First impressions of Linharden debut

1st. I know it’s just one game, but Harden looks like a legitimate superstar to me. Morey must be (fill in the superlative) tonight. He has an all around game: 37 pts; 12 ast; 6 reb; 4 steals; 4 TO. That’s as good of a debut as any I’ve seen. Granted, it’s against a not very good defensive team.

2nd. Linharden looks like I thought and hoped it would look like. Sure, Lin’s stat line isn’t so impressive: 12 pts; 8 ast; 4 reb; 4 steals; 4 TO. But Lin actually had a great game if you watched the game. Again, I think people miss all the little things that Lin does to help a team win. When Lin was on the bench, the Detroit Pistons went on a huge run and Rockets ended up with their biggest deficit of the game (or close to it), I believe. The synergy that is Linharden looked good tonight. At least it was a good start. I expect more in the future, but tonight is what I expected to happen. Harden is not a ball hog, despite scoring 37 points. He actually passed to Lin quite a bit and seemed to be the only Rockets player to pass to Lin. Parsons, noticeably didn’t pass to Lin. I’m not sure what that’s about. I noticed at least three instances when Parsons should have passed to Lin to avoid committing a turnover himself or to give the Rockets an easy basket. I think Parsons may have felt a little left out and was trying too hard to be a play maker and create for himself. Parsons played very uncharacteristically tonight. He’s usually a very smart player and doesn’t force things. I’m sure he wasn’t happy with his game. Anyway, back to the Linharden. Man, I can’t wait to see these guys develop together. I’m envisioning an unconventional duo in which both guys handle the ball equally and create for each other. That would be awesome! The only downside to this is that the other players on the team may feel left out, causing a break down in team chemistry. I noticed a little bit of that tonight.

3rd. Asik still so solid. This guy just brings it day in and day out and tonight he looked the best I’ve seen him on the offensive end. Linharden making it happen for Asik time and time again on the offensive end. Asik’s gotta be pretty thrilled–even though you can never tell from looking at him.

4th. I don’t really understand McHale’s decision to play and not to play certain players. Didn’t make any sense tonight. I’m hoping that it’s just because he’s trying out new things. He didn’t play our best rookie: Terrence Jones tonight. That was a blatantly horrible decision, unless something happened to Jones that no one knows about. He also didn’t play any of the other rookies, living up to his reputation (warranted or not) that he prefers veterans. Delfino is definitely his 6th man. So far, that’s been proven to be a good decision, because Delfino has been remarkably consistent. I keep thinking that he’ll have an off shooting night, because of that horrible first pre-season game. But it hasn’t happened, yet.  McHale decided to start Marcus Morris tonight. A guy who’s been out due to injuring himself in the first game. That was a terrible idea. Again, have no idea what McHale is thinking. Anyway, I have a feeling I’ll be continually frustrated with McHale’s decision to play certain players and not play certain players this entire season. I just don’t want him to shun our rookies–especially D-Mo and T-Jones. These two guys are way better than the guys he ended up going with.

5th. Cutting Livingston was a terrible mistake. Should have let Douglas go. I praised Livingston in my summation of the preseason. I also said that I have no idea where Douglas fits into the rotation in that post. He’s not a Point Guard. I don’t know why teams keep trying to make him play that position. He’s just a guy who loves to put up shots. He’s just a very inefficient scorer: A guy who loves to jack up shots, but is very inconsistent at making them. That’s all Douglas is. He’ll be on some nights, but off most nights. He can’t run an offense. One adjustment they MUST make is that if Douglas is in the game with Harden, let Harden take up the damn ball! Or at least make Douglas give up the ball to Harden the moment Douglas passes the half court line. I don’t know why you have Harden out there expending all his energy if you’re just going to let Douglas handle the ball. That’s a waste of Harden’s energy. This is exactly what happened tonight when Lin sat down with 4 fouls and Douglas came in with Harden. Douglas played the point and was very inefficient at it. Harden didn’t touch the ball enough during this time and that’s when Detroit went on a huge run. Hope they’ll make this adjustment in the future. If they had kept Livingston, they wouldn’t have had to make this adjustment. I’d rather Machado play point than Douglas. Again, Douglas is not a Point Guard. Stop forcing him to be one! When are coaches going to get this?

6th. What is going on with Lin NOT getting any calls? I saw this nonsense last season and it looks like it’s continuing. If this keeps on happening I might have to really get into it in one of my posts. We’ll see. Hopefully, they’re just isolated instances. But in this game, it was blatant, because it happened quite a bit. I would think that it would be the opposite, that Lin should be getting all the calls, because he’s big for the NBA. I would think that David Stern would be hinting to all the refs to take care of Lin a little, like they take care of NBA superstars. But no. Hope this changes, because if Lin goes into the paint and doesn’t get the calls, then what’s the point? I suspect this is another reason why Lin’s turnover numbers are so high. He’ll get in the paint get surrounded by guys and sometimes draw contact and they don’t call it. So it turns into a turnover for Lin, because Lin gets knocked down and his opponents are running away with the ball. Talk about being robbed!

7th. Even though we won tonight, I’m concerned about the team chemistry. Granted it’s the first regular season game, but I thought we had very good team chemistry during the preseason on both ends of the floor. But tonight we lacked the cohesiveness. It was more like the Asiklinharden show in terms of chemistry. Of course, this is to be expected with the addition of OKC players. But I think this is something we’ll have to work even harder on now that we have a number 1 option. Many times during this game, it became more of an iso situation, where  Linharden were trying to beat their man one-on-one. Felt like the other guys felt left out–especially Parsons. The ball wasn’t being whipped around like it was in the preseason. The ball stopped. I’m kind of okay with this, because I felt like before, the ball was being passed around a little too much and it felt like Lin didn’t feel comfortable having the ball in his hands for a longer period of time to try and create something. But it seemed like we went a little extreme in the other direction and weren’t whipping the ball around the perimeter enough. I only saw us doing this rarely in tonight’s game, whereas during the preseason, this was happening with regularity. I think this fed into the defensive end and they felt less like a cohesive unit defensively. But this might have to do with all the new players. Again, it’s only their first preseason game, so I’ll take this win. They sure gave us a scare there by being down by 9 or so to begin the 4th. At least this shows that they maintained their composure to stay in the game. Delfino was huge in the 4th for us, tonight. That’s the veteran leadership we need from him.


