January 19, 2017 at 6:55 pm

James Harden named 2017 NBA All-Star Game starter

James Harden 2017 All-Star Starter

It’s official: James Harden will start the 2017 NBA All-Star Game.

That may seem silly as far as being news. After all, Harden is having a monster year and is the leading candidate for MVP through half the season. But in the West, it’s not that simple.

Stephen Curry, a media darling, is coming off back-to-back MVP seasons. Russell Westbrook, a huge fan favorite, is averaging a triple-double. With only two guards allowed to start, the clear frontrunner was not even a lock to crack the top two.

But they got it right and Harden gets the starting nod. This is the fifth time Harden will be on the All-Star team but the first time he will be a starter. It’s extremely well deserved. The Rockets are 33-12 behind Harden’s averages of 28.9 points on 44.4% shooting, a league-leading 11.6 assists and 8.3 rebounds.

Props to Houston’s fans who did their part, staying on top of social media to help get the fan vote. The media and players made up the other 50%, but the fan vote was going to play a big role.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
January 19, 2017 at 3:49 pm

Rockets 50th Anniversary Honorees – Who’s Up Next?

Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Mario Elie Hakeem Olajuwon

For the 50th anniversary of the Houston Rockets, the team has been honoring legends and alumni at every home game. They don’t announce who will be the honoree until closer to that day, but we’ve been able to get word of some of the schedule in advance in the past and have been told who is coming for the next several home games. Here’s the breakdown:

Matt Bullard
January 20 vs Warriors
I can’t think of a better game to honor Houston’s favorite sharpshooting big than one which could break the NBA record for combined three-pointers taken.

Dikembe Mutombo
January 31 vs. Kings
The finger wag gets the salute on a Tuesday night against DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings.

Shane Battier
February 2 vs. Hawks
This date is interesting since Dwight Howard could have been a candidate given the criteria this season (folks, Maurice Taylor has been honored) and Dwight’s return to Houston is that night, but it’s Mr. Intangibles that gets the nod for the Hawks game.

Yao Ming
February 3 vs. Bulls
This game belongs entirely to Yao as his jersey will be retired. Fans will get a T-shirt to commemorate the night.

TBD, but…
February 7 vs. Magic
Do not be surprised if it’s Hakeem Olajuwon this night. His schedule is always in flux, but this could be the game for Dream against the team he swept in the 1995 NBA Finals.

Mario Elie
February 11 vs. Suns
It’s only fitting that Elie’s Night will be against the Suns, commemorating the “Kiss of Death” shot in Game 7 of the 1995 Western Conference Semifinals in Phoenix that completed the comeback from down 3-1 and sent the Rockets to the West Finals (a wee bit more significant than KJ Dunk Night). Look for a very cool giveaway this night — the Mario Elie “Kiss of Death” bobblehead.

Otis Thorpe
February 15 vs. Heat
It’s very rare to see the soft-spoken Otis back in Houston at a game so this will be special.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
January 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

Houston Rockets: The surprising contender

James Harden Houston Rockets

MK Bower joins Dave Hardisty at Toyota Center after James Harden and the Rockets beat Russell Westbrook and the Thunder 118-116 Thursday night. The pair discuss the game, the MVP Race, the stunning 28-9 record for the Rockets and a look at what this team needs as we start to see the February trade deadline on the horizon.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
December 22, 2016 at 11:53 am

Eric Gordon, Professional Shooter

Eric Gordon Houston Rockets

Nobody in the NBA has made more three-pointers than Stephen Curry to start the 2016-2017 NBA season. That’s been the norm for the last few years. However, his running mate Klay Thompson isn’t second. Neither is James Harden, Damian Lillard or Kevin Durant. It’s Houston Rockets shooting guard Eric Gordon, who has 112 three-pointers made with just about a third of the season played.

Last season, the Rockets employed a motion offense centered around James Harden’s ability to facilitate the basketball. With a combination of flare screens and pick-and-rolls, the Rockets hoisted up numerous three-pointers. However, the lack of spacing and shooting created an inefficient and ineffective offense.

Enter the 2016-2017 season, with the signings of Gordon and Ryan Anderson. The pair, along with Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, and Sam Dekker, are all complementary pieces and shooters, and all are shooting upwards of 38% or better on three-point attempts. With the addition of professional floor-spacers and improvements to the offense, where ball and player movement are constantly emphasized, the Rockets have developed a potent offensive attack in which Gordon is thriving.

Houston’s second-leading scorer, Gordon is averaging 17+ points per game while leading the race for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. He’s also shooting a blistering 45+% from three-point range after only converting on 38% of those shots last season with the Pelicans. As Bill Worrell says, his range extends to Sugar Land, Pasadena, and other places. With his promising start to the season from three, we decided to look at the film to understand how and why Gordon has seen so much success.

