February 24, 2014 at 11:54 am

Rockets Playbook: Examining Jeremy Lin’s favorite set

Jeremy Lin smilesBrowsing through the ClutchFans forum, I saw Jeremy Lin reveal his favorite Rockets set in an interview with Nick Hauselman, also known as “Coach Nick” of Bballbreakdown.

His favorite offensive set? The backside pick-and-roll.

I immediately knew what set Jeremy was referring to and have several clips of the Rockets running it successfully, so let’s take a look:

As Jeremy explained, the initial high pick-and-pop is just false motion to get the defense moving and disguise the Rockets’ true intent. In reality, what they’re looking to execute is a backside pick-and-roll/dribble hand-off.

This is very hard to guard because it happens so fast. As a result, the defense frequently ends up out of position — thus limiting their ability to hedge or force the the pick-and-roll down (toward the baseline/sideline).

This, in turn, also leaves the defense vulnerable to middle penetration, which good defenses generally try to prevent. Once middle penetration occurs, it opens up all sorts of options for the offense (see 0:00-1:38 of the video compilation).

The only way for the defense to prevent middle penetration, really, is either by going under the screen — which opens things up to players pulling up from three, as James Harden is great at recognizing and taking advantage of — or denying the ball to the player coming up from the corner, which makes the defense vulnerable to back-door cuts or leaves an open jumper for the Rockets’ power forward.

Simple, yet very effective, which is why it shouldn’t be surprising that both the Spurs and Thunder also make use of this set.

I was actually a bit surprised to hear that it’s Lin’s favorite set, though. Although it’s one of the most effective sets for the Rockets, Jeremy usually only gets to initiate it, rather than play the key role.

Nonetheless, rather than be overly concerned with his role, Lin still seems to be on board due to its success for the team as a whole. It’s another reason why he’s a very easy person to root for.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Rockets Playbook |
February 20, 2014 at 8:05 pm

Rockets Still Have “Room” For Improvement

Daryl MoreyThe NBA trade deadline came and went, and the Rockets remained fairly quiet… by Daryl Morey‘s standards.

The Rockets GM, who has made a trade deadline deal in each year of his tenure with Houston, pulled off a single, relatively minor trade, sending third-string point guard Aaron Brooks to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for young swingman Jordan Hamilton.

The good news, for those who remain “unfulfilled” by the Rockets’ trade deadline maneuvers, is that Houston still holds a key advantage over (most) other NBA teams.

The Rockets still have their Room Mid-Level Exception available.

The Room Mid-Level Exception (or Room MLE) is a salary cap exception that allows teams that opted for the use of their cap space — and waived their rights to most other salary cap exceptions to do so — to have an additional means of adding players for more than the veteran’s minimum salary.

The amount of the Room MLE this season is $2,652,000.  That amount began to prorate on January 10, reducing in value by $15,600 each day after that.

It is likely that the Rockets will be scouring the waiver wire for quality veterans who get bought out in order to save their teams some salary and to give the veteran a chance to latch on with a contender for a playoff run.  “Waiver wire season” tends to run from now until March 1, the deadline by which a player must be waived in order to be eligible for another team’s playoff roster.

The value of the Room MLE on March 1:  Nearly $1.9 million.

The value of the prorated veteran’s minimum salary on March 1:  Less than $387,000.  (And that’s for veterans with 10+ years of experience.  The prorated minimum salary for veterans with less experience could be significantly less.)

The relatively significant salary that the Rockets can provide via the Room MLE, combined with Houston’s status as a legit title contender (or at least a contender for a deep playoff run), make the Rockets an attractive destination for the best buyout candidates.  (Whether guys like Danny Granger (Philadelphia), Jason Terry (Sacramento) or Glen Davis (Orlando) actually get bought out — or whether there would be mutual interest — I will leave for others to speculate.)

Of the other NBA teams that one would consider legitimate threats for a deep playoff run, only the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder — both still armed with their full Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception (at a prorated amount of about $2.2 million as of March 1) — can offer more money to free agents.

However, Miami is well over the luxury tax threshold, and any new players will come with a tax bill of an additional 150-175% of that player’s salary.

