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The Rockets at the Quarter Pole of the Season

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by crash5179, Mar 9, 2015.

  1. crash5179

    crash5179 Contributing Member

    Dec 9, 2000
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    Warning Long Post


    Where We Are Today

    There are only 19 games left in the season and technically the Rockets crossed the “Quarter Pole” with their victory against the Detroit Pistons. With a record of 43 wins and 20 losses the Rockets are on pace to hit 56 wins. They have a respectable 9 wins and 11 losses against the other Western Conference teams in play-off position. They have won 63% of all of their Western Conference games. The Rockets record over all and against the Western Conference in particular is especially impressive considering the team has missed 89 games to its starters including 31 games by Dwight Howard alone. The Rockets have 6 games left against WCF Play-Off teams.

    Coming up on Wednesday night is a very important match up against the very hated Portland Trailblazers. Currently the Rockets hold the 3rd play-off seed and would match up against the Dallas Mavericks if the play-offs started today. If the Rockets can hang on to the 3rd seed or even move up to the 2nd seed then they would match up against the Mavs or the Spurs. If they finish in the 4th seed their very likely first round opponent would the L.A. Clippers. I would much rather play the Spurs or Mavs in the first round than a healthy Clippers team. Needless to say, the next 19 games are huge.

    The Trail Blazers have 10 wins and 8 losses against the Western Conference Play-Off Teams but have only played the Warrior once so far this season. They have 6 games left against WCF Play-Off teams including two games against the Grizzlies and one game against the Warrior, unlike Houston who has completed its games against the Grizzlies and Warriors.

    The Bench Players

    When the season started the Rockets Bench looked like Troy Daniels, Jason Terry, Kostas Papinikolaou, Isaiah Canaan, Tariq Black, Donatas Motiejunas, and Joey Dorsey. The hope was that Daniels would continue his aggressive and accurate 3pt shooting from the play-offs, Canaan would be the next great 2nd round Daryl Morey pick, DMo would take the next step as a player and Dorsey would provide the type of rebounding and defense that he provided in Europe. None of that materialized early in the season. They were all awful and the Rockets had one of the absolute worst benches at the beginning of the season. Kostas and Black were our two best bench rotation players.

    Daryl Morey said he had the assets to add the necessary pieces and upgrade the team. How did he do?

    Gone are:
    Isaiah Canaan
    Troy Daniels
    Robert Covington
    Tarik Black,
    Alexey Shved
    Francisco Garcia.

    Added to the team are:
    Josh Smith
    Corey Brewer
    Pablo Prigioni
    K.J. McDaniels.

    The Band of Brothers

    Along with Jason Terry, both Josh Smith & Corey Brewer, aka The Band of Brothers, have transformed the Rockets bench from one of the worst into one of the best in the NBA. While Jason Terry has had stretches where his 3pt shooting has been deadly, the real lynch pins for the Rockets terrific bench play has been Brewer and Smith.

    Since coming over from Minnesota, Corey Brewer has played like the energizer bunny. His non-stop up and down pace is exactly what the Rockets needed from their bench. As a bench rotation player in Houston he is averaging fewer minutes a game but more points per game with higher averages across the board then what he was producing in Minnesota.

    Josh Smith was the real enigma of an addition during the season. He was a guy just two seasons ago that was considered an all-star player able to command very big free agent dollars. He had been one of the top players on an Atlanta team that had been one of the best in the Eastern Conference for several years. However, his inefficient offense, his inability to play Small Forward and Greg Monroe’s threats of leaving the team in the off-season caused the Pistons to release him, even though they still owed $13.5 million dollars a season through the 2016/2017 season. Even after using the “Stretch Provision” that is a lot of money owed to a player not on the team and a lot of dead cap space.

    After initially not playing well with Houston’s starting unit next to Dwight Howard, Josh requested a move back to the bench and since then he has looked a lot closer to the player that commanded 13.5 million in free agency than the one that was released by the Pistons. Off the bench and playing 7 MPG less than with Detroit, Smith has averaged almost the same in PPG, RPG & BPG but he is doing it while being much more efficient on offense.

    The 12th Man

    Joey Dorsey might be the most unfairly and most often criticized player on the team. After a slow start while he was recovering from off-season injury Joey has been an outstanding player to bring off of the end of the bench. As someone who is not part of the regular rotation and only gets spot minutes when someone is hurt or in foul trouble, he has rebounded exceptionally well, played good defense, blocked shots and been able to contribute a few high efficiency baskets on the offensive end on occasion. When Dorsey enters the game he typically makes a positive impact and he does it on a very reasonable veteran minimum salary. Dorsey is an outstanding insurance policy that does not demand minutes when the regular rotation players are healthy, doesn’t cost much and makes a significant positive impact when in the game.


