Sunday, May 24, 2009
Ron Artest (B-) Ron kept his nose squeaky clean and exhibited nothing but an outstanding positive attitude all year. He brought everything he had every night and left it all on the court. But as has been his wont throughout his career, Artest did not always play smart. At times he tried to take over the point guard position, dribbling around on the perimeter, making ill-advised passes into traffic and forcing his way into the lane rather than dishing it off to the open man.
Brent Barry (D) Being a good influence on the court and in the locker room for the rest of the team saved him from a failing grade, but basically, Brent added little to the team on the floor this year.
Shane Battier (B+) One of my favorite players, Shane plays intelligently, efficiently and puts out 100% on both ends of the court. His scoring was down this year, but his assists were up and turnovers down. Missing 22 games due to off-season surgery prevented a higher grade.
Aaron Brooks (B) Brooks made huge strides this season toward becoming a competent NBA point guard, taking over for Rafer Alston when Alston was traded in mid-season. Keeping in mind that Brooks has only been a starter for 35 games, many of his errors can be overlooked. He dribbles too much and makes bad decisions too often. Due to his 6' height, he is something of a defensive liability against taller guards that like to post up. So why did he get an above-average grade? Because he is aggressive, fearless, coachable, plays hard and he's fast - VERY fast. Most of all, he's just fun to watch.
Bryan Cook (D) I am not privy to practices, so coach Addleman will have to explain Cook's lack of playing time, but for whatever reason, he played very little. Since he was on the team and available for 35 games, an (Incomplete) would be inappropriate.
Joey Dorsey (I) Plantar fasciitis ruined Dorsey's first season in pro ball. He spent much of the year with the Rio Grande Vipers, Houston's NBDL affiliate, but was never able to play effectively. His potential will probably buy him another chance next season.
Chuck Hayes (C) Who doesn't like Chuck Hayes? He is listed (generously) at 6'6" and plays center. Chuck uses his body and strength very well, but his lack of height and offensive skills prevent him from being anything more than a luxury on an already deep team.
Carl Landry (B) Having been given an excused absence for the month he spent recovering from a gunshot wound, Carl more than proved me right when I recommended that the Rockets match Charlotte's offer sheet last off-season and keep him. Landry was a force off the bench at power forward and his athleticism and demeanor inspired his teammates. I still contend that he would be a starter on almost every team in the league that doesn't already have Luis Scola.
Kyle Lowry (A-) As with Aaron Brooks, Kyle's grade is relative and somewhat qualified. For having been thrown into the mix after being acquired from Memphis in mid-season, Lowry did a good job, sharing point guard minutes with Brooks and providing a critical spark plug off the bench. So good in fact that I recommended not long ago that Lowry be promoted to starter. He does not have Brooks' offensive skills, but he plays more under control and gets the rest of the team more involved than does Brooks. My recommendation still stands.
Tracy McGrady (C-) The commonly expressed opinion as to Tracy's performance this year was, "Even when he was there, he wasn't there." That pretty much covers his contribution to the team this season on the court, and he did not handle the injury behind the scenes or his eventual decision to have season-ending surgery very well either. In later posts, I will opine on Tracy's attitude and future, but for this purpose, suffice to say that T-Mac didn't show up this year. He was just Tracy.
Dikembe Mutombo (A) The general attitude in the Rockets' locker room improved along with their on-court performance just about the time Dikembe signed on this year. Coincidence? Hardly. This grade is more of a legacy than an accurate indicator of his performance this year. It was an honor for the Rockets to have Deke end his career here.
Luis Scola (A) Luis was a rock in the lineup this season. He has come into his own as an NBA power forward and will pay dividends for many more years. All year he was whatever Rick Addleman asked him to be. He gave his all on every play and played smart, solid, fundamental basketball.
Von Wafer (B) No Rocket has ever been more fun to watch. Von is fearless and has the talent and athleticism to back it up. He provided instant offense off the bench all season. Wafer occassionally tries to do the impossible and has nowhere to go with the ball, but that will change with experience. He also has defensive lapses and to paraphrase Will Rogers, he never met a shot he didn't like. If he learns to pass more, he could easily increase his assists markedly and benefit the team.
James White (I) Acquired late in the season from the NBDL, this human highlight film is little more than raw talent. I look forward to seeing him next year in the off-season rookie league and training camp to see if he has a real future in the NBA.
Yao Ming (A) His foot injury in the playoffs prevented him getting a A+ for his solid, determined performance in the regular season. Yao is the reason the Rockets made it to the playoffs and got out of the first round for the first time in forever. Weaknesses? Yes, he has a few. He doesn't run fast. For his height, he doesn't block that many shots or rebound all that well. Everything else he does very well and he is generally considered the hardest worker on the team. Yao Ming is one of the top two centers in the league.
