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Houston Rockets register first win of season in Dallas – Player Grades

By Tamberlyn Richardson
Oct 28, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) guards Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) guards Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
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Oct 28, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) guards Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 28, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) guards Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 28, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) guards Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza (1) during the first half at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Following a sub par effort to open the season the Houston Rockets rebounded with a quality effort to garner their first victory of 2016-17.

Fears the Houston Rockets abandoned their commitment to defense on a preseason court were somewhat assuaged in Dallas. There is still work to be done and noticeable deficiencies at certain roster positions (need I say it?). That said, this was a far better effort with more balance than the game in L.A.

169. 98. 79. . 106

Several key changes occurred between the two contests. Most notably, and thankfully K.J. McDaniels spent more time on the court. James Harden while still solid at the point, spent less time forgoing his own offense to hook up his teammates. That’s not to say he wasn’t dishing dimes. Rather, he mixed the two areas together better.

Understandably Harden who has taken his leadership role to heart was set on getting his teammates rolling in the season opener. Yet, Harden expended so much energy in the first half in LA he was visibly fatigued in the second half.  What was disappointing is his virtuoso effort (especially the first half) versus the Lakers was all but forgotten because the team neglected to defend and ultimately lost.

In Dallas, Harden found a much better balance and the Rockets made a better overall effort defensively, albeit still with lapses. Last season Houston had a dearth of play makers or consistently reliable shooters. Inevitably that led to Harden carrying the majority of the load and becoming predictable for opponents who simply sent multiple defenders to trap him. Ironically I was left wondering if opponents would attempt to shut him down in his new role by cutting off his passing lanes. That’s why the balanced effort is more important because Harden still possesses the ability to drop 50 on any given night. No doubt he’ll work with D’Antoni to tweak the offense and the more he functions in this role he’ll find a natural rhythm.

Moving forward I’m anxious to see if D’Antoni would dare experiment with a small ball line-up featuring 3 guards (Harden, Ennis and Gordon) with a super small front court of McDaniels and Ariza. This line could offer copious 3 point shooters, multiple ball handlers, speed and three of the teams’ best defenders. Sure, it could only be used in specific situations, but I’m hankering to see that line-up.

Coach D’Antoni came close in this game with the one difference being 2 of those 3 aforementioned guards each spent time together on court with McDaniels, Ariza and mostly Capela. Consequently the  variation of these 6 provided the best defensive efforts of the night.

With that let’s take a look at the player grades.

Next: Rockets Starting 5 Player Grades

Oct 28, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon (10) drives to the basket between Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes (40) and center Andrew Bogut (6) during the second half at the American Airlines Center. The Rockets defeat the Mavericks 106-98. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Point Guard. . James Harden. A. Harden began the game cold, but on a whole his overall game effort was solid. As mentioned on the previous slide Harden seems to be discovering how best to work the point guard role and more importantly is learning the nuances and rhythms of the game. I’ve always debated that Harden was a decent on ball defender and his issues tend to be in help defense. <p>Though he still has lapses he’s improved; perhaps that’s a direct result of having more energy because there are other offensive options. I particularly like when D’Antoni plays him with Ennis because it allows someone else to handle the play making and doesn’t wear him thin. His grade is less a reflection on his production and more a matter of the standard he himself has set. 26 points, 7 rebounds (1 offensive), 8 assists, and a steal. He loses the plus portion of the grade (I know it’s blasphemy, I mean look at those stats) based on his 4 turnovers.</p>

A-. Sure feels like the better value free agent pick-up (albeit it’s early) was Eric Gordon who continues to impress me. As much as Gordon was also grouped into the defensively deficient class with Anderson he’s been far from it. He was among the group who provide what was the best segments of defense in Dallas. He’s worked well with both Harden and Ennis, has shown a penchant to (hey Ryan are you listening) move without the ball, create his own shot and shots for others (hello: 6 assists) and has been extremely efficient defensively. <p>Several times tonight his defensive cover was forced to move the ball simply because he used his lateral slides to stay in front. I grow more impressed each time I see him and I’m eagerly anticipating seeing how much he’ll feast on bench units. Again, I know it’s early, but I’ve definitely been impressed by Gordon.</p> <p>In 34 minutes Gordon scored 18 points on 4 of 9 from the field, 50% from deep (3-6), 7 of 8 free throws, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, and was a team high plus 18.</p>. Shooting Guard. . Eric Gordon

A+. To say Ariza had a few tough outings between the final preseason games and the season opener would be putting it lightly. That all disappeared in Dallas where the lanky small forward was the best 2-way player on the court. He was efficient from the field, moved to create an open target for his teammates and was part of the best defensive line-ups. The only thing he could have done better was out of his control as he should have been given the primary assignment on Barnes instead of Anderson. Ariza scored 27 points on 8 of 12 from the field, connected on 5 of 7 of his threes, was perfect from the line (6 of 6) grabbed 4 rebounds, a steal and was active on both ends. Great night for him all around.. Small Forward. . Trevor Ariza

