Houston has given birth to a three headed monster. On the court the Rockets embrace three very different identities with almost no fluidity and all is not going as planned. The Rockets are off to a 0 and 3 start and are currently ranked dead last in defensive efficiency league wide.
This summer we heard about this team’s attempt to focus on stopping the ball, returning to the defensive presence of years past, but since our opening game against the Lakers we have looked even worse than we did last year. Some fans may believe that this is not yet the time to panic, that we have only played three games; with what I’ve seen in those three games I’m beginning to think we might be in for a very exhausting season.
Yao’s kind of back. The first of three identities fighting to emerge from our team is that of a reintegrated Yao. At just 24 minutes per game and no back to backs, how does this team use the recovering post presence? Two seasons ago the general offensive strategy was simple: move the ball around, get a clear entry pass to Yao, watch in awe. This season Yao is slower on offense and more of a liability on the defensive end because of his slow lateral movement. Houston is not taking advantage of Yao’s ability to float the ball over his defender on offense either.
At times, Yao has looked sloppy with his post games, but he’s going to get better looks than almost anyone else on the court during his 24 minute tenure. On Saturday night we saw a defensive scheme against Yao that Rockets fans aren’t used to seeing. Head Nuggets coach George Karl has holes in his post defense with Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen recovering from injuries, and yet when guarding Yao throughout the first half Karl just let Nene try to contain Yao as best he could without any help. The thought process behind this was that if Yao is going to be playing a maximum of 12 minutes per half, let him do his thing. He will be subbed out sooner than later and can’t really have an overwhelming impact on the game. And Karl was right. Yao can’t take over games right now and Rick can’t decide when to use him. Would Yao be more effective if we saved him for the second half? What about just the first and fourth quarters to set a tone for the beginning and ends of games? If Yao’s time limit is going to be reevaluated in December, do we change the offensive scheme once again in one month?
When Tracy McGrady was being taken into and out of the starting rotation there was a lot of fuss from fans and coaches. The way his presence changed the flow of the game day in and day out was not good for chemistry. Is it just me or is Yao’s situation eerily similar to the path we saw Tracy McGrady take?
Run and Gun. The second identity is one Houston wholeheartedly embraced last season. With a 6 foot 6 inch starting center in Chuck Hayes, the 2009-2010 Rockets took on a scrappy up-tempo play style that was working marginally well. For the lack of talent we had on the team at the time, it was working great. Our starters and bench could outrun any team any night and we won games by hustling to the rack and raw gritty defense. I think Trevor Ariza, who plays the Rockets tonight on his new team the Hornets, was a big part of this play style. He couldn’t (and can’t) shoot but he played the passing lanes, got steals, and ran the court.
Let’s not kid ourselves, some of the better dunks last season came from Houston’s favorite scapegoat although Budinger did give him a run for his money. With Yao back alongside a bevvy of slower veterans, Houston can’t keep up the pace. Courtney Lee and the rest of our second unit is a great run and gun team on paper, but it’s only working in spurts and it’s not winning us any games. I love seeing Budinger, Lee, and Jordan Hill throw down dunks on fast breaks but none of those three players are seeing enough court time to make a difference. The high energy team is being suffocated by the third prong of our identity crisis.
Teacher’s Pets. This is the most easily fixed problem and at the same time the least likely to change. Our rotation is littered with players who are under performing but seeing serious minutes. Why are guys like Battier, Hayes, Jeffries, and Miller seeing an unnecessary amount of playing time when the younger, unproven Rockets would get pulled after their first mental mistake? Rick Adelmen has his go-to squad of high basketball IQ players who understand the game of basketball or, in Brad Miller’s case, are very familiar with his offensive schemes.
The problem with these guys is they aren’t winning us any games. Battier, the only starter, has looked old this season. His corner three point shot hasn’t been falling and his defense is marginally worse than it used to be. He’s still a useful tool and at this point I think he deserves the starting role but when he’s failing to stop guys like Monta Ellis, you pull him out of the game. When the defense isn’t there, there’s no need for Battier at all. Hayes is great at what he does. He uses his body to prevent larger players from backing their way into the paint. He’s got incredible hands and can pass from the top of the paint with precision. His offense has improved but not by leaps or bounds. He’s still too short to be taken seriously and should only be used as defensive tool. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, he’s a situational defense guy at best and should not be playing center anymore with the options we now have. Jeffries is similar to Hayes. Defensive versatility with limited offense. Situational situations only. Miller earned Rick Adelman’s trust years ago when he was playing under him for the Kings. He’s a good passer, allegedly a decent shooter, but his defense is atrocious and he needs to be taken out sooner.
These guys aren’t being used properly and are clogging the way for some of the younger talent. Jordan Hill is not a great player, but he’s taller and has better physical gifts than anyone listed before. Give him or Patrick Patterson a shot Rick. We know you like to play favorites, but it’s not working. And feel free to play Dampier when we make room for him too.
Other things to think about: Aaron Brooks was not given a contract extension while lesser players (Like Memphis’ Mike Conely) were. Are we planning on moving Aaron or are we going to let the open market overpay him just like we did with Lowry and Scola?
What kind of value will Jermaine Taylor retrieve on the trading block? Are we going to get protected second round picks, cash, or maybe even a little roster consolidation?
How will Ariza play tonight against the Rockets? Will he be looking to prove something or will his over aggressiveness in looking to score tonight be his downfall just like it was on the Rockets?
I’m going to be at the Toyota Center tonight and will be writing a post game recap. Hopefully I will be able to answer some of my many questions today.