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.
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.
— 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
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
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
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
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.
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%).
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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.