School's out. Disagree with anything I've said? Tell me about it. Next: What the future will bring.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
The Lakers are a very good team with what should have been the co-MVP of the league this year, Kobe Bryant. Pau Gasol adds an inside/outside threat that will be hard for any team to overcome and coach Phil Jackson has been there so many times that his players just naturally feel confident. At the same time, Denver has a superstar of its own and is playing inspired team-oriented basketball at just the right time. Again, coach George Karl has seen it all and knows how to create a game plan that will get the ball in the right hands on offense and neutralize the Lakers' assets on defense.
After last night's dramatic buzzer-beater by LeBron, I changed my opinion of who is the best player on the planet. It used to be Kobe, but it's now a tie. I've been looking for a reason to make that change because frankly, I just don't like Kobe. He whines too much. LeBron can dominate a game from both ends of the court. Žydrūnas Ilgauskas is not only underrated, he is in fact one of the top centers in the league. What makes this series hard to predict is that Orlando's center, Dwight Howard, is the best center in the league. Forwards Rashard Lewis and Hedo Turkoglu make the Magic's front court possibly the best in the NBA. If point guard Jameer Nelson had not torn the labrum in his right shoulder in February, I would be all over the Orlando bandwagon, but unfortunately, they are stuck with former Rockets Rafer Alston and Tyron Lue and much-traveled journeyman Anthony Johnson to man the point guard position. The Rockets got rid of Alston and Lue for a reason.
So here is the formal prediction: Cleveland will beat Los Angeles for the NBA Championship. How can I be so sure? Because my coin (a pristine 2008 Alaska commemorative quarter) came up heads, heads and tails, in that order.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
But that's not me. I love the game. I love the Rockets most, but basketball is a wonderful sport that brings out the best in all who play it. Aside from being the best exercise ever, it requires effort, dedication, focus, and most importantly - teamwork. Other sports do as well, but of the big three most popular sports in this country, basketball demands the most communication and cooperation. No human can excel without ego. Pride is the natural result of accomplishment and should be exalted, not condemned. But in basketball, one's pride must come from one's ability to operate within a team framework, Many see this a sacrificing one's ego to the team, but that is far from true. A sacrifice is made when one gets nothing in return. This is a trade; the success of the individual being based on his contribution to his team - and all accomplished on a voluntary basis. It should be a shining example of how people can work together to better themselves, and coincidentally, their fellow man.
But enough philosophy. How about just a big thank you for all the hard work and dedication the Rockets exhibited this season? It was a fantastic run, guys, and you deserve every accolade. I won't even mention the individuals who were injured. For now, I just want to laud the ones that were there for the duration. Way to go.
There will be some housekeeping here in the next few days and weeks. I will make some predictions, both about the ongoing playoffs and the future of the Rockets and NBA. I will offer an end-of-season report card for the individual Rockets and make my online pitch to Daryl Morey and Les Alexander as to what moves to make in the off-season. So stick around ladies and gentlemen. The game will go on.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Friday, May 15, 2009
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
The Rockets have surprised me any number of times this year, so I'm hoping to be gloriously wrong. Go get 'em guys!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
Aaron Brooks scored 34 points on 60% shooting and ran the Lakers into the court, but the real damage was done by the workhorses on offense and defense: Chuck Hayes, Luis Scola and Ron Artest. Why were we surprised? More than half of last year's 22 game win streak came after Yao went out with an injury to the same foot he injured on Friday. Subtract McGrady, add Artest and the beat goes on. Great job guys!
While the Lakers regained home court advantage in Houston, it's still a tied series, guaranteeing at least a 6th game. This is fun.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Three factors stand out in Game 3.
- The Rockets outrebounded the Lakers by 13,
- They gave it back by committing 13 more turnovers than L.A.
- The Lakers just shot well from the 3-point line. On average, a team that takes 20 three-pointers will make about seven of them. The Lakers hit 11, four more than average. That alone counts for most of the margin of victory.
With the exceptions of Lowry and Landry, virtually the entire team again seemed determined to dribble into the teeth of the Lakers' collapsing defense. Ron Artest and Aaron Brooks were two of the most guilty. Both were so anxious to contribute and be aggresive that they hurt their team.
The reason the Lakers hit so many threes is that the Rockets were so focused on stopping Kobe and Gasol that they were giving away open threes to the supporting cast members - and they hit them. I'm not saying that this was a bad strategy by Coach Addleman, but sometimes good strategies work and sometimes the other team just gets hot.