    Yep, I’m including Donatas Motiejunas with the bench. That was his role when the season started and after watching Terrence Jones play, I’m convinced DMo is going back to the bench once Dwight Howard returns. DMo’s play this season has been a shot in the arm of an injured team. If you need post scoring, only DMo has post moves that can make former Defensive Player of the Year winners such as Joakim Noah and Marc Gasol look silly. When he stays home in the post on defense he can also make life miserable on opposing players.

    The problem with DMo is that he over passes when he has an inferior player pinned in the post instead of just scoring the basket. When he is on defense, it is easy to get him out of the post by running a pick and roll. He spends way too much time chasing shooting guards around the perimeter and worst of all… he doesn’t rebound worth a damn. Having said all of that, he will be a really good guy to have coming off the bench with the Band of Brothers.

    If we include DMo (or even Terrence Jones) with the bench rotation players, then the Rockets should have as good of a bench as any other team in the play-offs outside of Golden State (who I think has far and away the best bench in the league).

    The Starters.

    Once Dwight Howard is back, I expect the starting unit to be exactly like we started the season:

    Patrick Beverley
    James Harden
    Trevor Ariza
    Terrence Jones
    Dwight Howard

    I know there are many that think Donatas Motiejunas has earned the starting spot and should be playing along Dwight Howard. However it plays out, I’m ok with that because I think both DMo and Terrence would be good with the starters or the reserves. Personally I prefer to have DMo’s post game on the floor when James Harden is on the bench.

    Terrence Jones

    Terrence Jones missed most of the season with a nerve issue in his knee. But since coming back and being inserted back into the starting rotation he has been just short of sensational. As a starter he is averaging:
    16.1 PPG
    9 RPG
    2 BPG
    .558 FG%
    .375 3PT%

    Those are outstanding numbers but they don’t tell the whole story. Where Terrence has stepped up his game is on the defensive end of the floor. He does not look to be as lost as last season and he appears to be playing with more intensity. He also appears to be going after rebounds with more intensity this season instead of just letting the rebound come to him. His ability to keep opposing players from pushing him deep into the post still looks a pit like an issue but overall his defensive awareness and effectiveness appear to be significantly up from last season. I’m anxious to see if Terrence can keep up his improved defensive play and rebounding through out the rest of the season and into the play-offs.

    Trevor Ariza

    Trevor Ariza has been outstanding on defense. Although his 3pt shooting is not only down from .407 last season but it is below his career average and his FG% is at an all time low. The offensive production from Trevor is significantly down from what we have been used to getting from Chandler Parsons. Unlike Parsons however, Trevor never tries to play outside of his abilities on offense. Chandler was as good of a role player as there was in the NBA, but when he tried to go into James Harden mode it frequently turned out bad. Trevor’s averages are:
    12.4 PPG
    5.4 RPG
    2.4 APG
    1.9 SPG
    .385 FG%
    .330 3PT%

    Where Trevor has shinned however is in his defensive play. He has been the Rockets best wing defender this season and certainly one of the best if not the best in the league this season. We saw him give Lebron fits a couple of weeks ago. Although Lebron scored a lot of points, it was very inefficient averaging almost a FG Attempt a point. Trevor has been consistently good and doing this all season long.

    Patrick Beverley

    Patrick Beverley has had a strange season. On the surface it looks like he is having his best offensive season with the following averages:
    10.3 PPG
    4.4 RPG
    3.4 APG
    1.1 SPG
    .381 FG%
    .362 3PT%

    A 3 & D point guard seems ideal for playing along side of James Harden. However, Patrick Beverley’s defense has left a lot to be desired this season. On offense you can see he has worked on his little tear drop floater and 3pt shot but his decision making and indecisiveness passing the ball into the post been difficult to watch. He has proven completely incapable of running the offense with Harden on the bench.
    He has looked more like the old Pat Beverley in recent games so hopefully we will see more of Mr. 94 feet the rest of the season and less of what we have seem most of the year.

    Dwight Howard

    The Rockets spent the early part of the season trying to run the offense through Dwight Howard. As a result there were many wasted possessions due to turnovers, poor or late entry passes, not making a clean post move and fumbling the ball without getting up a clean shot, etc… There were also times when Dwight looked good, finishing strong around the basket and showing lots of spring and energy. Dwight is just not as fluid in the post or as good at handling the ball with people banging on him as DMo. Having said that, if Dwight is healthy then there is no one else in the league that can do in the post what he did to Robin Lopez during last seasons play-offs. I think it all depends on Dwight’s right knee. How is Dwight’s knee?