Linharden: The Scariest Back Court Baller in the NBA

Lin’s name goes well with pretty much anything. So, of course, “Linharden” is a natural fit. Doesn’t it just sound like a surname? It could, perhaps, even be the name of some bad-ass baller, an Asian dude with a James Harden beard that you don’t want to f#@k with on the back court. How many of these will we see walking around Houston this Halloween? If you want to go one step further, let me introduce you to Parsons Asik Linharden (PAL for short): the smartest, most eccentric NBA player, who’s sponsored by United Colors of Benetton.

With the addition of Harden, Rocket’s starting unit just got more interesting. I mean, you got a white European dude, an Asian American dude, a white all-American dude (I’m sure that’s pretty racist, but it just sounds better than “white American”, also Parsons does have that “all-American” vibe whatever that means) and an African American dude who looks pretty bad ass. This is as diverse of a core group as you’re gonna get in the NBA. Sure, Martin was also black, but at the risk of sounding totally racist, he’s not black like James Harden is black.

As diverse as these guys are racially, what’s striking is how much they have in common. All these guys are put in a position where they are playing bigger roles than expected of them or than they had previously assumed:

  • Asik from bench to starter.
  • Lin from not the face of the Franchise to the face of the Franchise (that is, before Harden arrived).
  • Harden from third best player on the team to best player on the team with superstar aspirations.
  • Parsons from rookie to locker room leader.

I think this is bodes well for the Rockets organization, because they’ll scratch and claw to prove themselves. Every game, every possession, perhaps, would mean more to them than their opponents. They might not be as talented as the other guys, but they’ll overwork their opponents, because they need to earn the lofty positions that they’ve assumed. I think this counts for a lot and it’s something analysts overlook. This is why I think they’ve got a great shot at doing some serious damage in the NBA this season. We’re talking playoffs for sure in my view. I know I’m probably pretty alone in this belief, but the hell with it.

PAL is very young. Although Harden is already pretty accomplished. I mean, dude’s got a Gold Medal! He’s actually the youngest of this quad. Despite Morey’s track record of getting rid of players as soon as he gets them, I think this core group will stay together for the long haul. Harden has already planned on signing a long-term contract and both Asik and Lin are already locked in. I think Morey’s reputation for moving NBA assets with regularity has more to do with his situation than anything else: the Rockets have been a team in limbo since his tenor, so they need to constantly maneuver to get all the proper pieces or, in the case of this off-season, a demolition was required. I think Morey and company are pretty happy with the key pieces they have now so these piece will stay. This being said, Morey is still not done. Even with the acquisition of Harden, Rockets still have room for another max guy. So I’m sure we’ll see some more maneuvering this season. But PAL is staying put. Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. the point I was trying to make is that PAL is very young and will only get better. Other teams should be very scared in a couple of years. PAL will have time to develop and grow together and that’s when things will really get interesting in Houston–especially if they add another missing piece (e.g., a star Power Forward). Personally, I think they’re good the way they are from a starting-unit standpoint, because a guy like Terrence Jones can really develop to be that key Power Forward they need to become a great team. To me having a team of very good players with great chemistry is way better than having a team with a bunch of big names that have okay chemistry.

PAL is very intelligent. Parsons, Asik, Lin and Harden all have very high basketball IQs. I’m not going to say that they’re the smartest starting unit in the NBA, but they’re definitely up there if we’re just talking guys who have a good understanding of the game and can make smart decisions on the court. It’s not easy to talk about basketball IQ, because it doesn’t necessarily show up in stats. It’s how you position yourself on the court in relation to your opponent. It’s how you read the defense and situations to take advantage. It’s a lot of little things that make a big difference. Shane Battier, is perhaps the poster child for basketball IQ. His stats might not be anything to brag about, but boy does he help teams win games with all the little things he does. To me, Chandler Parsons plays a lot like Shane Battier. I think PAL’s high basketball IQ will allow them to develop great chemistry, because they’ll have a deep understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. This chemistry will only become stronger over time as they go through more and more battles together.

Okay, lets move away from PAL and talk about Linharden for a bit. The worst case scenario is that Lin continues to struggle and Harden essentially takes over the ball-handling role as Lin’s teammates look him off on a regular basis. As a result, the potential synergy that is Linharden will be nullified.

The scenario that I’m hoping for is that Linharden will be a nightmare for teams, because you got two guys who could get to the paint with ease and can score the ball pretty much anywhere on the floor (Harden more so than Lin). It’ll be very difficult for teams to game plan for both guys, since they’re both willing passers. Harden likes to go left and Lin likes to go right, so Harden compensates one of Lin’s biggest weaknesses. The threat that Linharden poses really opens up the floor for potential easy baskets. I’m not going to say they’re the most talented or the best back court–we’ll see how they develop in a few years. But Linharden should definitely be formidable from day one. Well, not literally, because it’ll take some time for the guys to develop chemistry, so by “day one” I mean this season.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for the season opener. Things might get pretty sloppy, but it’ll be fun to see Linharden.

Harden to Rockets: A very interesting team just got more interesting

By now, I’m sure you’ve all heard about the harden trade to the Rockets, so there’s no need for me to go into the details. There’s been a lot of talk about who wins in this trade or who got the better deal. I don’t know if that’s really a fair question though. The way I see it, it’s just a trade that had to happen for both teams. Sam Presti, OKC Thunder’s GM, had to let Harden go and Morey had no choice but to make a big offer for Harden, because timing is everything. I could argue that giving up Jeremy Lamb was a little too much, but I think if Morey could have avoided that, he would have. So if we’re just talking about assets, then I think OKC got a better deal. Martin is going to be a great scorer this season and Lamb has great potential to be better than Martin in the future. Overall though, I think it’s pretty close to an even trade. Of course, I suppose it all depends on what type of a player Lamb turns out to be.

