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Houston Rockets lose final preseason game to Spurs- Player Grades and Recap

By Tamberlyn Richardson
Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2) after a play during the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2) after a play during the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
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Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2) after a play during the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2) after a play during the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Feb 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs guard Tony Parker (9) and forward Kawhi Leonard (2) after a play during the game against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

With the Houston Rockets resting James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and Clint Capela the team failed to match the Spurs in their final preseason game.

Although it’s not ideal for the Houston Rockets to finish the preseason with a loss the game served to provide valuable lessons.

169. 114. 29. . 99

Sure, everyone will point to the Rockets players who weren’t in the line-up being a factor. To wit, coach Mike D’Antoni chose to rest  James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Eric Gordon and Clint Capela in this final game. Most head coaches elect to play their starters in final games to get the team conditioned for opening night. However the Houston Rockets have aptly demonstrated they are in condition (specifically James Harden) and ready to go next Wednesday October 26th.

With #Beverley and #Prigioni both out due to injury Tyler #Ennis has an opportunity to become a significant contributor for #Rockets pic.twitter.com/bliPCijkcO

— Space City Scoop (@SpaceCity_Scoop) October 22, 2016

Rest over risk:

There is also the fear of a starter getting injured. To that end, the Houston Rockets have already lost Patrick Beverley for at least 20 games. Beverley will undergo an arthroscopic procedure next week to explore if the shooting guard will require more invasive surgery.  Given that fact, it’s understandable why D’Antoni would rather error on the side of caution than risk someone else getting hurt.

Ryan Anderson was the lone regular starter who played.  Could this be due to Anderson looking somewhat lost defensively in a few games? Or maybe Anderson wants to work on his shot which again wasn’t falling early.  In fact, Anderson didn’t score from the field until 8:21 of the third quarter.  With Tyler Ennis and Pablo Prigioni sharing most of the point guard duties on the night no one was going to get the types of shots Harden creates. That said, Anderson did little to help his own cause often standing still instead of moving to an open space.

Take the lesson and work on it:

For the Houston Rockets this loss offers a valuable lesson they can use to prepare  for the season opener. Yes, the Spurs starters were there  with only Danny Green and sixth man Manu Ginobili sitting this one out. But the Spurs showcased how a defensive team will attack the Rockets.

It’s an important and valuable lesson which the Rockets and D’Antoni need to heed as they fine tune. As much as the Rockets will be a handful offensively, for them to recognize their goal of a top seed and playoff run they’ll need to play above average defense as well.

Next: Back-up Point Guard Decision

Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number eighteen overall pick to the Phoenix Suns in the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number eighteen overall pick to the Phoenix Suns in the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 26, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Tyler Ennis (Syracuse) shakes hands with NBA commissioner Adam Silver after being selected as the number eighteen overall pick to the Phoenix Suns in the 2014 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Back-up point guard:

Tyler Ennis started at the point for the Houston Rockets presumably with an opportunity to show D’Antoni he should be the back up. Pablo Prigioni also returned to play after missing several preseason games due to a shoulder injury.

The issue for D’Antoni is whether to go with a reliable veteran in Prigioni who can run the pick and roll with ease or capitalize on Ennis’ youth, calm beyond his years and upside defensively. Case in point Ennis had his work cut out for him facing Tony Parker who frequently snaked by Ennis via Spurs ball movement or well set picks.  That said Ennis made some good decisions and forced Parker into moving the ball on several occasions.

It’s important to remember Ennis is new  to the Rockets having arrived late to camp after the trade. It still feels like Ennis will grow into the role and get better with more playing time. One thing is certain, the young Canadian has a maturity beyond his years. It says here D’Antoni will make Ennis a priority to develop.

Next: D'Antoni: roster decisions to make

Mar 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer is interviewed during practice the day before the semifinals of the Midwest regional of the NCAA Tournament at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer is interviewed during practice the day before the semifinals of the Midwest regional of the NCAA Tournament at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

Mar 24, 2016; Chicago, IL, USA; Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Kyle Wiltjer is interviewed during practice the day before the semifinals of the Midwest regional of the NCAA Tournament at United Center. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

D’Antoni has several roster decisions:

Aside from the back-up point guard which has taken precedence given the Beverley injury there are a number of other decisions  D’Antoni needs to make prior to Wednesday.  As for the training camp invites D’Antoni must decide by Monday which (if any) training camp invitee the Rockets will add to the roster.

