Van Gundy wants extra effort from his forwards
By JONATHAN FEIGEN
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle
Maurice Taylor returned home, hit the "play" button on the answering machine and heard the voice that for months had been ringing in his — and every Rocket's — ears.
Jeff Van Gundy could not issue an order. The call came in the offseason, so he was limited to a suggestion. But Taylor loved the idea.
Van Gundy wants Taylor to shoot more often, and even on the answering machine in the offseason, players like the idea of shooting more often.
Van Gundy wants Taylor to put up 100 3-pointers a day. In addition to his usual offseason workouts, Van Gundy thought Taylor should hone his shooting touch from the perimeter.
If only every suggestion could work so well.
For now, that part of Taylor's game seems to be working. He has taken just one 3-pointer in the preseason and missed it. But while the Rockets' perimeter shooting has been awful, Taylor has started hitting in the past two games.
"If it's open I'll take it," Taylor said. "I have confidence in it.
"It's basically to spread the floor for Yao (Ming) and Tracy (McGrady) posting up. But if we swing it around and a guy sags too much, I can bang him in the head a little bit."
Taylor has continued to work with coaches on his 3-point range after practices, indicating it's a skill the Rockets would like to have in their arsenal.
"He said he could do that, and you know what, watching him shoot it out there, it was probably a mistake on my part not to have gone to that, or looked at that, earlier last year," Van Gundy said. "That's why (Scott) Padgett per 48 minutes is the best plus-minus ratio last year. One of the reasons is there was so much room on the court. I think Mo can provide that. I don't know if he's as good a 3-point shooter as Padgett. But when Mo shoots one from range, it looks good."
As Van Gundy searches for information to help him form his rotation, Taylor's shooting is just one part of the equation.
Juwan Howard is also a good catch-and-shoot threat in between Yao and McGrady, though perhaps with less range. Both can get their own shots, Howard with a traditional post-up game and Taylor by going one-on-one off the dribble.
But for the Rockets' power forwards, who play with Yao and McGrady, the ability to be creative offensively is a skill not unlike juggling — it is impressive but won't be used much. The majority of post-up touches will go to Yao and McGrady.
That made Taylor more valuable coming off the bench than starting last season. But with Kelvin Cato in Orlando now, Van Gundy must find a new starter at power forward and will have to weigh more than the value of Taylor's improved shooting touch.
"You can't take one facet of anybody's game," Van Gundy said. "Shooting and scoring are what he's always been good at. He's very gifted in those areas.
"As a group, we lost rebounding. We need, all of us, need to concentrate on rebounding the ball better. Particularly fours need to do a good job there. ... That goes for Mo and everybody else that plays that position. We're not going to be an athletic, jump-over-you type team. We're not built that way. We're going to have to be a block-out team and we're going to have to rebound with all five guys."
Taylor's tenacity defensively and on the boards has yet to measure up to his offensive skills. He averaged 4.7 rebounds per game last season and has averaged just five in his career.
Taylor, 27, said he has no objection to coming off the bench again and wouldn't view the two remaining preseason games as chances to audition for a job at this point in his career.
"I didn't think I had to come into the preseason to do something to allow me the minutes," he said. "I'm going to play my game, regardless. I thought I shot the ball well the last couple of games. He knows what he's going to get out of me.
"I definitely want to improve my rebounding. But a lot of people focus on things you don't do well. I tend to focus on things I do do well. Obviously, I want to improve my overall game. I want to get better at every aspect of the game and rebounding is an aspect I need to get better in. But I'm not letting the criticism force me to do anything. I felt like last year, I sacrificed a lot coming off the bench. I don't have a problem sacrificing for the team. At the same time, I definitely want to be on the floor as much as possible."
Taylor's value on the floor starts with his ability to put the ball in the basket. How far that extends, in terms of his game, remains to be seen.
Putting teammates first
Rockets forward Tracy McGrady spoke of the goals of the week's final preseason games, of building cohesion among teammates and picking up speed for the start of the regular season on Tuesday against Detroit at Auburn Hills, Mich.
But he said he has no concerns about his own offense. McGrady has not dominated as he had the past two seasons, but he is making 48.9 percent of his shots and 42.9 percent of his 3-pointers while averaging 15.8 points in just 27.3 minutes per game.
"I'm getting easy shots," McGrady said. "It's pretty easy for me because Yao ( Ming) creates double teams. He gets so much attention down there. And I have other guys around me that can shoot, so you have to pay attention to everybody on the court.
"It's pretty easy for me. I can create my own shot as well. My thing is I'm trying to get other guys involved. I can get my shot whenever I want. So I put my teammates first, get them going. I was blessed with the talent to get going at any given time."
A needed break
With a week left in the preseason, the Rockets on Monday returned to practice after a day off Sunday and a weekend off the court for the four starters that did not play in Orlando on Saturday.
None had requested the extra time off. But there might not be many occasions left with consecutive days that do not involve playing, so the brief break was timed well to relieve "training camp legs" and send the team to its final week of preparations for the season.
"I feel good," Rockets guard Charlie Ward said. "I definitely feel a lot better than I did a couple days ago. It was very helpful for me. To get a chance to rest right now is good."
-- JONATHAN FEIGEN