Power Forward. . Ryan Anderson. E. To reiterate what I said in the last player grades: Ryan Anderson got paid the big bucks to offer assassin type outside shooting….. While he only took 5 shots, let’s examine that for what it is. Sure, he is ideally a catch and shoot specialist, but he also was advertised as someone who could also score in the post and create a shot for himself. He’s not doing much more than standing on the perimeter. <p>Perhaps he’d garner more shots if ….. oh here’s an idea, he moved to create an open target. Yet, what makes his lack of movement on offense all the more deplorable is his abysmal effort on defense. Go luck at the previous game highlight video and fast forward to 2:01. Watch how Anderson is caught napping in the paint as the team switches on defense and his man (Barnes) is left wide open at the top of the paint. Things like this occurred throughout the night. He had the lowest differential of all the starters and while I know those grades aren’t necessarily reflective of game situations in this case they were generous. </p> <p>Granted, H-Town fans were under no delusions about Anderson’s defensive prowess, but when you couple it with no effort to get open for shots offensively and no effort pay attention on defense it forces me to grade him based on his effort. Hey, I don’t expect him to be Kawhi Leonard, but I do expect him to deliver at least on one end of the floor. 5 points, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers</p>

B+. No one expected Clint Capela to be a scoring machine. His role is to bang with the centers, protect the rim, grab rebounds, be a defensive presence and contribute where logical (hello – pick and roll lobs) and provide energy on the court. Facing the wily vet Bogut was a challenge, but on a whole I was impressed with his effort and production. He was also one of the better defensive contributors on this night. Better yet, he’s gaining valuable experience and growing with it. 4 points, 9 rebounds (2 offensive), 1 steal, 1 block, plus +15 in 25 minutes.. Center. . Clint Capela

Next: Best Reserve and Opponent Grades

Oct 28, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks forward Harrison Barnes (40) guards Houston Rockets guard K.J. McDaniels (32) during the second half at the American Airlines Center. The Rockets defeat the Mavericks 106-98. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Best Reserve:

. KJ McDaniels. B+. In what I may as well rename the K.J. McDaniels segment…………….. I give you the best Rockets reserve of the night K.J. McDaniels.<br /> In a case of the box score not telling the entire story I’ll point you to the fact Houston looked much better defensively whenever McDaniels was on the floor. He never attempts to do too much and there is a steady progression in his offense. But, the real bonus is his energy on the court. He communicates on defense. And yes he still misses an occasional assignment, but unlike Mr. Anderson, it isn’t for a lack of trying or focus. <p>He had a sick dunk, mucked it up on the boards and made life miserable for his defensive assignments. Let’s remember McDaniels barely played last season, so these minutes are the first consistent time he’s getting in Houston. Upside for the youngster is huge as he continues to soak in the experience and grow before our very eyes. 9 points on 4 of 9 shooting, hit a 3, grabbed 2 rebounds and had 2 steals.</p>. Small Forward

Best Opponent:

Harrison Barnes . A+. For all the pundits who’ve saddled Harrison Barnes with an over rated tag I’m glad he’s been proving them wrong. Through his first two games he’s delivered the goods. Hey, how many Houston Rockets fans would be enthralled for Anderson (who received a similar contract) to be averaging 25 points and 7 rebounds at this point? Instead he is averaging 9.5 points and 5 rebounds. Even D’Antoni wasn’t happy with Anderson’s effort choosing to bench him for the fourth. Anderson played just 7 minutes in the second half. Ironically it was his absent defense on Barnes which likely lead to the hook. <p>Barnes who was brought on to be the number 2 option to Dirk Nowitzki moved up the pecking order with Nowitzki out nursing a stomach flu. And for his second successive game Barnes delivered with a career high 35 points, and added 5 rebounds, an assist, a steal, 2 of 4 from 3 and perfect from the stripe (3 of 3). </p>. Small Forward.

Honorable mention goes to the line-up of Tyler Ennis, Eric Gordon, K.J. McDaniels, Trevor Ariza and Nene Hilario who closed out on shooters, pressured the pass, created turnovers, caused shot clock violations and most importantly held the lead.

As an aside, I’ve found it interesting there has been quite a few comments regarding the players needing to “find their legs” and get in game shape. For the most part this group spent the 2 months leading up to training working out together.  Perhaps they spent less time conditioning and didn’t realize the pace D’Antoni was expecting.

Suffice to say the squad (other than Ryan Anderson) should sleep much easier following the victory.

In the category of I know it’s only 2 games BUT……………. If the MVP was handed out today Harden would be in the mix along with Kawhi Leonard, Dame Lillard, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, LeBron and DeMar. Yes those Warriors are missing from my list, but come now can anyone seriously consider giving MVP to a team with 4 All-Stars starting and a worthy 6th man on their team?

More from Space City Scoop

Normally we would opine Leonard won’t keep getting or taking this many shots, but this is a new era in Spurs basketball, so maybe he will. Then there is that little matter of the quiet rage over in Oklahoma. What makes Harden’s campaign all the more difficult is unless his team places ahead of the other candidates it will be hard for him to grab the hardware. The exception to this rule will be Russell Westbrook who has been left in OKC trying to get the knot out of his KD friendship bracelet and doing everything in his power to make sure the Thunder are relevant.

At the end of the day the safest bet is Harden will be among the points, assists and free throw leaders and most definitely in the conversation.

Especially if the team plays games more reminiscent of the Dallas game utilizing a more balanced attack.

Next: Houston Rockets 2016-17 Team Preview

Next: Dallas Mavericks 2016-17 Team Preview

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Next up the Rockets will hold their home opener on Sunday at 7PM CT/8PM ET. Look for the Houston Rockets to push for the victory prior to heading out on for a 5 game road trip.

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