PACE #10 97.1
OFFENSE: #6 108.0
DEFENSE: #13 106.2
Last season no team started the season in such a disastrous way like the Rockets and probably this was the reason that cost them the 8th seed in the Western conference. The Rockets knew that Yao Ming couldn’t play in back to back games, but they found quickly that Ming couldn’t play at all. Then they started 0-5 the season when they could have won all the 5 games as they led every ball game down the stretch!
Without Yao Ming, the Rockets had a relatively deep roster that didn’t have any “real” superstar. Nevertheless, Rick Adelman was able to produce some magic and turn the Rockets into the 6th best efficient offensive team in the league! The Rockets had some problems in scoring near the basket – they were 21st in field goal percentage and 23rd in FG% at the rim with just 62.8%. However, they were just a good 3pts shooting team and they just didn’t turn the ball over – 2nd best TO/ratio of the league! Their balance made them a competitive team, but down the stretch, their lack of “star power” was really problematic because the Rockets didn’t have a reliable player in the crunch time and they struggled in several games where they could won if they had a superstar to carry them at the end.
Houston was traditionally an excellent defensive team, but Rick Carlisle realized that with the current roster they wouldn’t have a chance to play in a slow paced half court game like they were used to play with a prime Yao Ming. Having Kevin Martin and Luis Scola playing major minutes will hurt you on the defensive end and when your starting center is the 6’6’’ Chuck Hayes, Rick Adelman knew his Rockets were in trouble and indeed they were: #27 points in the paint allowed w/45.9; #23 Fast Break points per game allowed w/14.7ppg and #28 creating TO’s with a 12.55% TO/rate.
For this season, Rick Adelman is now in Minnesota and Kevin McHale is the new Rockets’ head coach. I don’t want to make early predictions, but the drop off of quality is considerable between Adelman and McHale. Adelman has one of the best coaching records of the league and he has an absurd experience while McHale had two stints as a head coach of the Wolves and that’s all. Eventually he could be a great head coach but right now I choose Adelamn every day over him.
After Yao Ming being the franchise face of the Rockets, Houston tried badly to add a perennial star for their frontcourt – their plan to rebuild was signing or trading a top frontcourt player as their foundation. Pau Gasol “was” that guy but the other teams’ owners had other plans and then they failed to sign Nene Hilario who chose to stay in Denver. The best they could obtain was Samuel Dalembert and while he isn’t by any means near the quality of a Pau Gasol or Nene, the Rockets has now a guy that will protect the rim and so, they can have aspirations to be a good defensive team.
McHale will have to create good team chemistry around Kevin Martin and Luis Scola because the organization already showed that they won’t hesitate in trading them in the future. Martin is a solid scorer that is excellent in drawing fouls and going to the free throw line, the problem is that his defense is atrocious, so the Rockets must find a way to hide his defensive liabilities. On the other side, Scola is an all around player. His offensive arsenal is one of the bests in the league for his position – he hit 48% FG from 16-23 feet while attempting almost 5 FGA per game in that area, but somehow like Martin (but not as bad as him), Scola isn’t a good defensive player, however having a guy like Dalembert playing on his side will help. In a certain way is like Dirk Nowitzki playing with Tyson Chandler with the obvious differences.
The Rockets added to their frontcourt rookie Marcus Morris in the first round and Norris is a versatile PF that has some offensive skills, however his size and length (or lack of it) could be problematic and that’s why the Rockets pursued badly a big center to help Scola and Norris in the defensive assignments.
For the backcourt, the Rockets have a lot of young players: Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee, Kyle Lowry, Terrence Williams or Jonny Flynn. Of all these players, I really like the way Lowry has developed in the last two seasons. Lowry is a solid defensive player and his offensive repertoire is growing fast. His court vision is way better than anyone could guess in his days in Memphis, so the Rockets has a good PG for the present and future.
The Rockets are one of the teams that don’t have a true superstar, but they could be competitive because of a deep roster. The ability to be competitive or not will be on their head coach Kevin McHale’s job in finding the right rotations. Somehow, the Rockets remind me of this season’s Denver Nuggets even though the Nuggets have a better overall roster and a better coach.