All this being said, I think Morey made the right calculation. Players of Harden’s caliber don’t come along very often. You see, teams have a tendency to want to hold onto good players. So when someone like Harden comes along and you’re in a good situation to bring him in, then I think you have to be willing to give up a little to get him and sometimes you have to make a big gamble, like letting go a guy like Lamb. Sometimes, you can’t wait until everything is exactly the way you want it, because you could be waiting a long time. I think they could have gotten better value out of Martin if they waited, because I think Martin was going to put up all-star numbers with the Rockets, but by that time, who knows which players would be available for Morey. So that’s why I think Morey made the right choice given the circumstances.

Another way to look at the trade is that Presti HAD to make the trade, whereas Morey WANTED to make the trade. So in that sense, I think the person who WANTS to do something tends to get the better deal than the person who HAS to do something. To break this down even further, the person who WANTS to do something has made an active choice, whereas the person who HAD to do something is forced into a decision that they probably didn’t want to make.

Anyway, enough about who got the better deal. Lets call it even. I actually don’t think OKC is that much worse off, yet, the Rockets are much better off, at least if we’re just talking about the immediate future. Again, the future depends on how Lamb develops and also what picks we could have gotten from the first rounds that we gave up. So in a sense, both OKC and Houston benefited from this trade overall, I think.

One thing is for sure, the Rockets have gotten even more interesting with the addition of Harden. A lot more people are now going to be watching Rockets games now that they have Harden and Lin. Both Harden and Lin are very exciting players to watch–that is, if Lin returns to some of his Linsanity form. One interesting fact: both Lin and Harden were on first team all-state in California when they were in high school.

I’m really excited to see how these two guys play together. It could really be a good thing for Lin to have someone else who can also play the pick-and-roll. It’ll give him some relief and maybe they’ll even run some plays for him off the ball with Harden handling the ball. We’ll see. They’re definitely running plays for Harden. That’s for sure.

If Lin can get back his Linsanity form, then the back court of Lin and Harden is going to be a nightmare for teams. The interesting thing is that Harden likes to go to his left, whereas Lin likes to go right. So they’re actually pretty complementary players. The threat of Harden could really help open things up for Lin. And Harden is definitely the type of player to share the ball (Martin definitely wasn’t going to pass to Lin). The other potential benefit to Lin is that away from the court, the focus shifts away from him and maybe that’ll take some pressure off. We’ll see. One potential drawback for Lin is that if Lin continues to struggle, he’ll get looked off by his teammates and Harden is going to be the primary ball handler. In the preaseason, I noticed that Martin rarely passed to Lin during Lin’s struggles.

With the addition of Harden, Morey has made a big gamble and put together a core group of guys who have been given bigger roles than the ones they had prior to joining the Rockets:

  • Asik: from bench to starter
  • Lin: from third or fourth big name on a team to “face of the Franchise” (that is prior to Harden)
  • Harden: from third best player on a team to best player on a team with superstar aspirations

These guys have a great deal of motivation and will give everything they’ve got. I think this is the X-factor that many analysts overlook: effort. To me effort counts a great deal. Without Harden, I thought the Rockets still had a chance to make the playoffs because they were going to scratch and claw for everything, now with Harden I think they’re basically a lock to make the playoffs as long as all the key guys are healthy. I know I’m pretty much alone in this belief. The really exciting thing is that these guys are all so young. I mean, James Harden is even younger than Lin and he’s so established already, but still hasn’t reached his peak yet. That’s very exciting to think about. These core group of guys, along with Parsons and company can develop and grow together to be a great team in the future.

SIDE NOTE: We also picked up a potential back up for Asik, Cole Aldrich, in the trade. A young guy (picked 11th in the 2010 NBA draft) that hasn’t played much, but all we really need is a big body in the paint when Asik’s on the bench. We’ll see who does a better job of this between Greg Smith and Aldrich. Smith is more of a Power Forward and brings an offensive presence. Aldrich is more of a traditional Center. Right now, I favor Smith, because of his offensive skills, but we’ll see what magic Dawson and company can do on Aldrich.



Preseason Observations

Now that the preseason is over, I just wanted to make a few observations, with strong caveats about the small sample size and the meaningless of preseason games. Hopefully, I can keep this brief, but I often find that once I start talking about something, I discover I have more to say than I had initially planned on saying. So we’ll see.

Preseason Standouts:

  • Asik. Asik was consistently good to great in all of the preseason games and I don’t think it’s premature to say that he can more than hold his own as a starting center in the NBA and can even become one of the best–at the risk of sounding too much like a fan. He just does everything that he is supposed to out there and he does it with such great effort. I mean, the guy even begged the coaching staff to let him play in a game that they had planned to sit him out. Asik’s goal was to be a starting center in the NBA and it appears he’s really embracing the opportunity. He plays with such confidence out there and makes very smart decisions consistently, looking every bit the part of a good to great starting center in the NBA. Asik has looked more impressive than I ever thought he could be. Even when I stated that Asik is the Rockets’s MVP in my previous posts, I didn’t expect him to be this good. I have no reason to doubt that he can continue his high level of play once the regular season starts.
  • Kevin Martin. The old Keven Martin is back, it appears. He’s been automatic on the offensive end. If this continues, he could be having an all-star type of season.

