After the crushing opening season loss to the Lakers, I think it’s worth reviewing the new faces on the team and how they fared in their first regular season game in a Rockets’ jersey…
To be honest, when Houston first got Miller I was skeptical because of his recent dropoff in production, as well as the significant contract he signed. He was earning that money Tuesday night. His whole game was a mixed bag, but Houston was actually +4 in the game with Miller and -6 with Yao, so he obviously did a lot of things right.
For someone who saw his rebounding take a huge dive last season, he had some big rebounds in this game when the Rockets were really struggling with giving up second chance opportunities. And when he wasn’t getting a rebound, he was drawing contact on loose ball fouls by boxing out and getting good position. My favorite thing Miller did last night was draw the 4th fouls on Pau and Artest in the third, as well as Odom’s second, hitting 5 of 6 free throws in a quarter Houston struggled offensively. He did it again in the fourth, drawing Odom’s 5th fall on a huge rebound in which he sunk two more free throws to give Houston a 108-107 lead with less than a minute left.
With 7 of his 9 points coming from the line, he didn’t do much offensively. He was 1-4 from the field, and at the end of the game there were times he should have made more of an effort to get an offensive rebound on misses. He had one amazing pass to a darting Budinger in the first half which led to a highlight dunk and 3-point play, but he tried the same thing two more times (once to Bud and once to Hayes) and made very poor passes resulting in turnovers.
Defensively, I think it’s pretty obvious Pau did what he want against Miller when he wanted to do it. The effort was there, but the speed wasn’t. While this will be a problem this season, I actually think he did a better job than anyone Houston had on the roster last season, so I can’t knock him yet. His final stats included two assists and two steals to go along with 9 points and 9 rebounds in 25 minutes. If he can give Houston that every night, then I think he’ll be a valuable backup here, but he needs to hit more 15-footers to prove his worth to me.
Lee only saw 15 minutes in the game, and as with Miller, it was a mixed bag. He came out in the second quarter fairly hot, nailing his first jumper, missing on a poor alleyoop pass (which lead to a Budinger layup) and then hit a big dunk in transition. However, there was a stretch in the 2nd in which he forced and missed a jump shot early in a possession and then followed it up with a missed layup on the following possession.
In the second half, he missed a good look on an open corner 3-pointer to end the third (which would have been a huge momentum boost for Houston), but then followed it up by scoring Houston’s first four points on the fourth quarter. The most spectacular play of the night for Lee was after getting out in transition on that second possession when he had two defenders in front of him. Instead of driving into two players and hoping for the foul, he leapt while running at full speed and hit a very difficult floater.
The offensive stats which bothered me with Lee and Budinger tonight, however, were the 0-4 combined from the beyond the arc. I don’t expect perfection, but Houston is going to need similar production from its bench and both Martin and Brooks were able to deliver from downtown. Both bench wings saw good looks tonight and missed them. They can’t do that if they expect to be an effective second unit.
Lee, with his quick hands, had three steals on the night and managed to bother Kobe at times. When Shane needs a rest against scoring 2s, I can definitely see Lee coming in locking them down. Lee’s 8 points in 15 minutes aren’t bad, but his -14 was the worst of any Houston player.
Smith got almost no time (only 5 minutes) and ended up with an assist and 0-1 from the floor. He didn’t turn the ball over, but he was also essentially a complete non factor. AB is going to need to rest more over an 82 game span, and while Lowry will eventually come back from injury Smith is going to have to step up and be more effective until that time comes.