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Houston Rockets 108, LA Clippers 99

  • My first thoughts coming out of this game pertained to how my Landry thesis is absolutely being torn to shreds by its principle subject.  I asserted prior to the year that Carl had peaked offensively and needed only to focus on his interior defense.  On the basis of observations from last season, I then stated that one of his greatest obstacles would be his inability to score over longer defenders.  I was completely wrong on both counts.  Most impressive last night was a sequence of possessions where Carl scored on Chris Kaman and Marcus Camby in succession.  He faced up the former out of the post-up and zipped by for the lay-in while deftly dropping a baby hook over the (renowned) outstretched arm of Marcus Camby.
  • Writes Kevin Arnovitz:

“Landry embodies all the strengths of Rick Adelman’s read-and-react offense. We see this on his first score at (1st, 8:21) when Kaman leaves him at the weak elbow to cut off a potential baseline drive by Luis Scola. Landry immediately dives to the hoop behind Kaman where he receives the feed from Scola. He’s fouled on the play, and sinks his first two of what will be 13 free throws on the night. When Brian Skinner checks in for the Clippers in the second period, Landry faces up and uses that big drop step to create room to burst past his slower defender to the rack for another trip to the stripe.  Landry is particularly useful in transition because he can beat just about every big down the floor and set up position just a few feet away from the hoop, which is how he gets his first bucket from the field (2nd, 10:37).”

As the above citation documents, Landry is the ideal ‘react’ power forward and has been since his rookie season.  He runs the floor, slides into open spots for dunks, crashes the boards, and is a deadly mid-range shooter.  However, my argument had been that he was only great as the end result of a play.  What we’re seeing this season, and in higher doses with each game, is that you can actually start the play with Landry.  Early on, such usage was restricted to the face-up driving spin towards the goal.  Now, the team is consistently feeding him with his back to the basket, and he is delivering, utilizing a drop-step, hook, and a very quick ‘turn and drive’ move that left Kaman in quicksand.

  • I thought the greatest concern for this season was the establishment of a consistent ‘3rd’ scorer and assumed that the obvious candidate was Aaron Brooks.  We’re seeing now that it’s Landry.
  • Next thought coming after this one was regarding Kaman.  The man is an absolute load.  We saw him torture the Rockets’ interior defenders tonight, surpassing what I thought was a surprisingly low former career-high of 27 points.  He’s easily the most polished true center in the league at the moment.  Kaman hit corner jumpers and on many occasions, displayed an impressive counter-hook shot that utilized the glass at a 45 degree angle.  I kept thinking, “this guy has the capacity to completely alter the complexity of the playoff race.”  With an improved record, we don’t know if Sterling is still looking to shed salary.  But last year there were heavy reports that the Clippers were dangling a package of Davis-Kaman in front of anyone who could provide salary relief, (with Davis’ contract being the obvious deterrent.)  Hypothetically speaking, if it meant taking on Davis, I wouldn’t bite, but for whoever does, Davis or not, adding a skilled 7 footer like Kaman for the stretch run (for most teams) could have a Cliff Lee-esque impact.  He has as much potential to change a playoff series as any other non All-Star in this league.  But again, I don’t know if he’s still being shopped or if anyone would have what it would take to complete a deal.
  • Final note is on Tracy McGrady who had by far his best performance of the season, even coming close to a dunk on one occasion.  A few things stood out:
  1. He was allowed to control the final possession of the quarter.  Granted, Aaron Brooks was not in the game, but on some level, one would have to imagine that this implies a willingness to re-incorporate McGrady into the offense.
  2. Tracy was very aggressive tonight, decisively looking for the shot or attacking the hoop rather than waiting for the help defender as he had done in previous games.
  3. Still no ‘first step.’  You’ll notice that any time he drives, the defender is still completely level with him.  We don’t know if he’ll ever regain the ability to create separation on the drive.
  4. With that said, is this ‘separation’ really necessary?  Sure, he’ll never again have the ability to barrel through the lane for the dunk as was common during his prime, but he can still be effective in his current physical state.  McGrady can always create room for his shot by utilizing a variety of fakes and jab-steps.  But most impressive is the unique court awareness that he exhibits on almost every move.  Watch closely the next time he drives to the basket.  Because of his reduced quickness, when he makes his move, the defender will still remain completely in front of him.  Yet even despite this, McGrady will maintain complete body control and awareness, never even slightly losing his footing or balance.  We saw him get ‘caught’ in two of these situations tonight, only to fluidly pass off to Carl Landry and Luis Scola respectively.  I find it fascinating to watch and compare Trevor Ariza and Tracy McGrady because each almost epitomizes his end of the ‘skill’ spectrum.  The former barges through the lane with no cognizance of his surroundings and routinely picks up his dribble when even light pressure is applied.  In terms of passing and awareness, the latter almost never makes mistakes.  He has his vices, but from purely a skill scouting perspective, have you ever seen Tracy McGrady look ‘awkward’ with the basketball?
  • That I marvel at his skill does not necessarily mean that I think he can help this team long term.  We’ll have to monitor the sustainability of his production as the season progresses.  Last night, he looked better than he had in any of the four previous outings.  For the good of the team, if either via trade or integration into the offense, we’ll have to hope that that trend continues.

About the author: Rahat Huq is a lawyer in real life and the founder and editor-in-chief of www.Red94.net.

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On McGrady – Part 3