July 2, 2016 at 6:51 pm

Rockets sign Eric Gordon to four-year, $53 million deal

Eric Gordon Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets are adding shooters.

Shortly after striking a deal with Ryan Anderson, the Rockets have agreed to terms on a deal with Pelicans guard Eric Gordon, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski.

The deal is for four years at $53 million.

Gordon has dealt with several injuries in New Orleans but is a very strong shooter and scorer, capable of more if he can stay healthy. Therein lies the rub as Gordon played in only 141 games over his five seasons in New Orleans.

But he’s a dangerous scorer. The 27-year old shooting guard is a career 38.3% three-point shooter and 81% free-throw shooter, so he can put the ball in the basket. He might be effective as a spot-up shooter alongside Harden but is definitely capable of being a strong sixth man scorer for this squad.

Defense isn’t found too much on the menu right now, but one thing looks pretty certain — this won’t be the Corey Brewer-Josh Smith brickfest we’ve been seeing the last couple of years. The Rockets have added a couple of guys that teams will have to defend on the perimeter. Mike D’Antoni has more weapons to work with now as James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Anderson and Gordon can all connect on spot-up threes.

As for what’s next, it looks like the Rockets could still have ~$10 million left in cap space, with Donatas Motiejunas’ restricted free agency still up in the air.

If D-Mo does return and can get his back situation in order, you have to hope he can play some center minutes (as he did in 2014-15) as that spot is a concern right now.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
July 2, 2016 at 2:47 pm

Rockets land sharpshooting big Ryan Anderson for four years, $80 million

Ryan Anderson signs with Houston Rockets

The Rockets didn’t get to make a pitch to Kevin Durant, couldn’t woo Kent Bazemore and seem to be out of the running for Al Horford, but they did make one big signing on Saturday.

Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson reportedly will sign a four-year, $80 million contract to join the Rockets, as first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski.

The Rockets need shooting and salaries have ballooned. We now live in a world where Jon Leuer signs for four years, $42 million, so the $20 million per year the Rockets are giving Anderson isn’t as crazy as it sounded 36 hours ago. Anderson has had Houston’s interest for some time.

The 6-foot-10 power forward is a career 37.7% three-point shooter, averaging 17.0 points per game last season to go with 6.0 rebounds. He enjoyed a career year in 2013-14 when he put up 19.8 points a night, hitting 40.9% from deep. The hope is that he will see even more open threes here.

The 28-year old fits what Mike D’Antoni is likely to implement, an offensive-minded scheme that will shoot a lot of triples and needs a power forward that can stretch the floor. James Harden will undoubtedly love kicking passes out to Anderson. He’s also a solid rebounder. What he’s not is a defender, which is the big bonus the Rockets would have gotten in Bazemore and/or Horford.

He wasn’t my first choice and it’s a lot of money for an incremental bump as the Rockets still don’t have a definite solution at the five, but this team desperately needs shooting at this spot and they get it here. How this looks in the overall big picture will depend on what other moves Daryl Morey and company do after this, and Woj is reporting the Rockets are going after another Pelicans sharpshooter in Eric Gordon. The Rockets still have cap space. As it stands, I’m not convinced Dwight out and Anderson in alone has a huge impact on the bottom line but we’ll see how this shakes out.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 30, 2016 at 10:15 pm

Rockets land surprise meeting with Kent Bazemore

Kent Bazemore Houston Rockets

The Rockets are meeting with Atlanta Hawks free agent guard/forward Kent Bazemore tonight as free agent negotiations have started.

As first reported by Shams Charania of Yahoo! Sports, the Rockets are preparing a big pitch for Bazemore, who was not planning on meeting with any teams until July 5th. James Harden will reportedly be present for the meeting.

The 27-year old Bazemore averaged 11.6 points for the Hawks last season, hitting 35.7% from three-point range, to go with 5.1 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He’s an athletic player with upside that has a history with Mike D’Antoni from the 2013-14 Lakers.

Bazemore is going to get overpaid in free agency, without a doubt, but he would be a very good addition here. He’s a three-and-D wing who has experience defending some of the league’s best players, sporting a near-seven foot wingspan that gives opponents trouble. He also has shown to be an effective catch-and-shoot three-point shooter, a skill that would be in demand from role players alongside Harden.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 30, 2016 at 10:35 am

Rockets set to meet with free agent Al Horford on Friday

Al Horford Houston Rockets

It was not 100% clear who the Rockets would consider a top target outside of Kevin Durant in this free agent class, but that picture may be starting to come into focus.

The Rockets are scheduled to meet with Atlanta Hawks free agent center Al Horford on Friday, according to local Fox 26.

The 30-year old Horford averaged 15.2 points on 50.5% from the field to go with 7.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks last season for the Hawks. The nine-year veteran started to show three-point range for the first time this past season, putting up 256 triples at a 34.4% clip. Horford had shot a grand total of 66 three-pointers in his first eight seasons in the NBA.

Horford was a college teammate of Rockets small forward Corey Brewer at Florida where the pair won back-to-back NCAA championships together in 2006 and 2007.

With Dwight Howard an unrestricted free agent, the Rockets are likely going to need some help inside. Horford is a different kind of big man, one who shot nearly 80% from the free throw line last season, which must make him look like a unicorn to Houston fans.

The Rockets declined to extend a qualifying offer to Terrence Jones, highlighting that they are placing a premium on cap space. Not to get ahead of ourselves, but an approach the Rockets are likely taking here is to get a guy like Horford early, which could make the Rockets more attractive to other free agents. Easier said than done, but they’re still hunting big game.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 30, 2016 at 10:05 am

Rockets extend qualifying offer to Donatas Motiejunas but decline on Terrence Jones

Donatas Motiejunas Terrence Jones

As expected, the Rockets have extended a qualifying offer to Donatas Motiejunas, making him a restricted free agent as free agent negotiations open in the NBA tonight at midnight. We reported last week that the Rockets are making a push to let D-Mo know they want him back.

However, the Rockets have declined to extend a qualifying offer to Terrence Jones, according to the Houston Chronicle, making him an unrestricted free agent.

I knew Jones was not in the Rockets’ plans after falling completely out of the rotation last season, but it was still unexpected to see this. At a little over $3 million, and with salaries expected to explode, I thought the Rockets would extend the offer, knowing they could always pull it back later to create the cap room.

To me, it shows just how far he has truly fallen that the threat of him accepting that offer was too big of a risk to the Rockets.

Jones appeared to be ready for a breakout heading into 2014-15, but since then he has been hammered by bizarre injuries, including a collapsed lung, nerve inflammation, eye laceration and recovery from a car accident. But even when healthy in 2015-16, he was just plain unproductive, shooting a career-low from the field and routinely getting lost in switches and pick-and-roll defensive sets. In the final 27 games of the regular season and postseason, Jones played a grand total of 5 minutes — all in garbage time of a rout of the Timberwolves on April 11.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 30, 2016 at 9:37 am

Value-Oriented Rockets set to meet the Summer of Overspending

NBA Free Agents 2016 Mike Conley Kevin Durant Ryan Anderson

Trades, draft picks… it’s been pretty uneventful for the Rockets so far this summer, but the real show is set to begin. The Rockets could have in the ballpark of $40 million in cap room and are banking on that to make improvements to the team.

With NBA teams cleared to start negotiating with free agents at midnight tonight, David Weiner, aka BimaThug, joins the podcast as we discuss how the Rockets, a team that covets value, could approach the craziest salary explosion the NBA has ever seen.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
June 29, 2016 at 8:21 am

Rockets preparing push to let Donatas Motiejunas know they want him back

Donatas Motiejunas James Harden

The Rockets are preparing materials to deliver to Donatas Motiejunas on July 1 to let him know they want to keep him, sources confirmed to ClutchFans.

We first tipped off the community about this on Draft Night when I learned that the Rockets were filming a video to deliver to D-Mo with messages from Rockets staff and media personalities communicating to him that he is wanted back in Houston.

This may seem odd for a restricted free agent, given that the Rockets control the situation and can match any offer sheet that Motiejunas signs. D-Mo’s case is unique, however.

The Rockets traded Motiejunas to Detroit in February, only to have the deal voided by the Pistons days later based on D-Mo’s back issues.

The Rockets feel it is important to show him that they really want him back, despite the trade.

Motiejunas seemed to be on the verge of a breakout after the 2014-15 season in which he averaged 12.0 points, hitting 36.8% from distance, to go with 5.9 rebounds. He was an especially critical piece to the team with Dwight Howard missing half of the season. But a back injury late that year ended up derailing him for the entire 2015-16 season when he played in just 37 games, averaging 6.2 points and connecting on just 28.1% from deep.

So does this mean it’s a lock D-Mo returns? Definitely not. As we saw in 2014 with Chandler Parsons and his restricted free agency, there is a value line that the Rockets won’t cross. With so many teams having max cap space and salaries expected to soar, it’s possible some team could far surpass in an offer what the Rockets feel is his value. But the Rockets want to smooth over any ill feelings and make it clear to him that they want him back.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
June 24, 2016 at 2:56 pm

Film Study: Chinanu Onuaku

Chinanu Onuaku Houston Rockets

The NBA Draft is the annual opportunity for organizations to improve depth, find a probable starter, and gamble on potential contributions from international and collegiate prospects. Many pundits, reporters and fans did not know if the Rockets would stick with their two second-round picks at 37 and 43.

The Rockets were reportedly looking at trading into the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft, and I heard on Thursday morning that it was the goal. However, the Rockets stayed at those two second-round positions and selected 6-foot-9 Louisville PF/C Chinanu Onuaku with 37th overall pick, and 7-foot-2 Chinese C Zhou Qi with the 43rd overall selection.

After the draft, the Rockets reportedly agreed to deals with three players at positions of need for this upcoming season. Oregon State guard Gary Payton II, Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer, and Texas guard Isaiah Taylor all signed three-year deals with team options as undrafted free agents. Not all rookies will contribute right away, and many will lack the opportunity to crack the rotation. A majority of these players will likely see time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

With that in mind, it’s important to highlight two specific players who will have a chance to prove their worth and ability to contribute and develop a role in Coach Mike D’Antoni’s offense: Chinanu Onuaku and Gary Payton II.

This will be a two-part series. I’ll first highlight how Chinanu Onuaku fits the Rockets spread pick-and-roll system and how he can continue to develop offensively and defensively. For the second piece, I’ll analyze Gary Payton II and break down his offensive and defensive strengths.

Chinanu Onuaku

First things first. Onuaku is younger than me by one month. He’s 19.5 years of age, but boasted a 13.9 Box Score Plus-Minus — which is an ELITE statistic for a college sophomore (or anyone his age). He’s an inch shorter than your prototypical NBA center at 6’9, but he makes up for this with his 7’3 wingspan. The Rockets value their draft and scouting models when evaluating collegiate and international players. Chinanu Onuaku excelled in various in-depth statistical categories, and factoring this with his age made him a very underrated prospect by different models. Onuaku was seen as a potential lottery selection by statisticians, and it’s not surprising for Morey to take this route, as he has done with Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell in previous seasons. Despite his statistical accomplishments, Onuaku was ultimately drafted for his contributions on the basketball court.

Defense

Defense is where Onuaku should make his biggest contribution to the Rockets. As a 6’9 center, he is undersized, but he does have intangibles that allow him to excel on the floor. During his two years at Louisville, Onuaku had a 2.2% steal rate. His wingspan and length created mistakes for ball-handlers, deflected passes and ignited fast break opportunities. Onuaku blocked two shots per game in about 25 minutes/game (3.4 blocks per 40 minutes), ranking third in the ACC. He also had a defensive rating of 84.9, second-best in the entire NCAA. Even better? When Onuaku was on the floor, Louisville only allowed 82.7 points per 100 possessions. His interior defense can be categorized as “pretty good” to “really good”, with a chance at becoming elite in the NBA.

He doesn’t have the best vertical, but his feel for the game allows him to position himself around the paint to contest and alter shots. With Louisville, he had the flexibility and freedom to roam the paint area and help on backdoor screens and other off-ball screens. He’s also smart and quick enough to rotate over and patrol the lane. Anticipation is a skill that many interior-based Bigs lack, but Onuaku possesses that and more. Combine this with his wide frame and size, and the Rockets have a defensive player who can impact the opposing team’s shot selection immediately.

In the modern NBA, it’s important for defenses to have personnel who are athletic, versatile, and smart defenders. This allows defensive schemes to increase complexity, switching everything and forcing miscommunication and mistakes (in this case, creating more transition opportunities for the young, athletic Rockets).

Pick-and-roll defense is a requirement for any NBA big who hopes to see consistent playing time. With Louisville, Onuaku had many situations where he was forced to roam around the perimeter or contain the ball-handler off pick-and-rolls. He has quick feet that produce lateral movement, using his knees and footwork to stay in front of speedy ball-handlers. If beat by the first step of the ball-handler, Onuaku has long arms to recover and mitigate high-percentage shot attempts or eradicate passes inside the paint. He’s also a diligent communicator, constantly pointing out screens or player movement while making sure his teammates are in their proper assignments. Where he struggles in pick-and-roll defense is consistency. The Rockets will not want him to switch onto a smaller guard on every possession because he’s prone to immaturity in stance and hand placement. He has problems with reaching, generating poor foul calls (foul rate of almost 5 times per 40 minutes). Assistant coaches Jeff Bzdelik and Roy Rogers will work closely with Onuaku in this area. They’ve had extensive experience in developing NBA bigs, teaching them to use frame and size to manipulate angles and gain advantages against smaller players.

Offense

At 6’10 (with shoes) and 245 pounds, Onuaku has a perfect frame and core for the new and revamped Rockets offense. His strength can open up spacious driving lanes for ball-handlers and shooters. Screens in D’Antoni’s offense require the screener to set a pick at a 45-degree angle on the bottom side of the on-ball defender. Essentially, the screener picks the waist of the on-ball defender, forcing them to go over the top of the screen. With this 45-degree angle, the contact gives the ball handler enough space to maneuver inside. Onuaku isn’t polished offensively, but he possesses attributes and a terrific body to provide contributions in the heavy spread screen-and-roll and pick-and-roll offense.

Most of Onuaku’s points will come off of offensive rebounding and rim running. He had 4.9 offensive rebounds every 40 minutes, one of the best rates in all of college basketball. As mentioned before, Onuaku has great anticipation and feel. He can locate the ball, move quickly towards the area, and box-out any defender (great contested rebounding percentage). He grabbed 13.8% of Louisville’s available misses by using his high motor and relentless energy. Lobs, dump-offs, and layups consisted of 53% of his field goal makes. Louisville’s offense was very guard-oriented, explaining why he did not have many attempts during the season. When he was involved in the offensive movement or set, he was in the 27th percentile for pick-and-roll scoring. He has great hands and cutting ability, utilizing the duck-in to get easy looks at the rim. However, he doesn’t have the most explosive vertical or speed to escape from defenders, and thus can have trouble finishing over opposing players who are bigger and longer. The good news for Onuaku is that D’Antoni is terrific at cultivating and molding young bigs into competent pick-and-roll players.

Chinanu Onuaku’s biggest strength on offense may be his ability to pass the basketball. He does boast a high turnover rate of about 23%. However, he has a very high basketball IQ for someone of his age and experience level. His passes aren’t overzealous – instead, they’re soft and accurate while often putting the ball in position for the player to catch and move. For those questioning the turnover rate, consider Louisville’s offense and the movement involved. With more polish and systematic consistency, that number should decrease dramatically over the course of his career.

With the new Rockets offense, ball movement and player movement will be emphasized. Onuaku’s strength as a passer is hitting the cutter as they dive inside and finding the open shooter in the corner or along the wing. It may seem easy, but rarely do players of his size and length possess such mastery of passing at such an early age. With him on the roster, and if Motiejunas returns, the Rockets may be changing the style of player they want at that position. Bigs on D’Antoni’s roster must possess the ability to pass the basketball and help facilitate movement and scoring on offense, something Onuaku clearly has and will improve upon.

Conclusion

Chinanu Onuaku isn’t the most explosive or flexible athlete. His standing reach is incredible, but his lack of a significant vertical limits him offensively as a pick-and-roll threat. He’s not a professional scorer. However, that’s not what the Rockets were looking for when they drafted him. They marveled at his interior defense, ability to switch onto perimeter guards and eradicate possibility of penetration, passing to cutters and open shooters, and his high IQ on offense.

Onuaku should get playing time on the second unit as someone who can anchor the defense and grab rebounds at a high rate over opposing front-line players. Will he be a star? No. But he’s someone who can star in his role, develop into a consistent and dominant back-up PF/C, and provide the Rockets with consistency at a position which has had a revolving door in effort and play the last few seasons.

Posted in Houston Rockets |