1/2 DHO (Dribble Hand-Off)

I’ll be releasing a film study soon on the Rockets “21 series” Pistol offense that will analyze the Harden/Gordon and Harden/Beverley pairings and their offensive production from this formation. Until then, here’s a preview, in particular the “21 series” Dribble Hand-Off (DHO) between the ball-handler and three-point shooter. This is where Beverley has assisted Gordon on 27 three-point field-goals.

DHO

The ball handler (1) dribbles the ball towards the right (or left) corner where a shooter or wing stands. Another post or wing player stands on the elbow or high post area adjacent to the corner. If you pay close attention, it’s an isosceles triangle between the three players. What ensues is either a DHO between the 1/2 or a simultaneous screen-and-roll between the 2/4. In the case of Gordon and three-pointers, the DHO is the primary result of this formation. If he is run off the three-point line, he’ll get into a pick-and-roll with the Big at the elbow. However, as we’ll see, Beverley and Gordon have great chemistry and Patrick’s screens more than free up Gordon to get off a shot with his quick release.



Beverley sets a proper screen, as he does on all DHO plays with Gordon. He has a good base by spreading his feet and slightly bending knees forward. His waist eliminates Gordon’s defender from contesting his jumper. Yes, in the play above, Lou Williams does a poor job of contesting Gordon, but many opposing defenses elect to take away the pick-and-roll threat. Teams will slide over a third defender to chip the roll man (especially with Clint Capela). However, with Gordon shooting 44+% from both wings, teams must shoot the gap and take the risk of Gordon attacking the closeout. As we’ll discuss in a later piece, that’s easier said than done with Gordon’s exceptional hesitation dribble and footwork to finish inside.

Defense Overloading on James Harden’s side



James Harden has become one of the best passers in the NBA, and his ability to connect with shooters off skip passes and cross-court passes make him and the offense incredibly difficult to guard. The San Antonio Spurs like to trap, double, or switch defensively on Harden when he runs sideline pick-and-rolls. In the scenario above, they decide to double and mitigate his drive to create penetration. Patty Mills rotates over from the help side. Once Harden begins to drive, Nene recognizes Mills and sets a flare screen. This takes away Mills’ ability to rotate back towards Gordon and now Kawhi Leonard is forced to rotate over to defend a Gordon three. It’s not quick enough for Gordon’s release, and Eric hits the three-pointer. As long as defenses continue to overload the strong side to contain the basketball and pressure Harden to make a decision, the help-side defense will be vulnerable and will consistently have to be cognizant of Anderson, Beverley, and in particular Gordon.

Eric Gordon Screening



This half-court set has become a pet play of the Rockets, particularly in situations where they want to pick up the pace and score quickly. This play entails a pick-and-roll, the main component of Houston’s spread offense. It’s an especially clever play because Gordon does not start out at the three-point line. As Harden starts to cross half court, the Rockets’ Big (Nene) sets a screen on the hip of the defender. Simultaneously, with Brook Lopez staying back to protect the paint after the screener slips, Gordon sets a screen on the back of Lopez. Gordon’s defender watches Nene and is too late to get out of the way of Lopez rotating over to defend the roll. Gordon leaks out to the three-point line, gets the pass and hits a three-pointer in rhythm. Gordon’s back screen forces the opposing defense to react to the roll man. That creates mistakes and miscommunication, allowing Gordon to run out behind the arc and get a wide-open three-point opportunity.

Lateral-Step Dribble



The Splash Brothers of Golden State are masters at this. Essentially a small head fake or a quick dribble to the right or left opens up the shooter to a wide-open attempt. When defenders close out with their hands up, the shooter can pump fake, make a quick dribble and lateral step, collect their balance, then launch the three-pointer. Although Gordon missed on this attempt, he’s able to regain balance and properly gather and release the basketball. His personal shooting mechanics are impeccable within the flow of the offense.ketball. His personal shooting mechanics are impeccable within the flow of the offense.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 9, 2016 at 6:42 pm

The Donatas Motiejunas Contract Examined

Donatas Motiejunas contract

On Friday, the Houston Rockets and Donatas Motiejunas agreed to a four-year contract for him to return to Houston. Much has been written over the past several months (and especially over the past couple of weeks) about the protracted negotiations between Rockets GM Daryl Morey and Motiejunas’s agent (BJ Armstrong), so there’s little reason to re-hash that here. This article will focus solely on the terms and salary cap impact of the contract Motiejunas has signed.