Artest's flagrant foul late in the game was a non-issue relative to the outcome of that game. The game had been decided and he obviously did not intend to hurt anyone. He merely committed a "play-off foul" in attempting to keep Gasol from scoring in the lane. The Rockets are waiting to hear if Artest will be suspended, but upon further revue, I think the NBA will see it as just a hard foul.
Having regained home-court advantage, the Lakers look almost invincible. If the Rockets lose game 4, the lead will be insurmountable.
Friday, May 8, 2009
Thursday, May 7, 2009
This was a game of great succes for some Rockets and great failure for others. There wasn't much in the middle. While Carl Landry was in the game, the Rockets outscored the Lakers by 11 points and by 15 when Chuck Hayes played. But those were the good stories. The five starters had an average +/- stat of -19.2. The Lakers outscored the Rockets by 29 with Yao in the game. Yao was challenged early and did not step up. About the only good thing that came out of this game was that Houston's reserves beat up on Los Angeles's reserves. Oh, yeah, and Derek Fisher was suspended for the next game. He deserved it for his outrageous intentional foul on Luis Scola. Kobe deserved the same fate for elbowing Ron Artest in the throat, but the NBA had not the courage to issue anything more than a Flagrant one foul.
I still haven't heard any more about Von Wafer being sent to the showers early for mouthing off to Rick Adelman. Coach would only say that it's a "team matter." In other words, Addleman did the right thing twice. First, he refused to be shown disrespect by a player and he refused to rake the player over the coals in the press. Let's hope Wafer's embarassment over the whole thing is enough to have taught him a lesson. Let's also keep in mind that despite his notoriety and wealth, he's still just a kid and kids shoot there mouths off, especially in pressure situations. Learn from it, Von, and move on.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Come on Rockets, prove me wrong!
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
It was a game that Daryl Morey would use to show why the boxscore is so misleading. The Rockets had fewer fast break points, points in the paint, rebounds, assists, steals, blocked shots and committed more turnovers than L.A. But tough, hard defense and aggressively going to the basket on offense don't show up in the box. Houston's full-speed-ahead play caused the Lakers to commit 12 more fouls than the Rockets, resulting in a 13 point Houston advantage at the foul line. The Rockets just seemed to want it more.
Now for the obvious: this was just one game. The Lakers will be heard from in this series. But for now, Houston fans can rejoice in the fact that they have wrested home court advantage from a really good team, even if they lose on Wednesday. Let's hope the Rockets' players stay hungry and don't rest on last night's laurels.
It was damn fun to watch, though, wasn't it?
Monday, May 4, 2009
But for tonight, I remain unconvinced. The Lakers will win, but the margin of victory will be less than the 15 point average in their regular season series. Kobe will score 30+ and Yao will be held under 20.
Friday, May 1, 2009
First, kudos to the Rockets entire team for a stellar series against a fine young Portland Trailblazers team. Rick Adelman made all the right adjustments between games and kept his team prepared and loose. Yao Ming took what the defense gave him and set up his teammates to succeed. Ron Artest, Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry and Von Wafer played mostly under control the whole series and subscribed to the team concept. Luis Scola held his own against rising star Lamarcus Aldridge. Shane Battier was again the glue that held everything together. Outstanding job, guys.
Now the bad news: The Los Angeles Lakers are not the Portland Trailblazers. They are not young, inexperienced or bereft of quality depth. Did I mention they also have the best player on the planet? Yes, I said it. Kobe Bryant is the best basketball player in the world. Maybe not the best ever, but the best there is now. Arguments can be made in favor of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, and truthfully, either of those players may succeed Kobe as the best someday, but not this day. He can do anything he wants anytime he wants. Even defensive greats Shane Battier and Ron Artest concede that you can't stop Bryant, only slow him down. Just keeping him below his average is a victory.
The second round series between Houston and LA will be decided by the supporting casts. Yao will get his points and Kobe will get his. All season, Rick Addleman has found ways for his non-stars to win games - except against the Lakers. LA swept Houston 4-0 this season, and by a 15 point average margin of victory. Kobe averaged 28.3 ppg (1.5 ppg above his season avg.) against the Rockets, despite the two aforementioned defensive specialists being assigned to him. About the only good news is that the Rockets led the Lakers in the second half in 3 of the 4 losses, and the Rockets have improved in closing out games as the season and the playoffs have progressed.
I will continue to predict the outcome of each game on game day (I was 5-1 vs. the Blazers!), but for the series, any sane person has to give the nod to the Lakers.