really bad even before a Magic player picked them off. And while Josh Smith is mostly infamous for taking shots which he has no business trying, he has also demonstrated in his time with the Rockets that he takes passes which he has no business trying. It works more often than his shooting does, but it still fails too much. For example, he tried an around-the-back pass to Dwight Howard, only for it to hit a Magic player before bouncing back, hitting Smith, and going out of bounds. That particular occasion will go unnoticed in the boxscore because the referees messed up and gave the ball back to Houston, but it remains a pertinent example.
Also, I do not care to go after coaches for their rotation decisions, but I remain completely and totally befuddled about why Alexey Shved is getting any minutes on this team – never mind Canaan, Shved supplanted Jason Terry in the rotation tonight. If I had to hazard a guess, perhaps Kevin McHale is looking for a secondary player who can create shots for others. He thus wants to try out Shved as opposed to going with Canaan and Terry who we known not to be capable of that. I will concede that Shved might be a better passer than those two, but he suffers from the slight downside of not actually being good at any facet of basketball.
So after blowing this game, the Houston Rockets will now fly back home and tomorrow take on an Oklahoma City team which has not played basketball in almost a week, and then the Golden State Warriors twice in the next three games. Well, at least we will be generally healthy for these contests.