Houston Rockets Mid-Season Report
BY: RAMZY KAWAJA
When the condensed, lockout-plagued 2011-12 season started in December, fans did not know what to expect from the Houston Rockets. Coaches had only a week of training camp to implement their system, and players had only two preseason games to get it all down.
The gauntlet that awaited the Rockets to open this abbreviated season ranked at No. 1 in the league in degree of difficulty. Houston managed to pull out just three victories after the first 10 games, leaving new head coach Kevin McHale to question his decision if he was the one to bring “Red Nation” back from obscurity.
Since then, however, the Rockets have reeled off 17 wins out of their next 24 games to push themselves in the thicket of a playoff fiasco, tied with the Lakers for the fifth seed in the West and one game behind the Mavericks for fourth.
How did this happen, you ask? The play of 13 gutty men, who never stopped clawing, paved the way to a possible postseason sprint. Here’s a look at how they’ve performed, with grades on an alphabetical scale followed by statistical averages.
C: SAMUEL DALEMBERT – (A) (7.2 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.91 bpg, +69)
The seemingly abrupt signing of the “Haitian Sensation” left many fans dissatisfied. After being teased for so long about the possibility of acquiring Nene, Marc Gasol or Deandre Jordan, then feeling rejected by a commissioner who vetoed a trade that prevented “the other Gasol” from wearing Rockets red and silver, the citizens of Houston wanted more than just Samuel Dalembert. It turns out, however, that he was just what the doctor ordered. “The Bert’s” presence alone helped solidify a Rockets defense that ranked 21st in the NBA last year in points allowed with 103.7. This season, opponents average only 96.2 points per game. Dalembert has racked up 64 blocks this year, ranking him eighth in the league. Without him, the Rockets are small. Without him, well, the Rockets are last year’s poor defensive outfit.
PF: LUIS SCOLA – (B-) (15.1 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 48.8 FG%, +37)
The mileage has piled up and the age has started to reveal itself. The Argentinian is a step slower and his rebounding numbers have declined from 8.2 a season ago to 5.9 this year. The 2.71 turnovers per game are bothersome as well. Post defenders are now hip to the fakes and scoops, leaving Scola to lean on the running hook shot. Although, it’s a useful trick many other players wish to have in their arsenal, it does not bare the same result as his mid-range jumper, which has bailed the Rockets out of many bad possessions. Scola still plays with the fire and passion that has made him into a fan favorite. The timely offensive putbacks and the drawn charges make him invaluable to the team. He ranks 13th among power forwards in scoring.
SF: CHANDLER PARSONS – (B+) (7.7 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.18 spg, +53)
Nobody saw this young rookie sensation coming. CP has enviable athleticism, but the first thing you notice about his game is his high basketball IQ. One would be hard pressed to spot his “rookie mistakes.” Being unafraid to get physical has made him impactful on the glass and easy for his coach to trust with valuable minutes, thus replacing Chase Budinger in the starting lineup after only a few games. As soon as Kevin McHale told him that the easiest way to get playing time is to play defense, Parsons has made it his top priority. The kid’s only knock is his terrible shooting percentage from the 3, 30.4%, and the free-throw line, 34.6%. Among rookies, however, the second-round draft pick ranks fourth in rebounding and steals. According to Synergy Sports, Parsons scores 1.269 points per possession on putbacks, placing him among the top 20 percent of all NBA players.
SG: KEVIN MARTIN – (C+) (18 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.7 apg, 88.6 FT%, +7)
If it feels like I’m being hard on the guy, well, it’s because I am. But the highest paid player on the team is relied upon to show up for every game. K-Mart’s inconsistencies have been glaring, to say the least. One night, Martin would torch his defender for 30 points; the next night, he would put up a big fat goose egg. What’s even more concerning is that if his shot isn’t falling, there is very little impact being made by him in the game. Last season, Martin shot 8.36 free throws per game, the fourth highest average in the league. This season, 34 players have attempted more freebies, as he is averaging only 4.36 tries a game. After nearly being traded before the season began, Martin highlighted his unhappiness and it’s translating to his performance on the court.
PG: Kyle Lowry – (A+) (15.6 ppg, 7.6 apg, 5.3 rpg, 1.97 spg, +109)
Lowry has clearly been the team’s most valuable player. The plus-109 should tell it all. Having his best year, Lowry’s statistics have increased in every category from the season before. Not only is he the emotional leader of the squad, he flirts with a triple-double every time he puts on his sneakers. It’s scary to think where the Rockets would be without their “bulldog” of a point guard. Lowry carries with him a 33.8 assist percentage on his team’s field goals, putting him in the top 20 in the entire NBA. With Houston hosting the 2013 All-Star game, expect Lowry to represent the Rockets that weekend.
JORDAN HILL – (C) (5.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg, .66 bpg, -22): Inconsistent. Not a strong defender. Shows spurts of promise, but not enough to warrant a primary role.
GORAN DRAGIC – (A) (7.5 ppg, 3.4 apg, +1): Thriving in his role as “spark-plug” off the bench. Strong finisher. Drives the second unit with his play-making, particularly scoring the ball.
COURTNEY LEE – (A) (9.7 ppg, 1.15 spg, 40 3P%, +46): Excellent defender. Athleticism makes him strong in the open court. Does everything well.
PATRICK PATTERSON – (A) (7.3 ppg, 4.2 rpg, +6): Brings great energy. Has developed a reliable midrange shot. Superb fundamental defender. Consistent.
CHASE BUDINGER – (C+) (8.3 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 40.4 3P%, +65): Streaky shooter. Turnover prone. Not a great defender.
GREG SMITH – (INC) (2 bpg, 1.5 rpg, 11.5 mpg, +3): Only played two games. Shows good shot-blocking instincts. Shows willingness to want to learn and improve.
MARCUS MORRIS – (INC) (1.7 ppg, 0.7 rpg, 5.7 mpg): Has only played three games. Reportedly has natural scoring ability. Good versatility.
TERRANCE WILLIAMS – (C) (5 ppg, 16.4 mpg, 43.8 3P%, -32): Has not taken advantage of the opportunities he has had. Reckless.
JONNY FLYNN – (D ) (3 ppg, 11.6 mpg, -32): Patiently waiting for his chance. Did not have a great preseason. Seems like a good teammate.
HASHEEM THABEET – (F) (1.5 ppg, 1.0 rpg, .5 bpg, 5.0 mpg): Stiff. Slow. Plodding. A waste of 7-foot-5.