NBA@2: Houston Rockets Not Going Quietly
The Houston Rockets are probably not a playoff team. As good as they’ve been, pushing many of the NBA’s best teams down to the wire and beating some along the way, as well, the Rockets look like they are still one significant player away from the playoffs and perhaps even contention. Still, the Rockets remain one of the toughest outs in the league, most recently coming back from a 17-point deficit to beat the Los Angeles Lakers and forcing overtime before succumbing to the defending NBA champs from Dallas. Head coach Kevin McHale’s team may be out-manned on any given night, but what the Rockets lack in star power they make up for in determination.
“Compete on every possession,” McHale says of his game plan. “There’s big difference between playing hard and competing. Competing means you’re playing hard with a purpose. Ball’s on the floor, you’ve got to get it; ball goes up, you’ve got to hit your man. You’ve got to box out, you’ve got to be willing to take a hit. To set a good pick, you’ve got to be willing to take a hit. To go get an offensive rebound, you’ve got to be a willing to give a hit not to give up an offensive rebound and all of those things where you put your body on the line. That, with a purpose, that’s toughness.”
Not that he’s making excuses, but like so many NBA head coaches McHale is struggling to hold practice even when there’s time because injuries to Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry have left the team shorthanded.
“It’s hard,” admits McHale, who is in his first year as the Rockets’ head coach. “Our practices are . . . we had ten guys that last time we tried practicing. Last time, within the first minutes two guys went down we’re down to eight so we don’t have any room for air. So we’ve gone over stuff, we’ve tried to review stuff, we’ve a little bit of stuff, but we haven’t really been able to practice hard and really polish up some areas that we need to, but that’s just the way it is.”
One thing that’s helped the Rockets this season is the surprising play of rookie Chandler Parsons, the 38th pick in last summer’s NBA draft. Parsons has gotten better with each passing month, averaging 6.0 points in December, 7.0 in January, 8.4 in February and now 12.9 in March. He was the guy teams left open from three in February, when he shot 21%,. but now he’s the one making the defense pay, shooting 41% from behind the arc. He’s also grabbing 5.4 rebounds and dishing 3.3 assists per game in March, and McHale thinks he’ll continue to improve along those lines.
“He’s played well; he just knows how to play,” says McHale. “He plays hard nightly; he’s a young kid who is just getting better all the time. I think there’s a big learning curve for him. He’s just a guy that’s improving all the time, just working at his game and there’s a big system maturation that happens from your rookie year to your second year. Something happens over the summer where you just get comfortable. You come into camp and guys are saying, ‘okay UCLA cut’ and you know what it means. He knew what Billy Donovan told him at Florida, so he didn’t know anything about NBA lingo, so there’s just something, a comfort level to that.”
It’s not just Parsons who has been so key to Houston’s trend of extremely competitive games. As Lowry, who could be out for the season due to an illness, and Martin (shoulder, listed day-to-day) sit out, Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee have taken turns delighting fans in Houston. In his last three games Dragic had 16 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds in a win over the Lakers, 17 points and nine assists in a win over the Warriors, and then 24 points, eight assists and five rebounds in the OT loss to Dallas on Saturday night. As a starter this season Dragic is averaging 16.6 points, 9.5 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting 52% overall and 465 from three. Starter Kyle Lowry would love to have those numbers.
Meanwhile, Lee is averaging 13.8 points while standing in for Martin, and his impact on the defensive end of the court has Rockets fans asking if Martin should be traded to make room for Lee as a fulltime starter. The Rockets have entertained offers for both Martin and Lee, but they like the combination an awful lot.
The Rockets may not be a playoff team this season, but they are still very much in the hunt, injuries and all. The play of their supporting cast has been most impressive, and makes it even clearer that with the right star-caliber piece in the mix the Rockets could be a perennial playoff team like they were when Hakeem Olajuwon patrolled the paint. They just need to find that franchise cornerstone.
Goran Dragic On The Rise
Houston Rockets point guard Goran Dragic talks with HOOPSWORLD about overcoming injuries in a lockout-shortened season, how the Rockets stay confident, taking Courtney Fortson under his wing and more in this exclusive interview!
If you don’t know the story behind Kentucky’s Anthony Davis, who is the assumptive top pick in this summer’s NBA draft, it’s definitely worth knowing. Davis was a late bloomer, standing just 6’4″ as a sophomore in high school, and having come up playing point guard. As such, he had all of the passing, dribbling and court vision skills normally affiliated with a point guard, so when he hit a growth spurt during his junior year and grew into a small forward it make him that much more dangerous. Now standing 6’10″ after his freshman year at Kentucky, Davis calls to mind none other than Oklahoma City Thunder All-Star Kevin Durant, who can bring the ball up the court and score from anywhere on the court, though he has a little bit of the Kevin Love low post ability, as well.
Davis is not a prolific scorer, averaging just 14.3 points per game this season, but he is incredibly efficient across the board. He ranks in the 95th percentile in transition, 96th percentile in the half court set, and is the best in the game – 100th percentile – when it comes to converting with fewer than four seconds on the shot clock. This season he scored 379 points on 334 possessions against man defense (94th percentile) and 99 points on 69 possessions against zone defense (98th percentile). He’s not much of a post-up player (60th percentile) and isn’t an ideal spot-up shooter (35th percentile), but he can certainly fill the stats sheet from everywhere else.
Davis is not nearly as good on the other side of the ball, but he is no slouch on defense, either. He spent 41% of his time defending post-up players this season, and 100 points on 155 possessions – good for a 77th percentile ranking. He allowed 86 points on 91 possessions in spot-up situations, which only put him in the 45th percentile, and was only a little bit better in isolation situations, allowing 42 points in 61 possessions for a 59th percentile ranking. He’s not a defensive stopper by any stretch of the imagination, but defense can absolutely improve with hard work and coaching. He will get plenty of both in the NBA.
There is no doubt that Davis will be the top pick in this year’s draft, the only question with which team will be bad enough and lucky enough to land that top lottery pick. The Charlotte Bobcats, who have just seven wins on the season, will most likely have the most ping pong balls in the mix, and Davis would sure look nice next to Bismack Biyombo in Charlotte. The New Jersey Nets could also make an even stronger case for Deron Williams to stay in town if they could add Davis to their front line alongside Brook Lopez.
It easy to get too far ahead of a player with projections of greatness, but it does seem as though Anthony Davis is set to be a franchise-changing forward for whichever team lands that coveted top pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.
For a more in-depth look at Davis, be sure and visit our friends at Draft Express, the place for NBA draft scouting reports.
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