Kyle Wiltjer seems to have the step on everyone given his 3-point shooting stroke and capacity to play a couple different front court positions.  The only variance to that selection could be adding another point guard given the Beverley situation.  Bobby Brown had a big night in San Antonio, but he did little to showcase he is anything other than a scorer. His preference is to score and that was obvious Friday as several times Brown elected to shoot over passing to a wide open teammate.

Look for the Rockets to send a couple of these invites to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers for further development in their system.

NOTE: word is the NBA is looking at a change to the CBA which would allow all teams to have 2 players signed to 2-way contracts. In essence this would allow teams to keep prospects in their system via the D-League.  From my perspective this is a well overdue move the Association should make.  Houston is one of the many franchises who have capitalized on developing their rookies via the D-League. Notably the main benefit is being able to develop a prospect under the system the main club uses This change would open the door for clubs to select prospects with potential and keep an eye on them as they develop

Front Court:

Who starts at center at this juncture is a moot point. Either Nene Hilario or Clint Capela could fulfill the role. Ideally D’Antoni would use Capela so the youngster gains experience against top talent.

The bigger question at this stage is whether the Rockets can finally resolve the Donatas Motiejunas contract situation.  Whether D-Mo returns or not however won’t necessarily effect the  Rockets decision to keep Wiltjer if they opt for that move. Houston could assign rookie Chinanu Onuaku to a D-League contract thereby freeing up another roster spot.

Next: Player Grades for Rockets Starters

Oct 21, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; San Antonio Spurs power forward LaMarcus Aldridge (12) dribbles the ball as Houston Rockets power forward Ryan Anderson (3) defends during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Ennis had his work cut out for him having to face Tony Parker who got the better of him more often than not. That said it’s hard not to like what Ennis brings to the court. His calm, even temperament is the perfect compliment for the Rockets reserve unit. He adds tangible qualities such as the 4 rebounds he grabbed, effort on defense, diving for loose balls and a high basketball I.Q. Also his size and strength add a component Prigioni can’t offer and he isn’t turnover prone; a quality this team could use more of. With Beverley due to miss a minimum of 20 games I think we’ll find Ennis being the direct benefactor of PBev’s injury. Ennis finished with 6 points, 4 rebounds (2 offensive) 1 assist. and 1 steal. Point Guard. . Tyler Ennis . C+

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D-. Not a great night for Brewer who looks to be struggling to find his shot. Another preseason game and another air ball (in fact I’m pretty sure he’s hoisted one in each of his outings). At least he was active defensively snaring 3 steals or his grade would have been worse. And with McDaniels now hitting threes I wonder if KJ has already moved ahead of Brewer in D’Antoni’s pecking order. CB finished the night with 4 points was 1 of 4 from the field (0 of 3 from deep), had 3 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals.. Shooting Guard. . Corey Brewer

B-. While it wasn’t a banner night for any of the starters there were some quality moments for the McDaniels who continues to impress D’Antoni. On a night when the Rockets took 13 three point shots before one fell the fact McDaniels hit 2 of 3 of his attempts was encouraging. KJ also is a quick study: after a play where he attempted to lay in the ball (it was blocked easily) on the next play off a nifty one touch pass from Nene he drove the paint and flushed it with power. On the night KJ scored 10 points, had 5 rebounds (2 offensive rebounds), and a block.. Small Forward. . KJ<br /> McDaniels

Ryan<br /> Anderson. D. Anderson has been vacillating between good and bad games. Mark this one down as bad – very bad! Sure he was the lone regular starter on the floor, but when you’ve been signed to score and first field goal doesn’t come until 8:21 of the third quarter that’s an issue. Couple that with his horrid defense and it’s a recipe for disaster. Granted he had to cover the very talented LaMarcus Aldridge, but not scoring made him ineffective on both ends. Anderson finished the night with 7 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, scored on only 2 shots from the field, missed all his 3 point attempts and was a minus 10. Power Forward.