Very solid preseason performers:

  • Parsons. I admittedly don’t know much about Parsons from last year, but from what I’ve read, it appears that he’s improved every aspect of his game, which is saying a lot, since he had a great rookie year. Parsons is definitely the best Small Forward that most people haven’t heard about. He got drafted in the second round and has been over-achieving ever since. Only in his second year, Parsons has  risen to become the leader in this Rockets team. And out on the floor, Parsons does just about everything. If I had to pick who McHale’s favorite player is, it would be Parsons. He’s definitely a coach’s player. Very smart and good in the locker room.
  • Delfino. When the Rockets acquired Delfino, I wasn’t sure what the plan was. But so far, he’s doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing: hitting long-range shots and providing some much-needed veteran consistency. The lone exception was the first game, in which he was atrocious and made a lot of Rockets fans question why the hell Morey ever signed this guy. Delfino is a streaky shooter, so there’s always the risk that he’ll have awful nights where nothing is going. Hopefully, those will be few and far between. Delfino is defninitely McHale’s favorite bench player, since McHale loves veteran players. Delfino will be the first guy off the bench for McHale. The only downside to Delfino is that he’s taking away minutes from Lamb, who can be every bit as good of a shooter that Delfino is, yet, with a higher ceiling.

Great preseason surprises:

  • Asik’s ability to adjust to playing starter-type minutes and his offensive abilities. My main concern about Asik was whether or not he would be able to adjust to playing more than 14 or so minutes a night and so far it looks as if he’s making the necessary adjustments. I was mainly worried about him fouling out of games. This did happen in one preseason game, so it’s still somewhat of a concern for me. Also, he hasn’t exactly been playing full starter minutes. So we’ll see how this goes once the regular season starts. But so far, it appears that he’s managing to limit the number of fouls he commits. The other concern I had was whether or not he’d be able to sustain a high-energy level for an entire game. From what I’ve seen, I haven’t noticed Asik getting winded in games. He appears to be playing hard the entire time he’s on the floor. I’m very optimistic about this. Finally, Asik was considered an offensive liability. In these preseason games, he’s shown that he can do exactly what we need him to do on the offensive end, which is to keep the defense honest. He also has a hidden ability to pass the ball at a high level for Centers. This is a huge bonus that I never expected. I think the interesting thing we’re seeing about Asik is that he’s never had to really think about the offensive end of the floor, since he was only needed to come in for 15 minutes or less. So he just didn’t develop his offensive game. But Dawson, one of the Rockets’s assistant coaches, has done an excellent job of training an all-around game into Asik in such a short period of time. I think it’s remarkable. Also a lot of credit goes to Asik, as well, for all the hard work and belief that he put into radically improving this aspect of his game. I mean, his free throws are even falling with a high level of consistency. It’s really astounding to see.
  • Terrance Jones. There was a lot of talk about Lamb, White and D-Mo, but it’s Terrance Jones who has emerged as the rookie who’s most NBA-ready. I guess a lot of analysts said this about Jones during Summer League, so his emergence my not be all that surprising. However, for a rookie, he’s got a great all-around game, with great shot-blocking abilities. He’s a lock to back up Patterson at the Power Forward position and a lot of fans are rooting for him to eventually start at some point int he season.
  • Greg Smith. I, admittedly, don’t know anything about this guy and barely heard about him during training came. He’s a 21 year old in his second year who barely played for the Rockets last season. In the last two games, Smith has looked very impressive and has played with a lot of confidence. Although he’s more of a Power Forward, he’s the closest thing we have to a viable back up center for Asik. Out of nowhere, he’s made a strong case for himself to be included in the rotation. This is, perhaps, the biggest surprise of the preseason.

Pleasant preseason Surprises:

  • Shaun Livingston. The back up Point Guard position has been in flux all preseason up until the last couple of games in which Livingston has proven that he deserves the spot. Toney Douglas is a streaky shooter and great defender, but has no business running an offense. I don’t really know where Toney Douglas fits into the Rockets rotation, but I definitely don’t think he should be the main back up for Lin. I think the offense is in better hands with Livingston when Lin’s on the bench. Back in high school, Livingston drew comparisons to Magic Johnson. He was just never able to come close to those expectations, because his career has been plagued with injuries. If Lin continues to struggle and Livingston gets more and more back into his old form, I can see a scenario, however remote, in which Livingston becomes the Rockets’s starting Point Guard. I want to stress that this is highly unlikely as Lin provides too much value, even when he’s struggling to find his offense. Even without Lin’s Linsanity explosiveness and his ability to score the ball, Lin’s court vision and ability to give guys the ball where they want it will never go away. Also, I think Morey and Les Alexander would have a fit if McHale decides to bench Lin.
  • Martin’s effort on the defensive end. Nothing much more to say here except it seems as if McHale’s incessant emphasis on D has taken hold of the team. A big part of defense, to me, is effort. Martin appears to be putting out the effort. We’ll see how long this lasts.

Preseason disappointments or misfortunes:

  • Lin struggling mightily to score, but still managing to help the team in every other way. I’ve discussed about Lin’s struggles in previous posts, so no need to go into it here.
  • Rookies not getting enough playing time to show what they can do. This is no one’s fault really. It is just what it is. But we didn’t get to see much from Lamb, D-Mo, or White. To me, Lamb is a bit surprising. I had expected Lamb to play more. Lamb fans can blame Delfino for this.
  • Machado, who has a lot of great passing skills is going to be sent to the D-League, because there’s just not enough room in the roster for him. This is unfortunate, because I think Machado has legitimate point guard skills. Just needs to develop other aspects of his game and overall feel for the NBA game. So D-League would probably be good for him.
  • Morris injured in the first game after doing very well. I’ve read a lot about Morris’s (one of the few returning Rockets who struggled mightily last year) complete change in attitude and it really showed in the first preseason game. He looked really good, but got injured in the second half and has been out ever since. He’ll return soon, but I wonder if his long absence will hurt his chances of being in the regular rotation. I don’t think that it will, since he plays Small Forward. This may be the reason why Parsons appears to be getting the most minutes of any Rockets player, since there’s no one to back him up right now. I actually just thought of this just now, because I had been wondering why McHale tends to leave Parsons out there longer than any of the starters. We’ll see if this is still the case once Morris returns.