In the case of Oklahoma City, the Thunder may be able to outbid the Rockets if they were in direct competition; but they are starting to run up against the luxury tax threshold themselves.  A quality veteran’s decision would likely come down to the opportunity for playing time.

While the addition of Hamilton — and a probable call-up of Isaiah Canaan — is perhaps not enough to satisfy many Rockets fans’ thirst for “the shiny, new object” over which to pine, don’t overlook the continuing availability of that Room MLE.

It could be the key to adding one more key piece to the puzzle this season.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
February 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Rockets trade Aaron Brooks to Denver for Jordan Hamilton

Jordan Hamilton Houston Rockets

For the second time in three years, the Houston Rockets have traded point guard Aaron Brooks at the NBA trade deadline.

Houston sent Brooks to the Denver Nuggets on Thursday, bringing in 23-year old wing Jordan Hamilton in exchange.

Hamilton is not exactly a home run, but the Rockets get a decent shot at finding a possible rotation player. At 6-foot-7, he’s got the size for the wing and is a solid shooter at a career 35.7% from three-point range. He’s a very good defensive rebounder and has some athleticism. He will compete with Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi for playing time.

“Jordan Hamilton is a guy we think has the potential to move into our rotation (and) we think we’re a pretty good team,” said Rockets GM Daryl Morey. “He brings some skills we think could help us — shooting and he’s a really great rebounder. One of our issues at the wing is when Dwight goes to block a shot, our rebounding behind him has been challenged so we think Jordan can come in behind him and shore that up if he gets into the rotation.”

Morey said Hamilton is a guy they have “had their eye on” and the timing of the acquisition fits the pattern of success they have had acquiring young players (likely referring to when they traded for Kyle Lowry).

“He hasn’t had a chance to emerge (and that’s) usually the kind of guy we do pretty well with — catch him a little bit before they get a chance and see him flourish with us,” said Morey.

Brooks, who is the team’s best three-point shooter this season, was pushed out of the rotation once both Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin were healthy. He provided some valuable insurance at two guard spots this season. For example, in the eight games this year where James Harden was out, Brooks averaged 12.1 points in just 22.1 minutes a game, hitting over 51% of his threes. He was part of the reason the Rockets went 6-2 in those games without their star.

Since Brooks is a one-year Bird Rights player, he had the right to approve any trade. By approving this one, he’s clearly doing it because the Nuggets provide a better playing opportunity before he becomes a free agent this summer.

The move also makes Isaiah Canaan, who has been thriving in the D-League, the team’s third point guard.

“Some of this trade is about Isaiah Canaan,” said Morey. “He’s played very well in the D-League. We feel like and the coaching staff feels like he has the ability to step into that third point guard role. If we were to take an injury potentially, we feel comfortable he could come in and give us good minutes.”

But the Rockets needed a possible boost at the wing spot, and it will be interesting to see if Hamilton finds a niche here off the bench playing in an offense that focuses heavily on the three. Here’s a highlights video from a game last week where Hamilton posted 16 points and 7 assists against the Timberwolves.

Posted in Houston Rockets |
February 14, 2014 at 10:09 am

Podcast: As win streak continues, are Rockets legit title contenders?

Dwight Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons

36-17.

That’s the robust record the Rockets have come away with entering the All-Star break — the second-best record in franchise history at this point of the season. Dwight Howard, James Harden and company are riding a seven-game winning streak, are currently third in the Western Conference and trail the San Antonio Spurs by just two games for the Southwest Division lead.

Former Houston Chronicle writer and Fox Sports Houston analyst MoiseKapenda Bower (“MK”), who writes some excellent analytical pieces on the Rockets for CultureMap, joins me on the podcast as we discuss just how good these Rockets are and can be this season.

We also discuss what has gone right during this streak, the return of Omer Asik, the development of Donatas Motiejunas, the never-ending Jeremy Lin-Patrick Beverley starter debate and the February 20th NBA Trade Deadline.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
January 28, 2014 at 9:07 am

Podcast: Talking Rockets with CSN Houston’s Adam Wexler

Adam Wexler CSN HoustonThe Houston Rockets (29-17) have been a hard team to peg. One night they’re dropping 126 against one of the best teams in the league and the next they’re in Memphis, clawing to get to the 80′s and completely unable to get a shot to fall.