    So as of today he should be about 2.5 weeks away. So if Dwight is back by April 1st then he would have 8 games and two weeks of regular season to get ready for the play-offs. I will gladly take that if that means he goes into the play-offs healthy and with his game legs back. So far this season Dwight is averaging:
    16.3 PPG
    11 RPG
    1.38 BPG
    .576 FG%

    My hope is that when Dwight comes back the Rockets will use him mostly in an Omer Asik type of role but with much better pick and roll ability. Instead of forcing the ball to Dwight with his back to the basket, the Rockets should utilize his strength and get the ball to him going to the basket where he has the ability to finish over the top. Add that to the fact that when healthy he is the best post defender and as dominant a rebounder as there is in the game. His health is key to the Rockets advancing in the play-offs.

    James Harden aka The Beard aka The MVP

    James Harden has been the single best player in the NBA… period. There are others worthy of consideration but none that has done what Harden has done. I think it was Jeff Van Gundy that said, “No one even talks about the Dwight Howard injury and the fact that he has missed half the season because of how well James Harden has played”. The Rockets would not be doing as well as they have done so far without the contributions of guys like DMo, Terrence, Brewer & Smith but make no mistake, without James Harden the Rockets are a lottery team and very possibly in position for a top 10 pick. With Harden the Rockets are a top 3 Western Conference Team and possibly a top two team. James Harden’s stats so for this year are:
    27.1 PPG
    5.8 RPG
    7.1 APG
    1.92 SPG
    .448 FG%
    .380 3PT%

    Those are monster numbers but they are not even a good indicator of the burden he has carried as the only consistent ball handler the Rockets have. On top of that he has completely turned his defense from a weakness to a strength. To think that as long as he is healthy we could have another 10 seasons of this guy!

    Getting Ready for the Play-Offs

    Kevin McHale typically likes a tighter rotation for the play-offs. But this year, one of the strengths of the Rockets has been the ability to take over games with their bench. With the return of Dwight Howard, the bench is going to get a lot deeper. I see the play-off rotation looking something like this:


    Bench Rotation:

    That’s a nine man rotation even thought I think McHale would prefer an 8 man rotation. I think we should try to keep Harden’s minutes about where they are at now, about 36 a game.

    In conclusion my preference for the first round is clearly Dallas but I think we match up well against San Antonio as well. Playing well enough to avoid the Clippers or the Trail Blazers in the first round is important for a long play-off run in my opinion. Finishing 2nd or 3rd seed would also set us up for a 2nd round match up with Memphis. Although I’m probably in the minority, I think we match up extremely well against Memphis. Really the only two teams in the West this year that I don’t think the Rockets match up well against is the LA Clippers and the GS Warriors (who no one in the league has matched up well against).
    22 people like this.
  2. HouStu_Rocket

    HouStu_Rocket Member

    Dec 17, 2013
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    Dang this is a long analysis. I'm glad people want to contribute so much to Clutchfans. Its people like you that make the page rich of information for us fans to talk about
  3. J Sizzle

    J Sizzle Member

    Feb 27, 2012
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    Good post. Well said.

    I don't have much to add, except 9-11 vs. WC Playoff teams is worse than I thought we were, and mildly concerning. Proof of how much we need Dwight, I guess.
  4. eric.81

    eric.81 Contributing Member

    Jan 3, 2002
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    OP, that deserves a rep. Nice job and much appreciated. Can't believe we're only 19 games away from the end of the season!
  5. Rocket River

    Rocket River Member

    Oct 5, 1999
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    Excellent Analysis

    Rocket River
  6. ForTheWinYes

    ForTheWinYes Member

    Jan 8, 2014
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    9-7 vs non-Warriors teams

    Try the same exercise with the other teams.
  7. jordnnnn

    jordnnnn Member

    Jan 31, 2010
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    I think the 3 point shooting by Dmo keeps him as a starter with Dwight.
  8. glimmertwins

    glimmertwins Member

    Jun 26, 2006
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    9-7 against any team not named Golden State sound a little better?
  9. YallMean

    YallMean Member

    Mar 20, 2003
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    Nice write-up.

    Josh Smith is indeed a mystery. It's almost as if he was doing too much. Most NBA players know where they can get their shots, where their spots are. With Smith, it's like, hail Mary a lot of times. We cannot afford to have him take ill-advised shots or miss layups during playoffs. Someone needs to tell him his role. That said, I do like Smith as a basketball player.
  10. Nick_713

    Nick_713 Member

    Apr 6, 2013
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    Great read and I did rep you as well, but I disagree about 1 thing: about putting Jones back in the starting lineup in place of D-Mo.

