Chasing Down The Latest NBA News
Certainly, it is too early to make predictions for the 2010-2011 season. There are far too many things that yet to take place this off-season, far too many stories searching for an ending in one of the most talent filled free agent pools in the history of the NBA. To make an assertion regarding the outcome of the upcoming season at the point would be somewhat foolish but I feel the need to address the situation in Houston, where Daryl Morey is a franchise that is starting to deserve all that extra attention they get from foreign countries.
The Rockets, two years ago, challenged the soon to be World Champion Los Angeles Lakers in a seven game dogfight that they had a decent shot at winning even though they lost Yao Ming in the middle of the series. That injury kept Ming from participating in any NBA related activities last season, which meant the talented Rockets found themselves in lottery despite an over a 42-40 record, a mark that would have been good enough for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Houston was easily the best team in the lottery going in, that is if exclude Utah who drafted with in the Knicks spot, and they ended up taking their team to another level, at least in my mind.
They went up a notch in the NBA rankings because Patrick Patterson can play, and they nabbed him with the final pick in the lottery. Patterson may have been the most NBA ready prospect in the entire draft, including his former college teammate John Wall. Morey knew this, he sat there waiting ever so patiently, dieing for this guy to fall into his arms. Its not just the talent, the tools, or the flare. Patterson is a smart, smart player. If basketball IQ is the term you want to use, so be it, he’s got a ton of basketball IQ. He makes the right plays, gambles when he knows the outcomes, and refuses to step beyond his limitations.
It’d be a different story had he gone to another team. I wouldn’t be raving about his knowledge and feel for the game had he gone to Warriors because it wouldn’t be likely that those things show up in an environment like that. But it means so much that he went to Houston because, perhaps more than any other team, they appreciate basketball knowledge and take advantage of advanced statistics.
A philosophy and style that stemmed from Morey and his MIT educational background has already spread to one Rocket player. You’ve seen and heard about Shane Battier and the booklets he uses to prepare to defend players like Kobe Bryant or LeBron James that contain stats like “Kobe Bryant drives right 57% of the time.” Not all players in the NBA have the mental capacity to even think about going that deep into the numbers to have more success in the NBA, much less study, comprehend it, and put it to use in real-time on the floor. I think Patterson is smart enough and is infatuated with the game to the point where he, like Battier, can use numbers and information to improve his overall game.
And right now, with Patterson now on the team as he is, improvements for the Rockets would be a scary thing for the rest of the league.
Last season, without Ming, Morey made some changes at the deadline to improve the Rockets’ chances of making the post-season. Though they did not end up making the post-season in one of the toughest Western Conferences races ever, Morey dealt Tracy McGrady’s expiring contract and Carl Landry to the Knicks and Kings in a three-team deal that brought over shooting guard Kevin Martin from Sacramento. Although Landry was as tough as nails and was one of the hardest workers in the NBA, Martin immediately gave Houston one of the most dynamic backcourts in the entire league.
Houston hadn’t had a wing player that they could rely on for 20+ points a night since McGrady before he was overcome by injures. Paired with Aaron Brooks, who was voted most improved player after the season and is one of the best non-superstars in the league, the Rockets had 40 points a night from their backcourt with either player capable of dropping 30+ on any given night. Though Martin and Brooks have some defensive deficiencies, there is somewhat of a counterbalance with Shane Battier and Trevor Ariza capable of locking down on the other team’s best perimeter scorer. It may not be the most conventional way to field a team, but with this personnel, it looks like it will work.
On the interior, the Rockets will have Yao Ming back next season. Last year, Chuck Hayes started at center for Houston. Fine player who works hard, but when you’re starting a center that is shorter than some shooting guards, you’re bound to have troubles on both ends of the floor in the paint. Ming changes everything, obviously. He is definitely not as dominant defensively as he could be with his long arms because quick feet aren’t something that seven-foot-six players are accustomed to, but he changes things. He does contest shots at the rim and his body gets in the way of some dribble drives. And his presence changes everything offensively. The Rockets were a guard only offensive team other than Luis Scola last season and Hayes was a non-factor. Ming, though most have forgotten it over the past year, is the best center in basketball, at least offensively, and his tools are unmatched for anybody his size.
And now with Patterson, should Scola sign with the Rockets in free agency, the Rockets have a potential starting five of Brooks, Martin, Battier, Patterson/Scola and Ming. Three elite offensive players, one of the best defensive players in the game, and either a very talented power forward with range and some of the best scoop shots you’ll ever see or a rookie with an extremely high basketball IQ for a first year player that knows him limitations, fights on the glass and can score in the interior. The West is tough, but that’s a playoff team, without a doubt, in my mind.
Morey has also built a solid bench around that starting five. For starters, if Scola does stay in Houston, Patterson goes to the bench and gives them another good power forward in the sixth man spot that Landry occupied before going to Sacramento. Behind him, you have Trevor Ariza, who was a key role player on the Lakers’ 2009 Championship squad and is still one of the better perimeter defenders in the league. With Battier starting and Ariza coming off the bench, the Rockets can send a great defensive player at a guy like Kobe or Dwyane Wade for a full 48 minutes, which is a invaluable quality that only a few teams possess. Jared Jeffries has the ability to opt into a final year with the Rockets, which would give Houston three defenders over six-foot-six that can defend shooting guards and small forwards (even some power forwards for Jeffries).
Already, this team has eight solid players in the rotation, something the Lakers couldn’t say last year, and that isn’t all. Two rookies last season stepped up to fill a role.
Chase Budinger was drafted in the second round by the Pistons before his rights were traded to the Rockets. It didn’t seem like much at the time but now that the season has gone by, I think you can make a case that Budinger had the most overlooked rookie campaign in the league. I said so in December when the season was just beginning and I’ll stick by that now. Nine points and three rebounds aren’t big numbers by any stretch but he filled a variety of roles a sharpshooter, a fill-in for Ariza or Battier and just a regular bench player. He didn’t get a lot of attention last season because his role was never consistent but he did his job when he was on the floor.
The other rookie was Jordan Hill, who came over mid-season from the Knicks. His role was even less defined than Budinger’s if you can even say he had one. But in mop-up duty and some late season minutes, he showed his physical tools were there, but he just needs to have somebody tweak with his motivation and work ethic. A job Rick Adelman seems perfect for.
In free agency, adding another point guard to back-up Aaron Brooks will be a key with Kyle Lowry likely leaving for more money. Other than trying to keep Luis Scola in town, Daryl Morey shouldn’t have a very busy off-season. That is, unless he tries to package some of the young talent I just raved about in a sign and trade for Chris Bosh (think Hill or Budinger with Ariza and a future first round pick), in which case I would put the Rockets into title contention (How can you not with Brooks, Martin, Bosh and Ming with Battier still capable of playing excellent defense? That’s an amazing offensive line-up.) and proclaim Morey as the best GM in the league in a tie with Sam Presti.
But even if Bosh doesn’t find his way back to his home state, I think the Rockets are going places and might be the team to watch going into 2011. The way Yao looks when he returns to the floor after a year off from basketball might mean a slow start overall for Houston, which is tough for fans to handle, especially in that division and conference. But I think, with all of the offensive and defensive talent on this team, after a month or two, the Rockets will be ready for take off.