Overall, the Rockets have looked good in the preseason. Of course, strong caveats apply. But at least we can all admit that it’s better to do well then struggle in the preseason. Their strong performance in the preseason also gives these young guys momentum and much-needed confidence going into the regular season. So that’s always good.

I”m very curious to see how the Rockets do once the regular season starts. The general consensus among analysts is that they’ll win fewer than 30 games. I’m confident that they’ll win more than 30 games, as long as their key players–especially Asik–remains healthy for nearly the entire season. Admittedly, my skewed perspective probably comes from my experience of watching the Knicks’s awful play after Linsanity. As a result, when I see the Rockets actually active on the offensive end, I’m probably more impressed than I should be. Rockets also look fierce as a unit on the defensive end–at least among the starting unit. It seems as if they’re playing better and better defense with each game. Granted they are playing pretty weak teams and it is the preseason. We’ll see how this translates into the regular season. I believe the Rockets won something like 33 games last season in a shortened season. So that’s why I’m confident that the Rockets will be able to beat their number of wins last season, because the key returning players, Martin, Parsons, and Patterson, are much improved from last season and they didn’t have an Asik last season.

Through the preseason, McHale has kept things pretty simple–especially on the offensive end–out of necessity. He realized that he had to take it slow with the youngsters and not put in too many sets. So can’t really say much about McHale so far. One thing I do like about him is his complete honesty. He also seems to be supportive of Lin and is keen enough to appreciate all the things that Lin does, outside of scoring the ball. I also like how McHale encourages a free flowing offense. In particular, McHale relayed a conversation he had with Lin where he encouraged Lin to just be aggressive and play his game. And when Lin had expressed that Lin is sometimes concerned about making sure that Martin gets shots, McHale told him to not worry about those things. This is music to Lin’s ears, because this is definitely not something Woodson would say. So I think that conversation was really helpful to Lin, because it made Lin realize that McHale truly believes in a free-flowing offense that Lin excels at.

One thing I don’t like so far with one of McHale’s offensive sets is that he has the Point Guard drop off the ball to a Forward at the top of the key immediately as the Point Guard crosses the half court line and then the Point Guard moves to one side (often the right side) of the court and is no longer involved in the offense during that possession. I’d be okay if he does this every now and then to mix things up. But he seems to do it way too often. Now, I’m not sure if this is something McHale is telling Lin to do on each possession or if it’s just one of the offensive sets that Lin can decide on his own if Lin wants to implement for that particular possession. If it’s the latter, than that’s more encouraging, because it means that Lin is just doing this because he knows he’s not ready to play his hyper-aggressive style, yet. I’d also be fine with the Point Guard immediately giving up the ball if he is later included in the play or, better yet, if they run a play for the Point Guard without the ball. Maybe run him through screens without the ball. I think this is something Lin would definitely excel at, because of his quickness.

In general, though, I think the Point Guard should be handling the ball most of the time and the Point Guard should remain somewhere at the top of the key so he has a better view of the floor and so guys can easily spot him when they need to get bailed out. But, hey, McHale has way more basketball experience than me, so I’ll just give him the benefit of the doubt that he knows what he’s doing.

The unfortunate outcome of the Point Guard immediately giving up the ball is that someone like Kevin Martin ends up handling the ball more than he should and makes poor decisions by forcing shots or giving up the ball with little time for his teammates to do anything with. I’m sure the coaching staff is aware of this. So we’ll see if this continues to be a regular occurrence.

One theory I have about why McHale wants the Point Guard to give up the ball immediately is to keep the ball moving. McHale doesn’t want guys to take too many dribbles. He wants them to make quick decisions with the ball and pass, rather than dribble. I completely agree with this philosophy. This is the main problem that the Knicks had. Guys just kept dribbling and playing one-on-one and everyone would just stand around gazing at the guy with the ball. By whipping the ball around constantly, it makes it very difficult for the defense to react, because the ball moves faster than bodies. My only problem with this is that I think the Point Guard should have some license to hold onto the ball a little longer, because the Point Guard is the one on the floor that has the ability to make something happen by dribbling the ball–especially a Point Guard of Lin’s caliber.

I keep hearing over and over lately about how Lin needs to make the easy play. This is the biggest thing McHale is trying to drill into Lin. I’m not exactly sure what this means, but I suspect that he wants to limit Lin driving to the lane and trying to make something happen, because this is risky. Instead, he is more in favor of Lin making the easy pass around the perimeter. But this is just a guess. It sounds a little like he wants to train the Linsanity out of Lin. But that might be going too far. After all, one of the big complaints about Lin is that he would often drive into congested lanes and leave his feet and end up turning the ball over. So this could be a good thing for Lin. The key is whether or not “making the easy play” is code for being less aggressive. If it is, then I think that’s unfortunate. But if it’s just a way to play aggressively, but in a smarter manner, then I’m all for it. We’ll see how it plays out.

One other complaint I have is that the Rockets are running very few pick-and-rolls. I’m not sure if this is because of the lack of ability of Lin’s teammates to run pick-and-rolls. I’ve noticed that Asik gets called for illegal screens in pick-and-rolls a little too much. So maybe this is why they’re limiting it. They’re also not give Lin high screens, which is something that Lin excels at. Again, this may have to do with McHale trying to keep things simple for the guys.

Overall, though, I don’t think we’ll see Linsanity in Houston, because Lin isn’t needed to score the ball as much as I had anticipated and it seems like McHale would prefer Lin to be more of a passer. I think we’ll see Lin’s assists increase significantly and his points go down. I may even go out on a limb and say that Lin could be a top three in the league in assists this season, as long as he remains healthy, since the Rockets surprisingly have a lot of consistent scorers. So that might be another form of Linsanity, albeit, a less exciting one. Despite the lack of Linsanity, I think Lin will prove integral to helping Rockets win games. Of course, it’s still too early to say anything with any level of certainty. In the last game, Lin did show clear signs that he is still interested in playing aggressively. So at the end of the day, it’s really up to Lin whether or not he wants to go Linsane, since the ball is in his hands at the beginning of most possessions and he is in a free flowing offense. So I’m sure if he’s successful, McHale will let Lin do Lin’s thing. So my hope that we’ll see Linsanity 2.0 hasn’t disappeared altogether. More Linsanity would definitely be better for basketball.