    I feel like the progression of Donatas Motiejunas came when he was placed in the starting lineup. I know that if Jones was never hurt, D-Mo would be stuck on the bench and we wouldn't see what he is truly capable of (and we might have traded him). I fear that if Jones goes back in the starting lineup, if he hasn't improved his on-ball defense, we might be in the same situation as in the Playoffs last year. I like Jones and Smoove coming off the bench with Brewer and Terry (Jones just needs a headband as well).

    But I do understand why you like Jones as a starter again, I just wanted to express my concerns. If coach feels it helps the team, I'm for it.
  11. crash5179

    crash5179 Contributing Member

    Dec 9, 2000
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    Thanks all for the feedback. I would not be to worried about the 9 - 11 record against WCF play-off teams. I actually think it's pretty good good when you look at the records of teams like Dallas, SA & OKC.

    Portland has only played Memohis & GS 4 times this season and still have 3 games against them and have lost all previous games against them. They lucked out only having to play GS & Houston only 3 times each. Their record against the top 4 teams is 1 win 5 losses. Our record is 3 wins 7 losses. Obviously 4 of our losses are against one team, GS.
  12. EightDoobies

    EightDoobies Member

    Oct 3, 2013
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    Good read, can't wait to see who we match up with this season.
  13. crash5179

    crash5179 Contributing Member

    Dec 9, 2000
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    Valid points IMO. Thanks for the feedback.
  14. meadowlark

    meadowlark Member

    Oct 10, 2007
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    Excellent analysis.

    Only place I differ slightly is I believe Dorsey will be in the rotation in certain series...e.g. Portland, Memphis, and Clippers. Also, I expect Prige to see spot minutes in certain half court situations.

    The front office has excelled this year in putting this team together...grade them at A-. The coaching staff has done an incredible job at seamlessly integrating all the new pieces into an outstanding team chemistry (best I've seen on the team in several years) and managing the injuries and I'd give them an A for the season.
  15. crash5179

    crash5179 Contributing Member

    Dec 9, 2000
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    I would agree that any anyone could get spot minutes and the two you mention (Dorsey & Prigioni) are easily the most likely. Personally I wish Prigs got more minutes than he does now. I think he understands how to run an offense and his defense is way better than JETs.

    I just think that if McHale had his way he would play a 8 man rotation with 3 bigs. Having 4 bigs (Dwight, TJones, DMo & Smith) all deserving minutes and Dwights knee, he is kind of being forced to have an extra big then what he would typically use. I like Dosy but just don't see where he will get any consistent minutes. I could see him getting spot minutes if fouls become an issue but that's about it.
  16. Hakeemtheking

    Hakeemtheking Member

    Feb 26, 2009
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    Outstanding post, OP. I would rep you if I had any left.
  17. cur.ve

    cur.ve Contributing Member

    Aug 3, 2003
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    Nice work.

    I'm cautiously optimistic that we can get the 2nd seed. However there is one BIG question in my mind: how does our expected team gel?

    We've never had a fully healthy squad with the current rotation players. We've seen flashes of brilliance from everyone:

    Beginning of season: Ariza, D-Mo, Kostas and Terry
    January & Feb: Brewer and Jones

    Our inconsistency is because of our injury issues.

    For the few games that Howard played, the offense ground to a stop. His demands for the ball for one-on-one post moves ruined the offense designed around quick shots and transition plays before the defense can set up. Ideally, Howard would demand a double team so he can pass out to one of our shooters for 3 pointers, but instead whether its due to his injury or lack of post skills, we saw a lot of turnovers instead.

    We're playing great now but do we have enough time to adjust to Howard coming back? Do we have an offensive system ready for the playoffs?

    Here are my grades for players so far:

    Trevor Ariza // B+ //
    Good: He is the best perimeter defender on the team. For the most part he can get hot and make timely threes to stretch the defense. End of games, he is usually on the best offensive player for the opposing team. Come playoff time, I'm much more comfortable with late game defensive situations with Ariza than who we had prior years.
    Bad: When he has to run off the three points line, his handles are iffy and mid-range shot isn't quite there. His three point shooing needs to be a lot more consistent if we're going to get pass the first round.