Trade Restrictions

Because Motiejunas signed a new contract with the Rockets, rather than the Rockets matching his offer sheet with the Brooklyn Nets, the Rockets are not bound by the one-year restriction that would not have allowed them to deal Motiejunas without his consent. Still, the three-month waiting period must expire before the Rockets can trade Motiejunas (as with any newly signed or re-signed free agent). And since that three-month period will not expire until after the February 2017 trade deadline, the Rockets cannot trade Motiejunas until after the season. But the team is now free to trade Motiejunas this June (including in connection with a draft night trade) without his consent. (Also, since Motiejunas signed an offer sheet with the Nets but ended up re-signing with the Rockets, it appears that he cannot be traded to Brooklyn for one year.)

Salary and Incentives

To the extent it is guaranteed (more on that below), Motiejunas will receive a base salary in each year of his deal as follows:

  • 2016-17: $8,300,000
  • 2017-18: $7,926,500
  • 2018-19: $7,553,000
  • 2019-20: $7,179,500
That base salary figure is subject to increase based on certain incentives. Incentives in player contracts are categorized as being either “likely” or “unlikely” to be achieved. For statistical incentives, this is usually based on whether the goal of the incentive was accomplished in the prior season. Each year of Motiejunas’s contract includes the following incentives:

  • A $1,000,000 incentive that was reported as being based on strength and conditioning. According to Marc Spears, Motiejunas can achieve this incentive by getting four body scans each year before the end of the regular season. This incentive is categorized as “likely” and should easily be achieved each season.
  • A $250,000 incentive if Motiejunas’s 3-point percentage exceeds 37% (based on some unknown minimum number of attempts). This incentive is (currently) categorized as “unlikely”.
  • A $250,000 incentive if Motiejunas reaches certain defensive rebounding levels. While those exact levels are not yet known, this incentive is (currently) categorized as “unlikely”.
For purposes of determining the amount that Motiejunas counts against the salary cap, the team must count his base salary plus all (then) “likely” incentives. This means that Motiejunas’s cap hit currently looks like this:

  • 2016-17: $9,300,000
  • 2017-18: $8,926,500
  • 2018-19: $8,553,000
  • 2019-20: $8,179,500
These figures can be adjusted upwards (by up to $500,000, if Motiejunas reaches all of his “unlikely” incentives) or downwards (by $1,000,000, if Motiejunas does not reach any of his “likely” or “unlikely” incentives). For instance, if Motiejunas achieves his “likely” incentives and also shoots better than 37% on three-pointers this season (meeting the minimum number of attempts) but fails to achieve his rebounding incentive, then (1) Motiejunas’s 2016-17 salary would increase to $9,550,000 and (2) Motiejunas’s 2017-18 cap figure would increase to $9,176,500.

Guarantee Dates

Motiejunas’s salary is only partially guaranteed. There are several key guarantee dates throughout the life of the contract. While it has been reported that only $5,000,000 of Motiejunas’s salary is guaranteed on Day 1, for purposes of this article we will assume that he is not waived by early January and (as with every other NBA player contract) his 2016-17 salary will be fully guaranteed.

Gone is the March 1, 2017 guarantee date from the Brooklyn Nets offer sheet for the 2017-18 season. Also gone are the July 7 guarantee dates in 2018 and 2019. In their place is one guarantee date for each of the second, third and fourth years of Motiejunas’s deal: July 15.

Obviously, pushing the 2017-18 guarantee date back all the way from March 1 is a key difference for the Rockets that allows them to more accurately ascertain Motiejunas’s physical condition and skill before a final decision must be made on his second year salary. But don’t sleep on the distinction between the July 7 date and a July 15 guarantee date.

Currently, July 7 falls inside the scheduled July Moratorium for each of the next few years. However, if this past summer’s shortened July Moratorium ends up being used in the new CBA, July 7 could end up being the very first day that teams can go back to “full business” signing players and making trades. Even then, in order to move Motiejunas in a trade that would allow the receiving team to waive him without guaranteeing his salary (let alone allowing the Rockets to conduct any physicals or other diligence on their acquired players) could be a tight squeeze.

Meanwhile, a July 15 guarantee date gives the Rockets more time to survey the free agent landscape and to determine whether they want to open up additional cap space by waiving Motiejunas or trade him for additional assets. That extra week also opens up additional waves of free agency to the Rockets, once the big fish are all snatched up. By that time, the Rockets might be in a position to determine whether they’ll be able to acquire a quality free agent with their Mid-Level Exception (believed to be increasing to $8 million or more), thereby allowing them to keep Motiejunas and operate above the cap. Those extra 8 days in July are a huge benefit for the Rockets’ front office.