Longtime Houston sports radio host and CSN Houston’s Rockets digital reporter Adam Wexler joined us on the podcast as we discuss what went wrong for the Rockets in their home-away series with the Memphis Grizzlies. We also discuss the three-point shooting woes that have plagued this team, the Omer Asik injury situation, the Patrick Beverley-Jeremy Lin fan debate and what we can expect from the Rockets at the February 20th NBA Trade Deadline.

Not only can you see Adam during the game broadcasts, but he also provides terrific coverage daily on the Rockets at CSNHouston.com. He is also a must-follow on Twitter at @awexler.

Posted in Houston Rockets, Podcasts |
January 25, 2014 at 11:09 am

Morey Q&A: Expect Asik to remain a Rocket throughout contract

Daryl Morey at a Houston Rockets season ticket holders Q&AIt may or may not be the team’s private view, but the Rockets are now saying publicly that backup center Omer Asik will remain with the team for the duration of his contract (ending in 2015).

In a Q&A session with Houston season-ticket holders before Friday night’s 88-87 home loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, general manager Daryl Morey told the audience that Asik will likely remain a Rocket throughout his entire contract.

“We pushed to trade Omer in December,” said Morey. “We felt we had to make a fair and aggressive effort to do that. Obviously, he’d prefer to be a starter.

“At this point, Omer is very likely going to be here until the end of his contract at the end of next season, not this season. The window to trade him was [in December], and teams weren’t aggressive enough to get him, so we’re excited about him being a part of our future.”

Morey’s comments were available courtesy of Twitter user @MiggysWorld35, who was present at the Q&A discussion. Here’s a rundown of some of his other responses:

  • Morey feels comfortable with the Rockets facing any Western Conference team in a seven-game playoff series except for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“We feel like we’re better than we’ve shown. It’s exciting to be 29-15 (now 29-16) and feel like there’s more there.

“We feel like when we’re healthy and get everyone clicking, that’ll get us very close to getting where we want to be. We’re not quite there. We still feel like a healthy Oklahoma City is a little better.

“But I think any other team in the West, we feel like we can beat in a seven-game series. We can beat Oklahoma City, too, but we wouldn’t be favored.”

  • Morey believes Chandler Parsons, who will become a free agent in either July 2014 or July 2015, “is going to make a lot of money”.

“With Chandler, we have an interesting decision. At the end of this year, we can turn down his option. People wonder why, because it’s so cheap, but then he’d be a restricted free agent. Or he can go through his fourth year and be an unrestricted free agent. There are advantages to each, so it’s something we’ll continue to talk about.

“He’s going to make a lot of money on his next contract. We don’t know how much. But we’re committed to keeping him.”

  • The Rockets will look into hiring Shane Battier in a management role once Battier retires from basketball.

“Of the players we’ve had, Shane Battier is a guy I felt could be a great head coach. He’s so smart though, he’s told me maybe he doesn’t want to do it because it’s too much work. He hasn’t decided what he wants to do later, but he might be interested in personnel, and that’s something we would be interested in talking to him about.”

  • Morey believes his worst moves as a GM were drafting Royce White and surrendering a first-round draft pick in the Terrence Williams trade.

“I take some sort of pride that you could argue that Royce White is the worst first-round pick ever. He’s the only one that never played a minute in the NBA that wasn’t just a foreign guy staying in Europe. It just shows we swing for the fence,” Morey quipped.

  • The Rockets are receiving “lots of calls” about Donatas Motiejunas, who asked to be traded in search of more playing time. However, the Rockets prefer to keep him.

“Teams are opportunistic. Any player that other teams like and think is good and that’s not playing, generally that’s who you get calls on. We’ve gotten a lot of calls on Donatas because he’s a mobile 7-footer with offensive skill. He’s not a perfect player, but because he wasn’t playing, teams are like ‘Maybe we can get him on the cheap’.

“We believe in him. I expect him to be here. The reality is, it’s very hard to get a 7-footer who can play as well as him on a $1 million contract.”

  • Morey “won’t be shy” about making a trade at this year’s February deadline. It could be a move that helps the team now, but he’s also open to ones that greatly help the future.

