In season’s past the Rockets have suffered from the mirage of a team that, before the season started, looked great on paper. Usually injuries to Yao and Tracy McGrady have been the scapegoats for why our team’s potential success didn’t transfer from the off-season outlook to the regular season.
This season, even when healthy, Houston has looked like a hot mess. Some of the things being thrown out there to justify our poor start have varied from Yao’s limited court time to too much depth. Let’s take a minute to address some of the things that are happening or have happened that have turned this team from playoff likely to lottery shoo-in.
One of the most frustrating things as a fan has been the lack of general consistency thus far. Our team has absolutely no time logged on the court as one solid unit. With Lowry struggling with back problems, Yao’s limited impact, and Aaron, Budinger, and Yao’s injuries this team simply has not been able to give the roster we had before the season started a shot. Playing unpredictable rotations and bench players logging heavy minutes is not a remedy for cohesion. In my opinion, most of the games so far this season have been a colossal waste of time. We’re not forming any chemistry, we have no set rotations, and the roles of our players are constantly changing. Our starting line up does not know how to play with each other and they haven’t had many opportunities to figure that out.
Last season I was Trevor Ariza‘s biggest critic. His shot selection and shooting percentages made me want to tear my hair out. This was, of course, the result of the Rocket’s coaching staff encouraging Ariza to try to step into an offensive role he should not of but it just wasn’t fun to watch. What I took for granted at the time was the defense he brought. Many Rockets fan’s labeled Ariza as Houston’s next Shane Battier. A defensive vet who could lock down the player he was guarding. I strongly disagree. While Ariza’s greatest gift to this team was defense, it wasn’t the same kind of man defense that Shane has given us for years now. Ariza took massive gambles on his man, he camped in the passing lane waiting to pick off passes, and he used his athleticism to body up on faster, stronger guards. Ariza used his speed and quickness to keep the other team honest with their passes and play calling. These are things that Shane does not bring to the table. I was at the Bulls game last Tuesday and I had a flashback to last season. Rick Adelman put Trevor Ariza on Derrick Rose from the very beginning of the game when we played the Bulls. Rose’s biggest strength is getting to the basket through penetration and while Ariza did not shut him down, he made Rose’s life a living hell last season.
Four days ago, Rose had his way with our team. We simply didn’t have anyone to stop him and in the fourth quarter during a scoring drought for Chicago, they defaulted to Rose to try to turn the tables. And he did. In summation of this paragraph, Ariza might have been the least efficient offensive player the Houston Rockets have had since Rafer Alston but his role on the defensive side of the court is missed dearly. The Trevor Ariza trade may have been touted as management’s way of trading for a highly coveted young gun for our bench, but I think there is no way of reasoning that it wasn’t a salary dump to try to get us closer under the luxury tax. In terms of the impact that Courtney Lee and Trevor Ariza give to their teams, it’s not very close. Ariza is a seasoned starter with one ring and Courtney Lee is an above average defender who has been given extended minutes on teams with few other options. We lost that trade but we’re saving money and that’s the long and short of it.
I’ve talked about the problem with Houston’s current rotations before so I won’t dwell on it, but Rick Adelman has got to make up his mind about who plays when if we’re going to have any shot at success when our team gets healthy again. Are we showcasing Jordan Hill in the first half of every game or are we going to give him a chance to play defense later on when we’re getting pounded in the paint? I also wonder what the strategy is with Jermaine Taylor. Since he’s started seeing minutes in blowouts I’ve come to the conclusion that he is our best slasher. He doesn’t pass much, but when we need to get a decent look off a cut there aren’t any player on this squad that can do it any better.
Finally, I would like to address the “problem” with our exception depth. Is having too many good players on the bench seriously the reason we’re failing? Given the injuries that have occured, shouldn’t our bench players who allegedly could start on many other teams be performing up to par? Kyle Lowry is not a starter and his play has been mediocre. When this team is healthy and still failing I hope Houston fans do not point their fingers to our depth chart and cry out, “we’re too good!” We’re not and neither is our bench.