Bottom Line

The Houston Rockets have managed to retain a quality seven-footer with a unique skill set on an extraordinarily team-friendly contract and at a very reasonable salary. If Motiejunas can stay healthy and continue to improve in the manner he was prior to his back injury in 2015, that contract could turn into one of best (non-superstar and non-rookie scale) values in the league. Even if Motiejunas can never regain his prior level of play and is beset by further injuries, the Rockets will be able to move on from his contract with minimal long-term consequence. A lot can be said about how Motiejunas and the Rockets got to this point, but moving forward, the Rockets look like they’re in great shape.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
December 5, 2016 at 4:01 pm

Rockets keep Donatas Motiejunas after matching Nets’ offer sheet

Donatas Motiejunas returning to Houston Rockets
Donatas Motiejunas is returning to the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets have opted to match the four-year, $37 million offer sheet Motiejunas signed with the Brooklyn Nets on Friday, which started the three-day clock for the Rockets to decide whether to keep the restricted free agent.

David Weiner put together an excellent breakdown of D-Mo’s contract based on what we know of the deal. The contract is flexible. The final two years of the deal are non-guaranteed. The Rockets could also bow out of the deal before next season if they choose to do so later this season (by March 1, 2017).

However, there are some inflexibilities. The Rockets can not deal Motiejunas before this year’s trade deadline given that is less than three months away. They also can not trade him without his consent until December of 2017. That could hinder the team’s summer flexibility a bit.

It will be interesting to see where Mike D’Antoni uses Motiejunas given that he has been getting good minutes from Nene, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell, the three players that figure to lose some time in the rotation to make room for D-Mo. I expect him to be used at the four and as a smallball center.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
November 2, 2016 at 12:55 pm

Rockets release 50th Anniversary Team History Book

Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Team History Book

I’ve been anticipating this for awhile. The Houston Rockets have released their new 50th Anniversary coffee table book that covers the history of Houston’s basketball franchise.

Our good friend Jeff Balke wrote several of the articles found in the book, entitled Celebrating 50 Seasons: The Official History of the Houston Rockets. Jeff would text me every so often during the writing process to say, “I just had lunch with Tracy McGrady!” or “Robert Horry just called me!” — so I’ve really been riding the fantasy and looking forward to seeing the finished product.

And that’s what this book does for Rockets fans — it geeks them straight out. In a nutshell, this thing is awesome. It covers everything from the team’s inception to the Twin Towers to Clutch City to today’s Harden-led Rocket squads.

The book is full of interesting stories, but there are also hundreds of photographs and some of them are just bananas. You’ll find a shot of Rick Adelman in a facemask as a Rocket in 1968 looking an awful lot like Hannibal Lecter, coaching legend Pat Riley in his playing days with the franchise and a rare, candid shot of Moses Malone after re-signing with the Rockets in 1979. There’s even a full-page picture of Joe Barry Carroll, folks. It’s that thorough.

The book contains spotlight profiles on Moses, Ralph Sampson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Yao Ming, among others. The stories are entertaining, like this excerpt about the 1995 Western Conference Finals when Olajuwon dominated regular season MVP David Robinson. Rudy Tomjanovich said he wondered how Olajuwon felt watching Robinson get the MVP trophy after Hakeem won it in 1994 and that “we found out very quickly” by how he played. But the greatest Rocket ever denied it.

Olajuwon swears it has nothing to do with an MVP trophy but instead was in response to the skill of his competitor. “You had to get him off balance, come up with a counter and a counter just to get a shot off,” he said of Robinson. “He forced my creativity to the highest level.”

His teammates didn’t buy it. “I love Dream,” Horry said, “but Dream is lying.”

The book retails for $50 and is currently available exclusively at The Rockets Shop at Toyota Center in the month of November. Starting in December, it will be available in book stores.

Photos from the book

Elvin Hayes, Rick Adelman, Pat Riley and the 1968-69 San Diego Rockets
Rick Adelman Pat Riley Elvin Hayes San Diego Rockets

Table of Contents
Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Book - Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler

“Akeem” Olajuwon
Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Book - Akeem Olajuwon

Tracy McGrady 13 in 33
Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Book - Tracy McGrady Yao Ming

Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley
Houston Rockets 50th Anniversary Book - Steve Francis Cuttino Mobley

Posted in Houston Rockets |
October 23, 2016 at 12:31 pm

Are the 2016-17 Houston Rockets a 50-win team?

Eric Gordon James Harden Ryan Anderson Houston Rockets

Ready or not, the Houston Rockets are set to open the 2016-17 NBA season this Wednesday when they face the Lakers in Los Angeles.

David Weiner, aka BimaThug, joins the podcast as we talk about what we expect from the Rockets this season. We discuss the offseason and preseason, the Donatas Motiejunas situation and what do Daryl Morey and the Rockets’ front office do next?

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |