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.