“The reality is, the more you prescribe what you’re going to do at the deadline, the worse off you are.

“If you say you’ve got to go with X, if other teams sense you’re locked into a player or a particular direction, they take advantage of that. We’re very opportunistic. We didn’t know James Harden was going to be available. We just knew we wanted to build up the right sets so that when the next star acts, we’re ready to pounce.

“We’re valuing now and this season much higher than we have in the past. We feel like, while maybe not the favorite, we have a legit chance to win the title this year. So if an opportunity presents itself to get a lot better this year, we’ll do it. We’ll give up some future for now.

“That said, we do feel like we have a long run with this group. But you never know how long. It’s a balancing act. You’re always judging future vs. now, and what we’re optimizing on is the probability of us to win the title over a 3-to-4 year window. We’re trying to maximize that.

“We’ll push down the future if it pushes up today high enough. If we can push up the future dramatically, we’d even push down today a little bit.”

“Classically, we don’t [have enough experience]. Pat Beverley is coming into his first full season, Jeremy is basically in his second as a starter.

Teams aren’t going to give away better players than the ones we have. The Celtics won the title with a first-year starting point guard [Rajon Rondo in 2007-08]. It’s definitely possible to do it.

But we lack experience everywhere. We’re by far the least-experienced team that’s thinking about winning a title.”

(In a separate question on recent Rondo-to-Houston trade speculation, Morey declined comment.)

  • Head coach Kevin McHale was quite upset by the recent thigh bruise that sidelined Terrence Jones for two games.

“The other day, when Terrence wasn’t playing, I thought Coach McHale’s dog had been shot by the look on his face. Because Terrence has really been saving us. We’re excited to have him back.”

Posted in Houston Rockets |
January 21, 2014 at 12:17 pm

The numbers are clear: Patrick Beverley deserves to start over Jeremy Lin

Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin

No longer a debate: Patrick Beverley has established himself as the clear starter in Houston

The five most-watched videos ever on ClutchFans are as follows: Three Jeremy Lin highlights, a Jeremy Lin interview and a clip of Patrick Beverley being thrown to the floor.

So trust me when I say I know what many fans want to hear. I know how easy it would be right now to be that pageview-pushing troll who writes that Kevin McHale has an irrational dislike of Jeremy Lin and is killing a championship team because of it.

Unfortunately I can’t do that, because it’s just not true.

Jeremy Lin should not start for the Houston Rockets. That job belongs to Patrick Beverley right now, and frankly, it’s not even a close call anymore.

When Beverley went down with a fractured hand in December, expected to be out four to six weeks, it gave Jeremy Lin the perfect opportunity to show he was the right fit in the starting lineup. After all, the criticism coming from some of Lin’s fans was that there was no way of knowing how Lin would do in the same position, if given the same starting opportunity.

First, we have to understand what makes up the starting lineup. James Harden, Dwight Howard and Chandler Parsons are absolute locks. The Rockets are thin at power forward options, but Terrence Jones has emerged and is developing rapidly. He has been the starter for over two months and, barring trade, that’s not going to change anytime soon.

So that’s the gig in Houston: The point guard that maximizes and complements this starting core is the one that should start.

Take a look at how those four have done with Beverley compared to with Lin. The results so far show that the Rockets were right all along to start Patrick out of the gate this season.

Patrick Beverley vs. Jeremy Lin

Keep in mind, this is only the data with those players, so last night’s incredible +26 performance from Beverley — a game where it was blatantly obvious the kind of impact he has on this team — doesn’t even factor in since Terrence Jones didn’t play.

What this shows us is that per 100 possessions, Houston’s starting core with Beverley outproduces opponents by nearly nine points more than the same four players with Jeremy Lin. In fact, the Beverley lineup has the third-highest Net Rating in the NBA among lineups that have logged 200 or more minutes, trailing only the starting lineups for the Warriors and Pacers. Not only are the Rockets better defensively with Beverley, they have outproduced the Lin-led lineup on offense as well. Why? Because the Rockets move the ball better, rebound better, shoot better and turn the ball over less.

“Patrick gives you a point of attack defender that can get up and get into people, change them, make them go different directions and that’s really important,” said McHale. “And Patrick has got a little bit of a swagger to him. He kind of walks out there on the floor like he’s ready to go every single night, and you need that.”

