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Week 2: Rockets Weekly Wrap-Up

By Dennis L. Silva, II.
11.21.05

In their second full week of NBA basketball, the Rockets went 1-3. During that week, the team begot a slew of injuries, poor play, and a schedule that was must have been the mastermind of Satan, nothing more nor nothing less. While the Rockets’ intensity and effort towards games improved, those intangibles were nullified when it came to victories. As of Monday, November 21, the Houston Rockets (a team that had been hyped and praised upon by many during the preseason; a team that many analysts and NBA experts viewed as no less than the second best team in the Western Conference) sat alone, tired and disgusted amidst its spot as the worst team in the West.

Offense: The Rockets’ offense is deplorable and lethargic; it is a poor showcase of the talent that is claimed by its roster. I’ll start by giving the basics- the offensive statistics: the Rockets are shooting 40.7% from the floor, averaging 15.8 assists, and turning the ball over almost 16 times per game. In my last Wrap-up, I went through the sets the Rockets run as an offense and how the team struggles whenever Yao can’t get decent position down low, simply because the Rockets don’t have any creators or playmakers aside from Tracy McGrady, who has missed four games due to back stiffness that, apparently, won’t go away anytime soon. While Yao has shown games of aggression and a willingness to dominate his opponent in stretches, he seems intent on backing away from that style of play when it matters most- during the fourth quarter. The Rockets try desperately to get Yao the ball on every play, not necessarily because it’s what they should do, but more so because they have no other choice. Yao is averaging almost three more shot attempts per game than he did last year, yet he’s only averaging 0.8 more points per game. That’s a reflection of how ineffective he’s been with his shot selection and desire to shoot fadeaways. Yao is shooting 50% this season, opposed to the 55% last season.

One positive attribute of Houston’s offense has been the play of David Wesley at point guard. Wesley, who had been unreliable as a backup guard, earned the starting point spot against Detroit when Rafer Alston was sidelined due to a right leg injury. During his two games as a starter, Wesley has averaged 13 points per game, while shooting 10-17 from the floor, including 4-4 from 3-point range. Wesley has also maintained 5 assists per game, as well as 7.5 rebounds per contest. Clearly he’s much more comfortable alongside his fellow starters from last season (Yao Ming, Juwan Howard) than playing with newcomers Derek Anderson and Stromile Swift off the bench.

With the status of McGrady day-by-day at this point, Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy can only solve his woes on offense by adding more flexibility and nuances to the offense. The Rockets exclusively utilize the pick-and-roll and little else. Perhaps a motion offense of some sort, or some misdirection plays would throw opposing defense off course. Allowing the team to run at certain points for easy baskets would be a nice addition as well. The Rockets are only averaging 5.9 transition points per game, which is inexcusable considering the athletes and athleticism (Swift, Anderson, Alston) that is on this team. I also believe it would help giving Lonny Baxter a few spot minutes to see if he can create some offense inside. The Rockets only average 28 points per game in the paint, and it can be assumed that the great majority of Yao’s 19.1 points per game come from inside the paint. That means Yao is getting little help inside, which is where Swift needs to step up his play. Instead of settling for those 15-foot jumpers that he loves, Swift would be more of a beneficiary if he drove and attacked the basket. It would also be wise of Anderson to regain his slashing talents and drive to the basket more. The Rockets are a halfcourt team that plays a gritty, grind-it-out style, and for them to be relying upon jump shots opposed to inside scores is pointless (no pun intended).
GRADE: D+


Defense: Defensively, the Rockets have been solid. They are allowing a mere 87 points per game on 41% shooting from opponents. The past week, the team seemed to be more secure in their defensive rotations and when and where to trap and double-team. It’s their defense that has kept them in games. For a team that has seen their leading scorer miss four of the ten games, and their starting point guard miss two games, the Rockets are only a –3.6 on the scoreboard, which is actually remarkable considering how many possessions and opportunities their offense gives away. If there’s any complaint with the defense, it is that they allow approximately 33 points scored inside the paint. Also, the Rockets’ starters allow 66.3 points scored by their opponents’ starting five, and when you consider that the Rockets’ starters themselves only compile 57 points per contest, then that means the bench usually comes in facing a deficit. The Rockets have to do a better job setting the intensity on the defensive end from the start, but, otherwise, the unit has been consistent this season.
GRADE: B+.

As we move on to the third full week of the NBA season, the Rockets will have contests against the Mavericks, Suns, Grizzlies, and Bulls before I write up the next Wrap-Up. I predict the team going 3-1 on that stand because I do see McGrady playing in at least two of those contests, and then I’m hoping the Rockets will put together a determined effort to win one without Mr. Superstar. None of those four teams are slouches so the Rockets will, again, have their work cut out for them. But just as I saw immense progress in the team’s work ethic and intensity this past week, I expect more (which I’m hoping translates to W’s) this next week. Until then folks, so long.
 
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