2009/10 Review:

Even though a 42-40 record isn’t a great career highlight for any head coach, it was enough to (once again) show how terrific Rick Adelman is as a head coach.

The Rockets finally got through the first round of the playoffs in 2008-09 by defeating the Blazers before being eliminated by the Lakers in 7 games and their 3 top scorers on that season were:

Yao Ming 19.7
Ron Artest 17.1
Tracy McGrady 15.6

As you can see none of those players started for the Rockets last season for different reasons and we are talking about 52.4 points per game that suddenly were missing in action, so Adelman had to improvise and made smart decisions to make up those losses.

The Rockets backup plan for the absence of Yao Ming was starting 6-6 center Chuck Hayes! They couldn’t play anymore on a slow paced based game focusing in being a good defensive team because they didn’t the proper weapons to do it. What did Adelman do?

R: Pushing up the tempo of the game and trying to beat their opponents on the open court. The Rockets went from being the 9th slowest paced in 08-09 to the 6th fastest team last year! They also dipped their scoring numbers from 98.4 points per game to 102.4 points per game last season.

The problem is that their opponents found a way to score with some ease against the undersized Rockets, while the Rockets couldn’t be consistent enough on the offensive end to keep it up the pace.

Aaron Brooks took advantage of the situation and won the Most Improved Player of the Year award. Luis Scola consolidated into a premium Power Forward in this league and Kevin Martin has found a new home to show his scoring abilities, while the Rockets got rid of Tracy McGrady.

2009/10 Advanced stats:

Pace         6th 97.9
Offense    18th 104.4
Defense    17th 104.7
Rebounds    21st -0.79

2010/11 Outlook:

Projected Depth Chart:

PG: Aaron Brooks, Kyle Lowry
SG: Kevin Martin, Courtney Lee, Jermaine Taylor
SF: Shane Battier, Chase Budinger, Mike Harris
PF: Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Jared Jeffries, Patrick Patterson, Alexander Johnson
C: Yao Ming, Brad Miller, Jordan Hill

Despite some noise made by the Rockets in the free agency period all the concerns were around the Yao Ming situation. Recently Rockets’ vice president and athletic trainer Keith Jones told the real healthy condition of Ming:

“Twenty-four is his number all year. We’re trying to get him through April. We’re trying to give him the best chance to play the whole season by limiting stress. Even practices, if we play on Monday and play again on Wednesday, can he practice Tuesday? No. He’ll practice, but he won’t scrimmage.”

There are no rollover minutes in this plan. Yao’s playing time in any given game will not exceed 24 minutes. If he plays 18 minutes in one game, he will not play 30 the next. The Rockets will be forced to take him out once he’s reached 24 minutes, even if Houston has the ball with eight seconds left on the clock.

Due to this, the Rockets didn’t want to wait for Yao Ming and signed Brad Miller in the free agency. Miller has had a history with Adelman back when he was coached by him in Sacramento. Miller’s passing ability and good shooting range makes him a good candidate to do well in the Rockets’ system. Also he will be a huge upgrade on the defensive end as Chuck Hayes is a hard worker player, but he can’t offer much more than just 10/15 minutes of contribution per game. Having Yao Ming and Brad Miller in the center position is a major boost for a team that was consistently exposed last season.

Aaron Brooks was a pleasant surprise as he led the team with 19.6 points and 5.3 assists per game and earned the MIP award. He was the number one option down the stretch for the Rockets and showed some poise in that spot. However there are some concerns regarding his play: he attempted 16.2 Field Goals per game – 14th most in the league and 2nd amongst Point Guards, but his 43.2% mark from the field is far from being an elite mark. This season the Rockets have more inside options and so Brooks won’t have the pressure to be “the man” on the offensive end so we can expect him to improve his shooting%.

In an attempt to help Brooks in the backcourt the Rockets traded for Kevin Martin last season. The trade wasn’t entirely popular because the Rockets send away Carl Landry to Sacramento, but Martin might be a good fit if he can stay healthy. In 2008-09 Martin managed to log only 51 games for the Kings and last season he managed to play 46 games, so his health condition is a factor that the Rockets cannot ignore. In his shortly stint for the Rockets last season, Martin shot only 39.8% from the field, but still averaged 19.8 points per game because like Brooks, he attempted a high number of FG’s per game. Like Brad Miller, Kevin Martin was coached by Adelman in his days in Sacramento, so he knows the system and if he is able to remain healthy through the season then he will be the leader scorer of the team.

Brooks and Martin the Rockets have probably one of the most energetic and dynamic backcourt benches of the league. The Rockets re-signed Kyle Lowry, as they liked his energy and hustle on both ends of the floor even though he isn’t a good shooter. They also added Courtney Lee who was lost in the disastrous Nets’ season and looks to bounce back and compete for minutes behind Kevin Martin.

The Trevor Ariza experiment lasted only one season and Shane Battier will assume once again his natural position where he didn’t play the last 2 seasons, as the Rockets had first Ron Artest and then Ariza. He still is one of the best defenders in the NBA, but it is his leadership that will better suit the team with such youngest roster. Behind Battier, the Rockets have a young stud in Chase Budinger. Acquired from the Detroit Pistons on draft night, Budinger wound up playing a significant role for Houston as a rookie, including a season-high 24-point outing in a win in Boston over the Celtics.

And now one of the most underrated players in this league: Luis Scola. He was one of the rarest mistakes that the Spurs organization made the past decade and he has been the most solid player of this team. He played all 82 games for the second consecutive season and he averaged 16.2ppg, 8.6 rpg while shooting 51.4% from the field. If you watched the last FIBA World Championships you’ll know that he led all players averaging 27.1 points per game on 56.9 percent shooting from the field. Scola is in his prime right now and the Rockets will get his dividends.

To complete the frontcourt the Rockets have some young promising players to develop in Jordan Hill, Patrick Patterson and Alexander Johnson.

We can expect the Rockets to make a serious run for the Playoffs and if Yao Ming and Kevin Martin remain healthy through the season, we can’t discount them for fighting to have home court advantage in the first round.