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Rockets Weekly Wrap-Up

By Dennis L. Silva, II.
11.15.05


The Rockets Weekly Wrap-Up makes its first appearance of the season as we explore and analyze the week of November 7-13 of Rockets basketball. The Rockets finished the preseason at 6-2 overall, yet the record was not indicative of how the team played, according to Rockets head man Jeff Van Gundy. As of Monday, November 14, the Rockets stood at 2-4 on the season, starting the season with a victory at home against Sacramento before proceeding to lose the next three games, albeit without star guard Tracy McGrady, who was sidelined due to back spasms. The Rockets then won Saturday night against the New Jersey Nets as McGrady made his return to the lineup, yet fell the following night against the Boston Celtics. Inconsistency and unreliability throughout the lineup has thus far been the cause of the Rockets’ shortcomings in this young season. So let’s explore further, shall we?

Offense: The Rockets’ offense consists mainly of three sets: the 1-4 setup, the pick-and-roll, and a triangle setup. The 1-4 setup is basically a motion offense used to free up space or players to set up either one of the other two plays. The pick-and-roll is used for scoring opportunities for the guards (McGrady, Anderson, Alston) and as a scoring option for Juwan Howard, who thrives off the pick-and-pop, where he can set a screen and roll out 15 feet from the basket to shoot his midrange jumper. The triangle is primarily used to get Yao the ball. Yao will set up on a post block, while a player sits in his corner, with another player (either McGrady or the point guard) out top. The other two players space the floor, with one other wing man sitting in the opposite corner, and the other forward roaming somewhere between the opposite block all the way out to 22 feet, depending on where the defense is situated. The problem with these sits is that if the primary scoring option on each play is covered, the Rockets do not have many creators (aside from McGrady, and to a lesser extent, Alston) who can break down the defense and make a play with the clock running down. Therefore, say if Yao is covered on the triangle set, the Rockets have to rush and just hope a player gets open or the defense loses focus somewhere. The Rockets, through the young season’s first six games, have only two players in double figures: McGrady (24 ppg) and Yao (19.2 ppg). They need atleast one, preferably two, more players who can average double-figures and be consistent threats to score. Derek Anderson has potential (9.8 ppg) but seems unwilling to take on such responsibility. Howard SHOULD be that third scorer who averages 12-14 points per contest, but he just doesn’t get enough shots. Howard is shooting 45% from the field and averaging 8 points per game, but is only averaging almost 8 shots per game. For how effective and how consistent he has been early this season, he needs to be taking 10-12 shots per contest. Atleast he would have to force the defense to pay attention to him and his shooting ability.

As a result of the indecision and lack of a consistent third scoring threat, the Rockets are shooting 40% from the field as a team. The team is also averaging only 17 assists per game, meaning there is no ball movement and too much one-on-one play. So how could such disarray be solved? First of all, it would help to have your best shooters playing more minutes. Jon Barry is shooting 35% from 3-point range, which isn’t outstanding, but certainly better than the 28% 3-point percentage claimed by David Wesley, who averages five more minutes per game than Barry. Rookie Luther Head is shooting 42% from downtown, and he’s averaging a full nine less minutes than Wesley. By having Barry and Head on the floor more often, you force the defense to pay attention to them, and it also causes less double-teaming or trapping. Teams are willing to let Wesley gun away as often as possible, which means they can afford to pay more attention to McGrady and Yao. But if you have McGrady and Yao surrounded by Barry, Head, and Anderson (who is hitting a respectable 38% of his threes), then you force the defense to make decisions.


Defense: One thing you can always count on with Jeff Van Gundy-coached teams is that they will always defend as if their lives depended on it. This season has been nothing different. The Rockets are holding opponents to 41% shooting while only giving up 89 points per contest. The worst complaint that can be made is that the Rockets don’t force enough turnovers, which is correct. The Rockets only force 13 giveaways per game. While they are a deadly defensive halfcourt bunch, they could afford to spice up their defense with more trapping and double-teaming. With the length and athleticism of such players as McGrady, Swift, Anderson, and Head, the Rockets would be a tough team to play when it comes to transition offense. The Rockets employed a pressing, trapping defense late in the game against the Celtics, and saw how much havoc and uncomfort it caused for Boston. As it is, you have Mutombo and Yao waiting at the goal so you don’t have to worry about an easy basket being allowed if a team was to somehow survive such a press. Other than that tiny tidbit, the Rockets have played superbly on the defensive end, and it is their stifling defense that has kept them close in games this season.

The Rockets have also yet to settle upon a stable rotation. Right now, Van Gundy chooses to come off the bench with Swift, Mutombo, Head, and Wesley, with forward Ryan Bowen and Barry waiting in the wings as well, depending on matchups. I still think it would better suit the team if Wesley played 10-15 minutes per game, oppose to the 28 per he is seeing so far. Barry is averaging 8.2 points, and Head is averaging 6.8. Wesley is averaging only 6.3 (many of those coming off free throws) and has shot more attempts than Barry or Head. The fact that there is no stability in the rotation, or effectiveness for that matter, may be the cause for the Rockets’ grotesque offensive performances game in and game out.

Individually, Yao and McGrady, as was expected, are the lone bright stars for the team. Other than that, there is not much- here I go, saying it again- CONSISTENCY. Anderson has a good grasp of the offensive and defensive schemes and has shown a nice all-around game, averaging 9.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2.7 assists. But he needs to be more aggressive in his shooting, and has not yet seemed to understand when to shoot and when to pass when it comes to the offense. He’s only shooting 32% on the season. Swift looks lost and confused for the most part, on both ends of the floor. He’s showed immense progress in the last few games, but that’s not exactly saying much. He still has a long way to go, and seems to rely almost exclusively on his athleticism and physicality instead of his basketball smarts. That’s never a good sign. At this point of the season, he looks like nothing more than Kelvin Cato, except with a better-polished offensive game. Rafer Alston has done great in running the team and focusing on rebounds and steals. Alston is averaging 4.5 assists and 4 rebounds per game, while only turning the ball over an average of 1.3 times during his 32 minutes per on the court. Many analysts dog Alston for his lack of offensive output thus far, but that’s not his job. I believe that Alston has tired himself out in learning the in and outs of the Rockets’ schemes, and therefore his offensive game has not come around yet. But if I know Van Gundy, he’s thrilled with Alston and his ability to run the team and control the tempo of a game.

Luther Head has been nothing short of spectacular in his first six NBA games. The rookie has shown a poise and toughness well beyond his years. Van Gundy plays him almost exclusively at point guard, but I feel, in time, Head will be a combo guard because he has a great shot and great ability to score in traffic and, more importantly, in crunch time. He still reminds me of a young Sam Cassell, except for the fact that Head is quiet and reserved. The Rockets have a diamond in the rough in the young guard. Juwan Howard, aside from Yao and McGrady, has been the Rockets’ most consistent offensive threat. His midrange jumper off the pick-and-roll has become a dominant staple in the Rockets’ offense, and Howard has also picked up most of the rebounding slack. Howard averages 6,2 boards per game, but he is most valuable crashing the offensive glass, where he snares 2.2 per game. One can only hope that Swift picks up from Howards’ veteran play and work ethic.

By the next time I report to you, my beloved Rockets audience, the Rockets will have played Minnesota, San Antonio, Detroit, and Indiana. It will only prove to be yet another daunting test for a team that entered the season with such surreal expectations. I think the Rockets will go 2-2 in the next week, but if progress within their rotation and offensive execution is not evident, then the team may have even more reason for concern than what had been thought.
 

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Awesome! :clap: great read, keep it up!
 

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But I dont really know about giving Barry more playing time, lately it seems as if he hasnt been getting much done but then again neither is Wesley. This team really needs to practice on its shot more than anything, our players are getting really good shots but they just dont fall.
 
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