Jeremy Lin’s struggle to find his game is mostly mental

I want to stress that it’s still very early, but in the first three pre-season games, Jeremy Lin hasn’t been himself, or at least the player fans love to see play last season. In the first two games, he still did a pretty solid job. My biggest criticism has been that he isn’t being aggressive enough–especially in creating for himself. Lin’s hyper-aggressive play, which does produce a higher number of turnovers, has been what has made him exciting to watch and also effective as a point guard. So far, Lin has played very passively–especially for his standards.

If I were to speculate on the underlying reasons for his not being himself on the court, I think it’s predominantly mental. I know there’s been some talk about him still not 100% recovered form his knee surgery. That may be a small part of it, but I don’t think it’s the predominant reason.

Overall, I think Lin’s got way too much on his mind. He says that he doesn’t pay attention to all that stuff off the court, but I think you’d have to be a robot to not think about all those things. All the hype and expectations, etc. I think the media’s relentless questions about him being the face of the franchise and him doing everything he can to deny that has affected his game. I’m going to start doing some major speculation, here, so I totally understand if readers completely disagree with what I’m saying. I have no basis for my speculations and am fully ready to accept that I’m wrong if it turns out that I’m way off base. I want to just get that out of the way.

Now onto the wild speculations. I think Lin really got self-conscious about all of the talk about him being the face of the franchise. In interviews, he confessed that he’s embarrassed seeing big billboards of him all over Houston. As a result, I think he may have made extra effort to seem insignificant at the start of training camp, so that his teammates wouldn’t think he has a big head. And when he took to the courts during scrimmage and such, he purposefully didn’t play hyper-aggressively and chose to pass to his teammates and be more of a traditional point guard so he wouldn’t seem like he’s trying to be a star, trying to score the ball. Some of his teammates may have seen Lin for the first time and their first impression was that they’re not very impressed and deep down felt that he’s all hype. So they weren’t going to concede any leadership role to Lin. As training camp went on, Lin might have started to realize that he needs to start playing his game, but I think at that point, it might have been a little late to change the dynamics that he created. And once the pre-season games started, he hadn’t had enough practice playing his hyper-aggressive style of play that he is having a momentary lapse in finding his game. I think in the first pre-season game, he was okay with playing passively and feeling things out. But I think he has tried to play a little more aggressively in the last two pre-season games, but he’s not able to get into that rhythm, because he hadn’t done it in so long. Also, his teammates haven’t given him the role as an offensive leader on the court, because he hasn’t earned it. And I think Lin really needs to be the offensive leader on the court to play his game, because he needs confidence to direct the offense and the liberty to create for himself.

In the pre-season against the Spurs, Lin missed a lot of good looks, including an open trey to end the half. All these misses have to do with lack of confidence or thinking too much. When he went into the locker-room, I could see Lin visibly frustrated. In fact it’s the most frustrated I’ve seen Lin, since I’ve watched him play. I think missing the open buzzer beater trey before the half really got to him, because he’s normally pretty good at buzzer beaters.

Lin really tried hard in the Spurs game and it amounted to his worst pre-season performance. In the other two games, I don’t think Lin tried very hard to be aggressive and play his game. He was just feeling things out. But in the Spurs game, I could tell that he felt it was time for him to start playing his game again. He tried to be less unselfish and it didn’t work out too well, so I think he’s really concerned about that. During the second quarter, when he realized that he just didn’t have it, Lin would just immediately pass the ball to one of his teammates right when he crossed the half court line on a lot of possessions. Now, I’m not sure if that’s by design, because they’re setting up a play that didn’t involve him. Could be, but it didn’t look like it to me.

I think right now, Lin has a lot on his mind and is working through all of it. He’s realizing, much as I’m, that Lin might not be needed to go Linsane in Houston. So I think when he’s on the court, he’s constantly battling between whether or not he should go Linsane or play passively. In sports, indecisiveness is a killer. The ideal is to be in a state of flow, where you’re just doing and not really thinking about what you’re doing. This was Lin during Linsanity. There were no expectations. He was just free to play his heart out. There was no one demanding the ball. He could just do whatever he wanted with the ball. There was no fear of turning over the ball, since his high turnovers hadn’t become a “thing” yet.

I think at this stage, there’s just so much on Lin’s mind when he’s on the court that he hasn’t been able to just play. If I were his coach or in his inner circle, I would recommend he see a therapist or Tony Robbins. He needs help letting go of all the clutter in his mind that’s holding him back from playing his game. Hope the people around him realize this sooner rather than later. Or I hope he’s mentally tough enough to overcome this psychological hurdle. He has shown himself to be very mentally tough, so if anyone could do it, Lin could.

What I’ve written above is the bad case scenario (the worst case scenario and least likely scenario is that Lin’s knee is still very weak and there’s a good chance it could get re-injured and that’s why he’s been so tentative). The best case scenario is that Lin is just finding his role on the team and the problem for his struggles is a tactical one, rather than a psychological one. He’s got a bunch of new teammates and it’s the pre-season, so he’s just feeling things out, just like his fellow teammates. I hope this is the case, but considering all the things Lin has to deal with, I think his struggle has to do with something much more than this.

Of course it’s still very early to make much of Lin’s struggle. After all, he only really struggled in the game against the Spurs, who is a well-oiled machine. In that game, his teammates, such as Parsons, also struggled to play their game. So we’ll wait and see how Lin handles things once the season starts. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Machado, who’s an undrafted point guard the Rockets picked up, pulls the Linsanity on Lin? I know it’s blasphemy for me to make that statement for Lin fans, but thought I’d just throw it out there.

Machado was one of the few players on the Rockets who looked good against the Spurs. He’s expected to go to the developmental league once the season starts, just because they want him to get more playing time under his belt. But I fully expect him to be back with the team at some point in the season. I think he’s got incredible court vision. He didn’t play in a big time school, but he lead all college players in assists, I believe. I think something like that is hard to ignore and it’s got Linsanity written all over it.

A Lot More Good than Bad in Rockets Preseason Debut

I didn’t catch most of the first half of the preseason opener against the OKC Thunder last night, but I enjoyed every minute of what I did see. After suffering through a lot of iso ball post-Linsanity 1.0 with the Knicks last year, it so fun to see the ball actually being whipped from side-to-side and in-and-out. It was a new experience for me to watch without screaming at the screen for guys to move around.

The Rockets actually executed the plan that the coaching staff laid out for them. They played hard and fast pretty much the entire time. They didn’t let made baskets slow them down at all. Rockets quickly in-bounded the ball and ran to the other end of the court on every OKC made basket, just like their coach told them to. Our young guys also hustled for loose balls and out-rebounded OKC 49 to 38, including a 7 offensive rebound edge. One big caveat is that the Rockets did this without OKC’s two best big men, Ibaka and Perkins, on the floor. We’ll see if the Rockets can keep up this pace and intensity throughout the season, because that will be the key to success.

I’m not going to go much into last nights game, because it is a preseason game and OKC had two of their best big men out. So don’t want to read too much into what happened. Standout performances for me were Martin, Morris and Jones. Martin looked like the Martin of old, drawing fouls, taking good shots and hitting them (I actually didn’t get to see Martin play last night, so this is basically from what I’ve read). Morris looked like a completely different player from last season, confirming some of the positive buzz about him from training camp. Jones was just outstanding all around–especially at the end of the 3rd quarter. Jones did everything last night. But rather than me talking about it, here’s a clip:

I didn’t see him play in summer league, but apparently he did pretty much the same thing in summer league. So this is very encouraging. Again, OKC didn’t have two of their best big men, but at least this shows that he can take advantage of a good situation.

Very solid performances to me were: Parsons, Lamb, Asik. Lamb looks so comfortable and smooth out there and also looked better than expected on the defensive end. Asik looked as advertised on the defensive end and better than expected on the offensive end and I think a lot of credit should go to Carroll Dawson, the Rockets assistant coach who has been working intensively with Asik on improving his all around game. I didn’t get to see much of Parsons, but heard that he was pretty solid, as I expected.

Poor performances: Delfino, D-Mo, Patterson. Delfino just kept chucking up shots and kept missing them. D-Mo looked lost out there, confused about where he was supposed to be on the court. He looked very much like a rookie, but it’s probably because he was playing the 5 and he’s not used to it. That’s the biggest question for the Rockets going forward, who’s going to back up Asik. This also highlights to me how important Asik is to this organization. If Asik goes down, that’s pretty much the end of the season for the Rockets, in my opinion. So in that sense, Asik is the Rockets’ MVP, believe it or not. With all this talk of how great Patterson looks at training camp, I didn’t see it last night. But it’s only just one game. I’m sure he’ll do better.

Lin, I think, was pretty solid, although he didn’t look like himself. He looked more like a true point guard and didn’t create for himself to get his own shots. He has admitted that he’s still recovering from the knee surgery and still hasn’t regained all the speed that he had pre-surgery, so maybe that had something to do with it. Maybe it’s just jitters. I think despite what he says, he does feel a lot of pressure and knows that all his mistakes will be scrutinized. My big concern about this is that I think it may cause him to play a lot more passively in order to reduce his turnover numbers. I’ve talked enough about Lin’s turnovers on this site so don’t want to go into it here. What I have noticed is that everyone is so fixated on his turnovers that you’re getting this phenomenon where people are waiting and watching for him to commit a turnover so they can harp him for it. I just don’t want this to get out of hand to the point where he shies away from playing an aggressive style that does tend to be turnover heavy (see Allen Iverson). One thing that I liked about D’Antoni is that he lived with Lin’s turnovers and didn’t discourage Lin from continuing to play aggressively. I’m not as encouraged that McHale will take the same approach. We’ll see. It would be a shame if Lin stops playing aggressively and making creative plays. If Lin can eliminate or reduce the turnovers that he committed last year out of just pure laziness or lost of focus, then I’m fine with all of those turnovers that he will commit by taking it hard to the defense and trying to create for himself or his teammates. We’ll see if he can do that and hopefully get people to stop fixating on his turnovers like they’re the end of the world.

Lin finished with 3 points (going 0-2 from 3-point), 6 assists, 3 steals, 3 turnovers. I thought he ran the pick-and-roll well and did a good job of getting his teammates their shots. He was too passive in creating shots for himself. What’s striking about this is that it didn’t matter–at least last night. This Rockets team has so many scorers that Lin actually doesn’t need to be an 18-points per game guy. This is something that’s really surprising to me to discover. Of course, it’s still way too early to make any determination, but before last night’s game, I kind of just assumed that Lin would be dependent on to go Linsane most nights and be the second leading scorer behind Martin. But now I’m not so sure. The Rockets have plenty of scoring options, so Lin may primarily be a passer. We’ll see how this plays out. I have to admit, as a Lin fan, I ‘m a little disheartened by this realization. But as long as this helps the Rockets win games, I’m sure Lin is all for it. The thing about this Rockets team is that most of the players on the roster are pretty evenly matched so it’s not going to be just one guy every night getting it done. It’ll be a bunch of them or it’ll be a different guy every night. As a fan of team basketball, this is a great thing. This also means that the Rockets actually have a very deep bench, which in turn means they’ll be able to take advantage of the other team’s second unit on most nights. That’s one key advantage I think the Rockets have–one that we must fully take advantage of by using a 10-man rotation.

On the defensive end, Lin did a solid job.  Westbrook took tough (i.e., bad) shots and just hit them consistently all night. There’s nothing anyone can do when Westrbook goes off like that. He took shots that we wanted him to take. That’s all you can ask for from a defensive stand point, to have your opponent take shots that you want them to.