Furthermore, Jeremy Lin’s individual play off the bench behind Harden and Beverley has been much more efficient compared to when he starts at point guard alongside Harden.

In 17 games as a starter next to Houston’s star two guard, Lin is shooting 43.5% and just 28.6% from three for 12.9 points a night in 32.9 minutes. Coming off the bench? Lin is hitting 48.9% from the field and 34.4% from three for 12.6 points per game in 27.1 minutes. That’s essentially the same point total in nearly six minutes less a night.

“One of the challenges with our starting lineup is, with James and Dwight and others in that lineup, it’s hard for (Jeremy) to be in full attack mode and that’s when we think he’s at his best,” said Rockets GM Daryl Morey on SportsTalk 790 last week.

In other words, Beverley is the better fit as the starter. Lin is the better fit as the Sixth Man.

Why do the critics insist the Rockets start an inferior five-man lineup? That’s a good question.

Granted, this article won’t stop some of Lin’s fanatics from continuing to claim that the Rockets have it in for one Jeremy Lin. Just understand they’re wrong. Dead wrong. Because McHale starting Beverley over Lin isn’t bias or hate.

It’s just math.

Posted in Houston Rockets | Tagged , , |
January 15, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Morey: Rockets lack third-best player on a championship team

Daryl Morey Houston Rockets

Finding a third star player is near the top of Daryl Morey’s agenda for the Rockets.

The Rockets are comfortable with James Harden and Dwight Howard leading the way, but appear not to see themselves as a true championship contender until a third star emerges.

In candid comments found near the bottom of a new Sports Illustrated feature story on Houston’s Chandler Parsons, general manager Daryl Morey makes his priorities clear and details three routes for the team to succeed in his quest.

“We feel very comfortable that our two top players are what we need to be a championship team,” said Morey, speaking to SI‘s Ian Thomsen. “And we do need someone to step into that third role. We don’t have our third-best player on a championship team yet, and we need one of younger guys to develop into that — or potentially make an addition, whether it be this year or in free agency this offseason.”

Any major addition “this year” would involve the period from now until the February 20 trade deadline, with a package including disgruntled center Omer Asik seeming most likely. Though Thomsen reports that the Rockets insist Asik will no longer be traded, he adds that the “change in strategy” from December’s heavily-advertised Asik sale could eventually yield a larger market for Asik.

Morey’s reference to the 2014 offseason is also of note, because at the moment, the Rockets are not projected to have cap space. That could change, however, if the Rockets dealt the likes of Asik and Jeremy Lin for an expiring contract (Pau Gasol?), potentially freeing offseason room.

It may also be that Morey believes unhappy stars in the 2015 free agency class, such as Minnesota power forward Kevin Love, could be traded this summer when their teams believe they have the most leverage in trade talks — just as Orlando did with Howard in the summer of 2012.

The other method to finding a third wheel, of course, is development from within. And while Morey says Lin and Terrence Jones could become that “No. 3 star”, Parsons is firmly on that list as well.

“He’s definitely got the ability to be the third-best player on a championship team,” said Morey, speaking of Parsons. “He’s played like that many times. The tough transition is whether you bring that level every night.”

Thomsen compares the possible transition of Parsons into a starring role in Houston to ones being undertaken by Serge Ibaka in Oklahoma City and Kawhi Leonard in San Antonio. Thus far in 2013-14, Parsons is averaging a career high in points (17.1), field-goal percentage (51.3%), rebounds (5.4) and assists (3.6) — but lingering knee and back injuries continue to be a concern.

Nonetheless, Parsons has defied the odds throughout his career, which began with a slide into the second round of the 2011 draft. And if the Rockets are lucky enough to find that elusive third star from within, their starting small forward from Florida would seem to be the most likely candidate.

“He breaks the mold in a bunch of ways,” said Morey.

“[It's] because he wasn’t a top scorer in college. Generally, all of the players who make the league were big-time scorers who played at much higher level in college, and then have to dial it back in the pros to play a smaller role. Where Chandler played the same role for a very good Florida team. He’s playing a similar role, but he’s playing it now in the pros.”

Posted in Houston Rockets |