The Rockets preseason kicks off tonight against the Orlando Magic in Hidalgo, TX, so let’s wrap up training camp with some random thoughts from the week.
As coach, Rudy often let the media in for the final 15-45 minutes of his practices, so the mystery of how well Tito Maddox and Tony Massenburg were fitting in was partly resolved by what you witnessed with your own two eyes.
Those days are definitely over. Tighter security and rules implemented by the team keep the media out until practice has ended, so what you learn about the day’s events comes strictly via questioning.
Still, the experience is a bit surreal. When you enter the gym, everyone is there. Some players are still running shooting drills while others are off the floor with a trainer or a bucket of ice. But inside this relatively small gym is Yao, Scola, AB, Martin, Battier, Morey, Adelman… everyone. It’s like showing up at the Hall of Justice during lunch hour and the Super Friends are cracking jokes around a box of kolaches.
Honestly, this looks like a great group. All of the Rockets were very approachable, very professional and willing to answer questions (that may seem trivial, but that’s not always the case). After one practice, Brad Miller couldn’t stick around to talk with me because the bus to get him back to the hotel for ankle work was leaving without him, but the next day he sought me out to answer my questions. Shane Battier is just the real deal — as good of a guy off the camera as he is on it. It was just one good experience after another.
Defense, Defense, Defense
I haven’t bought into the hype yet about the Rockets this season for one reason — their defense evaporated last year, and with Yao’s time limited by a hard minutes cap, how are they going to get back to the one thing that made them potentially great?
“That’s what we’ve been talking about the whole time,” said Adelman about the defense. “It’s something we just have to continue to do. When we don’t have Yao out there, we’re still the same team. We’re not very big (so) we have to play better than we did last year.”
The Rockets defense had seemed to be able to lose key pieces (Rafer Alston, Yao Ming, Ron Artest, Dikembe Mutombo) and still remain relatively strong, but last season’s trade that brought in Kevin Martin, a guard with a rep of being a poor defender, seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.
However, we can’t overlook the Shane Battier factor. Battier missed 15 games last year after the trade, including the final 14. The Rockets finished 6-9 in those games, watching opponents shoot a blistering 52.2% against them with Battier out. When Battier played after the trade, opponents shot just 45.6%.
Rick Adelman may have a defensively-challenged starting backcourt, but he has a stopper at his disposal at each of the perimeter positions. Brad Miller isn’t going to scare anyone away from attacking the basket, but Yao can have an impact in 24 minutes, and if the Rockets can land “fan-favorite” Erick Dampier, they might be able to run a not-poor-but-certainly-cash-strapped man’s version of the old school Rockets defense.
Will they hold opponents to 42-43% shooting, as they did for several seasons in the past decade? I doubt that, but I left camp with more faith that they can make real progress defensively than I had when I entered it.
I met with 1560 the Game’s David Nuño and Raheel Ramzanali last night to talk about camp and the Rockets prospects this season. Podcast is below.
Morey Impressed with Lee
I did get a chance to talk to Rockets general manager Daryl Morey, who attended every practice in Austin. Morey seemed genuinely impressed with the level of play that he was watching in the scrimmages. He also called Courtney Lee the best 1-2 combo guard they have had since he’s been with the team.
(By the way, I enjoyed the insight of this chat so no, I didn’t intentionally kill the conversation by uttering the word “Carmelo”.)
Just my two cents, but if the Rockets feel that Courtney Lee can legitimately play some point guard, that has to make it that much more difficult for Ish Smith to make the squad, despite the fact that he impressed Coach Adelman in camp.
It’s Only Ice
Late in the week after one of the practices, Aaron Brooks came hopping out of the Rockets gym, entering the court adjacent to it. Brooks was protecting his right ankle, hopping for about 5-6 steps, then he collapsed on the floor, exhausted and laughing to keep from crying. He lamented how much farther he still had to go.
I thought for sure he injured himself.
Not the case. Instead, it’s just a typical day at the office for these guys, getting knees and ankles iced down after hard practices. I caught the tail end of the moment on camera (starting at the 1:45 mark), when Brad Miller enters the gym to see AB on the floor.