In the Houston Rockets first preseason game and win versus Yao Ming’s Shanghai Sharks very distinct lessons were learned.
Rockets 131 – Sharks 94
Entering the game the key questions surrounded who the Houston Rockets starting five would be, how Harden would handle the starting point guard duties and how much the youngsters had progressed.
Regardless of it being a preseason game what transpired offered clear answers to specific questions and direction moving forward.
Next: Making a point
Apr 18, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after the Rockets made a three point basket against the Golden State Warriors in the first quarter in game two of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Harden at the point:
Immediately it became clear how easily James Harden will handle the point guard duties. With multiple shooters spreading the court Harden had his pick of targets to set up. Unfortunately the Rockets got out to a slow start. I counted 6 wide open shots which could have been assists for Harden. Repeatedly he drove the lane and instinctively knew he had shooters at both corners and one at the top of the arc or a pick and roll option with his big man.
I’ll be the first one to admit I wondered if this experiment would work. I was also curious to see who would start at the shooting guard. Both questions were answered from the tip.
Apr 21, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) warms up before game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Obviously this was a preseason game, and the Sharks are not an NBA team. That said, if Harden is committed to continuing in this manner it’s easy to envision him excelling in the role. What stood out the most was Harden’s court vision and high I.Q.
Opponents still have to honor Harden’s scoring ability so there is always going to be an open shooter. Moreover, without having to carry the entire offensive load Harden was much more active on the defensive end of the court.
Key to my high praise was Harden’s game management. If this was an inkling of what’s to come, expect the prediction of Harden averaging double digit assists to become a reality in season.
Next: 'Cutting' to the chase
Oct 15, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Houston Rockets guard K.J. McDaniels (32) dunks the ball against Golden State Warriors center Andrew Bogut (12) during the second quarter at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports
KJ McDaniels and the bench depth is a huge advantage:
Okay, so it’s not like every night the bench will shoot over 62.5% from the field. In fact if you remove Bobby Brown’s 0 for 3 the bench shot just under 69%. Further Brown was the only Rockets player who didn’t finish the game with a positive in the plus-minus stat.
Clearly the bench offers versatility, athleticism, defensive specialists, shooters and a strong option at 4 out of the 5 positions. See next slide for the one position requiring resolution. There are solid options even with the training camp invitees, specifically Kyle Wiltjer who impressed enough to warrant a long look.
— NBAIndia (@NBAIndia) October 3, 2016
For those who’ve been begging for McDaniels to get consistent minutes McDaniels is giving D’Antoni plenty of reasons for this to become a reality. While McDaniels four dunks induced oohs and aahs in the Toyota Center it was his court intelligence and cuts to the basket that were especially impressive.
Undoubtedly KJ McDaniels was the man of the hour. His energy was infectious, and his defense for the most part was on point. Where he excelled of course was the highlight dunks. Not to take away from the spectacular finishes at the hoop, but it was his intelligence in his base line cuts that impressed. Again, this was the Sharks, but with players like Nene rolling to the basket, while Gordon and Brewer camp out on the perimeter this option is clearly going to be available.
Looking back at what made the bench successful in 2014-15,it was the swarming defense of the headband guys. Josh Smith, Corey Brewer and Jason Terry flew down the wings, played aggressive defense and offered offensive versatility. Conceivably McDaniels, Brewer and Gordon offer a substantial upgrade to that unit.
Hint to Mike D’Antoni – – FREE KJ McDANIELS!
Next: Get the deal done!
Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets forward Donatas Motiejunas (20) after a play during the game against the San Antonio Spurs at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Memo to Morey- Get over yourself and lock down Motiejunas:
As per the previous slide the one area on the bench where there remains a question mark is at the power forward. Who backs up Ryan Anderson?
Montrezl Harrell came off the bench albeit in limited minutes. His free throws remain an exercise in futility, and he still looks lost on defense at times. And clearly Harrell isn’t comfortable shooting from the field.
At one point Trevor Ariza slotted into power forward and this is absolutely not an ideal solution. If last year proved anything Ariza cannot be rode hard all season especially if Bzdelik tasks him with the primary defensive task.
It will only serve is to wear him out by season’s end. Furthermore, in the current starting rotation Ariza stands to benefit from open threes while being able to conserve energy for his defensive tasks.
What this means is Daryl Morey needs to suck it up and sign Donatas Motiejunas. Not only does D-Mo offer the ability to play either big man position he is undeniably better than anyone else currently available on the bench.
More from Space City Scoop
- Why Tad Brown is the Rockets’ biggest loss to date
- Rockets legend in awe over Stephen Curry’s level of play
- Rockets fiasco shows importance of Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook
- Houston Rockets: Evan Mobley worth a look at No. 2 in NBA Draft
- Houston Rockets: Ranking the top-five 2021 NBA draft prospects
Recognizing how deep the revamped bench is I’m salivating at the thought of a hockey line-up change featuring any combination of Ennis, Gordon, Brewer, McDaniels, or Dekker filling the 1 through 3 spots and D-Mo with Nene or Capela in the front court.
Both Nene and Motiejunas are excellent passing big men who can hit from the field with D-Mo stretching out to the perimeter. And trust me once Ennis gets more familiar with D’Antoni’s system he’ll be setting up the wings in transition while Nene and Motiejunas will be benefiting from his ability to run the pick and roll.
Want your voice heard? Join the Space City Scoop team!
Derrick Rose’s “super team” Knicks arrive in Houston for the Tuesday night game. Facing an NBA team will provide more insight as to whether this was all just the result of inferior competition. That said, it sure offered reasons to be optimistic after the way last season ended.