A-. On a night where none of the starters played particularly well Nene was the only one who was ready from the tip. In 19 minutes he scored 15 points shooting 7 of 8 from the field, grabbed 4 boards (1 offensive) had an assist and a steal. In addition Nene got into it with Pau Gasol as the two mixed it up repeatedly. Gasol is still a very difficult cover for any player so don’t be surprised if D’Antoni starts Nene whenever the Rockets face the Spurs this season. Nene also had what arguably was the prettiest play of the night as he one touched a pass to McDaniels who drove the lane and finished with a powerful dunk.. Center. . Nene Hilario

Next: Best Reserve and Best Opponent

Oct 21, 2016; San Antonio, TX, USA; Houston Rockets small forward Sam Dekker (7) dunks the ball against the San Antonio Spurs during the second half at AT&T Center. Mandatory Credit: Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

On the surface it might seem logical to give Bobby Brown the best reserve of the night.  First, most of his points came in garbage time when none of the Spurs starters were playing. Second he took 20 shots to get those 23 points and jacked up 11 three point shot attempts. Most of his assists came after  he had no choice but to pass.

I know he has game and can score, but the Rockets need a player who’ll move the ball and play defense in the back-up point guard role. Maybe I’m just being unfair to Brown, but on this night the growth of another player stood out to me.

Best Reserve:

B. Sam Dekker continues to impress in preseason and while he struggled along with the rest of his teammates facing the stifling Spurs defense he did more right than wrong. Repeatedly I noticed he was the player on court who was in constant movement offering up a target to pass to. Unlike Brown who jacked up 11 three point attempts Dekker mixed up his offense with drives a sign he’s growing as a player. Dekker is also competing on the boards and while not stellar defensively he’s moving his feet laterally (also great signs for a youngster). Additionally news out of the Rockets camp is Dekker has impressed D’Antoni enough that he’ll be looked at to play either small or power forward positions. That news becomes significant if Donatas Motiejunas isn’t resigned or if Anderson sustains an injury. On the evening Dekker scored 10 points, grabbed 5 rebounds (2 offensive), with an assist and a steal.. Small Forward. . Sam Dekker

Best Opponent:

A+. To say NBA players cower when Leonard comes on the floor would be an over estimation, but not by much. As much as it’s a delight to watch a player like Stephen Curry do his pregame warm-up or shoot a sweet pure three or how James Harden can put on the brakes to shed an opponent the same can be said of Kawhi Leonard’s prowess defensively. There simply isn’t anyone in the league who plays defense as purely and simply as Leonard. Then again his body is ready made to be a top defender. Whether it’s his massive hands (that always remind me of Big Boy from the Dick Tracy series), or his chiseled arms and equally impressive physique he just looks like a prototype for a defender. I used to wonder why his shoulder bones extended so high, but I’ve come to the conclusion it’s because he carries so little extra body fat and that it’s partly genetic. Whatever the case the quiet Spur sure does play great defense. In 18 minutes of play he scored 15 points, was 6 or 9 from the field, hit 50 % of this threes (2 of 4), had 4 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and was a plus 12. Pretty much what we expect, but no less impressive.. Small Forward. . Kawhi Leonard

On the evening the Rockets were brutal from beyond the arc shooting 22.9% (8 of 35). Houston did manage to post a 40.9% field goal average in spite of all the missed threes.

Moving into the days leading up to the season opener on Wednesday there is work to be done defensively as the Rockets allowed the Spurs to shoot over 50% (50.6%) and over 40% from deep (44.4%).

More from Space City Scoop

The other areas of focus Mike D’Antoni and Jeff Bzdelik will need to focus on are cutting off passing lanes and transition defense. San Antonio had 31 assists which is almost 9 more than their average (22.5).

Bottom line the Houston Rockets offense is ready to roll, now it’s time to shore up the defensive end of the court and get through any remaining practice sessions healthy.

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Houston Rockets next game is their preseason opener on Wednesday, October 26 in Dallas at 10:30PM EST.

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