So all in all, it was a great debut for this new Rockets team. Of course, it doesn’t mean much, but at least it was fun to watch and those who are cautiously optimistic can remain cautiously optimistic. Oh, by the way, Rockets won the game 107 to 105.

How Houston Rockets can Succeed and Potential Pitfalls

Many skeptics have counted the Houston Rockets out and with good reason. They have one of the  youngest NBA teams I’ve ever seen, many of whom are new to one another and to coach Kevin McHale’s system. They have no clear superstars on their team–only a bunch of guys who have a lot of potential and a lot to prove.

Perhaps the biggest advantage and disadvantage the Rockets have is youth. With lack of experience, they may not have the necessary composure to close out close games or come from behind to win games. They may make critical mistakes in clutch time or commit a bunch of little mistakes that add up to the difference in a game. These are just a few examples of the disadvantages of having young player. On the other hand, young players tend to have a lot of energy. Also, they’re not established enough to have egos, which makes it more likely that they’ll be more willing to play as a team and be more apt to listen to the coaching staff.

From what I’ve read and the little that I’ve seen so far from training camp, I’m encouraged that the coaching staff is planning to take full advantage of their youth by driving home a relentless up-tempo team style of basketball. McHale’s plan is to outwork their opponents every single night. He’s stressing effort above all else to his young guys. I think this is very smart. If you’re not as talented or experienced as the other guy, then you have to work twice as hard to have a chance of winning.

Of course, a lot of teams preach this and they do it for the first month or two of the season then resort back to a slower tempo, because it’s hard to sustain an up-tempo throughout the entire season–especially if your team is composed of a lot of veteran players. Of any team in the NBA, the Houston Rockets have a realistic shot of playing hard and fast all season, because their team is full of young guys with fresh legs and boundless energy. The other major factor is that the Rockets actually have a lot of equally talented players on their roster, so they can realistically use a 10-man rotation. Also they have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions, which makes it easier to continuously sub different guys to keep fresh legs on the court. Of course, the potential drawback here is that it might hurt a player’s rhythm to be constantly coming in and out of the game. But that’ll be something that the Rockets coaching staff will have to experiment with until they find a plan that works. All I’m saying is that the Rockets have the best shot of any team to realistically play a 10-man rotation in order to sustain a high-energy level of play throughout the season. All they need is the willingness to do so.

Some other encouraging signs are that two of their returning players, Kevin Martin and Patrick Patterson, appear to be vastly improved from the terrible season that each of them had last year. Kevin Martin, a prolific shooter and scorer averaged only around 17 points last season, which is his lowest point average since his sophomore season. Patrick Patterson had a horrible sophomore season after a great rookie season, primarily because he wasn’t 100% physically. From reports that I’ve read about training camp, Patterson is in great shape and is looking more and more like the promising rookie of a couple seasons ago. And Kevin Martin, who seems to have been on the verge of being traded all summer long, appears to have shaken all of that off and has been  quite the play maker during training camp. If Kevin Martin and Patrick Patterson, who are both expected to be in the starting line up, have vastly improved their game from last season, then the Rockets have a real shot at making the playoffs.

Finally, the Rockets have a lot of young players who can develop into stars. Not just their rookies (White, Lamb, Jones, Motiejunas), but also Lin, Asik and Parsons. Parsons, who had a great rookie year, is looking even better this year at training camp. If Asik can adjust to playing major minutes, he could become one of the best centers in the league (there aren’t many good centers out there to begin with).

The way I look at it is that last year’s Rockets team narrowly missed the playoffs with Kevin Martin having one of his worst seasons and Patrick Patterson regressing from his rookie season. One can argue whether or not this new crop of guys are better or worse than the ones that left the organization (namely, Scola, Dragic, Lowry). Lets say they are the same, then one can reason that with a much improved Kevin Martin, Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons, the Rockets should make the playoffs–especially if one or two of the crops of new guys have an all-star season. Of course, there’s lots of ifs here and lots of speculation. Also, teams change every year so how the Rockets did last year may not have much bearing on what will happen this year. But I just wanted to throw out there an alternative view of the Rockets that I don’t see too many people talking about.

Now that I’ve discussed the optimistic picture, here are some potential pitfalls.

Injuries. In order to run their relentless up-tempo play, they really can’t afford to lose any bodies–especially Asik and probably Lin, although I was surprised to see how many play makers the Rockets have on their roster currently. In essence, the Rockets are one injury away from finishing near the bottom of the western conference.

Coach McHale. Admittedly, I don’t know much about McHale’s coaching prowess. I think he’s got a good macro plan for the team (i.e., up-tempo, let the defense fuel the offense, and outwork the opponent). I also think he has the ability to push his guys to work hard, which is a very important attribute for a coach to have. I just don’t know how good of an in-game coach he is. I think the most important job a coach has is to make substitutions. That’s really the biggest way a coach can impact a game directly. And for this Rockets roster, it’s even more critical, because there are so many players who can play multiple positions and the Rockets can utilize a 10-man rotation, making substitution decisions that much more critical and increasing the potential for coaching error. Also, how good is McHale at feeling out the momentum of the game and knowing when to call time outs? How is he at making adjustments during half time? All of these are question marks for me.

The other teams in the NBA. The Rockets may simply just be outmatched by so many talented NBA teams. I don’t know how this happened, but it seems like a lot of teams have improved from last year. Even the Miami Heat got better! It seems like only a few teams got worse and so many teams got better. I still don’t know how this happened, exactly, but the Magics had something to do with this. So at the end of the day, it might not matter how hard the young Rockets team works, they may get beat anyway by more talented, experienced teams.

At the very least, the Rockets will be an exciting team to watch (since they’ll be playing an up-tempo team style of basketball) as long as the key guys remain healthy. I’m excited for the season to start and I’ve never more looked forward to pre-season games.