    Patrick Beverley // C-
    Good: Still a pesky defender. In rough and tumble situations, his bulldog temperament jolts the rest of the team and this is vital for the playoffs. He's a great rebounder for his size. His floater is very consistent.
    Bad: His shooting has gone to crap. He defends all opposing PGs with one tenacious style, but more game planning would be good here. He crowds up on all players, and the faster guards often blow by him, creating a ton of mismatches during the offensive set. If he can improve his shooting, especially those corner 3s, he can keep the defense honest and open up the floor for Howard (when he gets back) and less pressure on Harden to convert on his drives. This is our weakest position.

    Corey Brewer // A
    Good: Energizer billy goat. He changes the entire game when he's in. Along with Ariza, we are dangerous in the passing lanes and a few quick steals from him often is the knockout blow for opponents in the third quarter. His toolkit also includes long range bombs, moving without the ball and slashes to the rim for layups. Very intelligent player.
    Bad: Needs to work on that eurostep.

    Joey Dorsey // B
    Good: He's come on strong in the last two months. Decent rebounder and he is finishing his dunks.
    Bad: Still rough offensively and lacks the size against some of the bigger centers in the Western Conference.

    James Harden // A+
    Good: MVP season. The man is doing everything.
    Bad: Those fast break, cross court bounce passes are still not 100% (That's the only thing I can think of)

    Dwight Howard // C
    Good: Our best defender. The entire post is closed off when he's in the game. Swats shots, rebounds well and sucks in the offense when he has the ball. If we can just get 80% of who he was, we're in a good place.
    Bad: He needs to convert a lot more on his post possessions. Dribbles are weak. Post moves are predictable. Hook shot should be automatic but is iffy. Due to injuries or slowing down, he doesn't get great interior positions on all of his moves any longer. Needs to show up for the playoffs, like he did last year -- but this time, he and James need to play off each other a whole lot better.

    Terrence Jones // B+
    Good: He's been doing well lately with this energy: putbacks, midrange game, hustle.
    Bad: His rebounding is still inconsistent. He'll have a high rebound game followed by a game with just a few. And there are defensive lapses to go along with highlight blocks.

    KJ McDaniels // Not enough info

    Donatas Motiejunas // B
    Good: It's hard to remember what a great November and December D-Mo had. He's a great passer, but teams are now picking up on his tendency to immediately swing the ball out of the post if he doesn't have a clear advantage. He's our best offensive player in the post, and he's starting to use his size a lot better. His most valuable attribute is that he can give Harden some rest on the offensive because he can go one-on-one against his opponent.
    Bad: Dunk the ****ing ball. He needs to unlearn his default tendency for layups. He tries to take way too many charges for a big man. His rebounding is atrocious and on certain games, you can see that his stamina/conditioning, if improved, can help him box out and run the floor.

    Kostas Papanikolaou // B
    Good: He was a great passer into the post and three point shooter in the early season.
    Bad: He doesn't do very much now given his limited minutes in the game. He's slower than Brewer and his shot has fallen off.

    Pablo Prigioni // C+
    Good: His potential to be a good backup point guard is there. He passes a lot better than Beverley and he runs the offense well.
    Bad: I haven't seen him shoot when open and what's worse, he still commits turnovers when he's in the game. But at this point, I'd like to see more of him before assessing.

    Josh Smith // B
    Good: Passing. Rebounding. Running fast break. Good hook shot.
    Bad: Mental breakdown. His 3s are inconsistent. Turnover prone when he holds onto the ball too long and tries to create off the dribble.

    Jason Terry // B+
    Good: Leadership on the floor. You can see that he settles down the guys to run the offense. Reduces the overall turnovers of the team. His 3 pt shot is still there when needed (I think). He can get hot.
    Bad: He usually is at a disadvantage on the defensive end, causing other guys to come and help. His shot has also bee inconsistent. Not sure about his stamina and readiness for the grind of the playoffs.

    Overall team grade at this point: B+
  18. D-rock

    D-rock Member

    Jun 29, 2006
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    Great write up OP! Only thing I disagree with is that while McHale prefers a 8-9 man rotation, he may be forced to play Prigs/Dorsey some spot minutes like he has in regular season depending on match ups, injuries and foul trouble.

    Worried that Howard will not be able to play his usual minutes in the post season so will need a player with fouls to give. That's Dorsey.

    With the tempo that this team plays with, a 10 man rotation is actually a good thing.
  19. jscmedia

    jscmedia Contributing Member

    Feb 14, 1999
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    Crash, thanks so much for this great 3 day breather break, you are pretty spot on.
  20. Roc Paint

    Roc Paint Contributing Member

    Aug 12, 2001
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    Great read/analyst crash! Looking Foward to the finish line.

    Go Rockets!

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