Rockets

Reports: Melo’s time in Houston “will soon be ending”

According to New York Times NBA reporter Marc Stein, Houston Rockets forward Carmelo Anthony has been informed that his brief stint with the Rockets "will soon be ending." This prediction comes after Anthony was listed as “out” on the Rockets’ injury report for the game tonight against the Indiana Pacers.

Despite this report, Rockets GM Daryl Morey talked to the media, claimed that there is nothing wrong, and stated that everything being spread is just rumors.

“He’s sick tonight and that’s pretty much the update,” Morey said. “One of the reasons why I’m here besides being 10 games in [the season] about, I think there is just a lot of unfair, you know, rumors and everything going around about him. He’s been great with us. As coach said yesterday, he’s been- his approach has been great, he’s accepted every role coach has given him, starting, off the bench, whatever it has been. Look, we’re struggling as a team and it’s my job, it’s coach’s job to figure out to figure this thing out.”

Anthony, in 10 games played this season for the Rockets, has averaged 13.4 points per game with 5.4 rebounds per game and 0.5 assists on average. The 15-year veteran started the season on the bench and worked his way up to the starting rotation alongside point guard Chris Paul and shooting guard James Harden.

Morey was asked about his expectation of Anthony’s role in the starting rotation when he returns from the injury report.

“Yeah,” Morey said. “I would expect Carmelo [Anthony] to be playing when he is healthy.”

In another report on Twitter from Stein about the situation he wrote, “The Rockets have denied they are waiving Carmelo Anthony, but two sources close to the situation say Anthony has been informed that his brief time with the team will soon be ending.”

If Anthony does actually get waived or traded, there are some scenarios that would be plausible to fill the space. For one thing, it would open up the three spot in the starting rotation. With that, you have a few options, one of which includes trading Melo to the Phoenix Suns and getting Trevor Ariza to fill that spot to bring back some key chemistry from last season. If that scenario does not come to fruition, then you can simply choose between Michael Carter Williams, James Ennis III, Gerald Green, or PJ Tucker to fill in the three spot until you sign someone from the free agent list or trade for a piece.

Whatever the result of this whole Melo situation, the Rockets are in a tight position with injuries, a lack of offensive production compared to last season, and a team with a sense of confusion for some of its top players on the roster.

*Stats courtesy of nba.com/rockets

*Daryl Morey quotes courtesy of Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) Twitter video

Jimmy Butler to the Sixers

The 2018-19 NBA Season is still early, but it looks like we have our first major story that will impact the league.

After 13 games into the 2018-19 season, the Minnesota Timberwolves have traded their disgruntled star, Jimmy Butler, along with former 1st round pick Justin Patton to the Philadelphia 76ers in exchange for rotational forwards Robert Covington, Dario Saric, and a 2022 1st round pick.

Butler, who led the 4-9 T-Wolves with 21.3 points per game, along with 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists a game, will join a young, but already proven Eastern Conference contender in Philadelphia. The 76’ers, who are led by the young, exciting frontcourt of Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, are currently 3rd in the conference with an 8-5 record.

The Timberwolves on the other hand, now have a clear direction to shift their focus back to their young stars Karl Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, who reportedly (and publicly) had their on-court issues with Butler during the 2017-18 season, as well as the beginning of this season.

The situation with Butler, Wiggins, and Towns had gotten so bad for the T-Wolves that it was reported Butler had asked to be traded during the beginning of the 2018-19 season. Butler held out for most of the team’s training camp and even started a rift with the team after a team scrimmage in practice.

Another team affected by this trade is the Houston Rockets, who expressed heavy interest in the veteran forward Butler, and were reportedly willing to trade four future first-round draft picks.

Butler, a Houston native, grew up in a toxic environment from the beginning of his childhood. Butler's father abandoned him when he was an infant and he was kicked out of his home by his mother at the age of 13.

Butler was able to channel his rough beginnings by becoming a star player for Tomball High School from 2003-2007. He also played a season at Tyler Junior College before transferring to Marquette in 2008.

While the Rockets did miss out on their chance to land Butler in a trade, the star forward’s current contract has him as an unrestricted free agent in 2020.

For now, the 76er’s have a major chance to contend in an Eastern Conference that seems up for grabs.

Rockets: Moving Forward: Anthony/Ennis In, Ariza/Mbah A Moute Out

A Fresh Start

The departures of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah A Moute left many wondering what the Rockets would do to fill such a big hole on the depth chart. Both players were seen as catalysts to the Rockets successful 2017-2018 campaign. After the success of last season, both were seen as players who would be back with the team to hopefully be back in the position they were in last season; one game from the NBA Finals.

Mbah A Moute and Ariza, both of whom did not have had memorable postseasons, left for a combined 19.3 million dollars, while the Rockets were able to find their replacements for a mere $5.8 million. Those replacements were future Hall of Famer, Carmelo Anthony, and journeyman, James Ennis.

Replacing A Slasher

Tale of the Tape

Chart 1.PNG

Effective Field Goal % (2017-2018 Season)

James Ennis: 54% Career High------Next Best: 51.6% (16-17 MEM)

Luc Mbah A Moute: 57.2% Career High------Next Best: 56.2% (16-17 LAC)

Ennis.PNG

(via NBASavant.com)

chart 2.png

(via NBASavant.com)

By the stats, it would seem as though Mbah A Moute is a much more effective player than Ennis, so I decided to dig a bit deeper than that.

The table above is a comparison of the two players based off the heat map from the 2017-2018 basketball season.

Based off the heatmaps shown above from both of their 2017-18 seasons, Ennis and Mbah A Moute are even regarding percentages on the court. In Game 7 of Western Conference Finals, the Rockets missed a record 27 straight 3-pointers, which led to them making an unfortunate exit from the series with the Golden State Warriors. Missing in that game was the slasher that was Mbah A Moute, as his confidence was absolutely shattered, and the mid-range game of Chris Paul, which would have allowed the Rockets to at least get a rhythm if the 3-ball isn’t going down. I believe Morey is now trying to implement players who can bring a mid-range game to the team this season, as both Ennis and Anthony have shown they are comfortable taking mid-range shots unlike Mbah A Moute and Ariza.

Chart 3.PNG

According to NBASavant.com, Ennis hit the mid-range/short corner at 46.5% which was 5.9% above the league average. He also was more effective down low at 65.2%, which was 2.1% above the league average. Ennis hit a 42.3% in the left corner which the Rockets love to go to on kick-outs, but he was poor around the arch at 30.3% compared to Mbah A Moute’s 41.1%. Working with the two’s, Ennis could be used much like Mbah A Moute as they will test his shooting early on to figure out if he can also fill in the shots Ariza would have taken as well. Two things that stand out was Ennis’ ability to score close to basketball and make mid-range shots were better than Mbah A Moute. Players have come to Houston with deficiencies in hitting the 3-ball, but playing in the system D’Antoni currently has in place will improve Ennis’ shots from beyond the arch where he was a combined 46 of 143 (32.2%).

New Beginnings

It would seem as though Carmelo Anthony’s arrival in Houston is just seven years late, as he was rumored numerous times to be on Houston’s radar until he ultimately ended up with the New York Knicks. One thing many Rockets fans would highlight would be the relationship between Mike D’Antoni and Carmelo Anthony and whether the two can work together again.

”Former Knicks coach Mike D’Antoni admitted to the worst-kept secret of his departure — he resigned on March 14, 2012, because of Carmelo Anthony.” D’Antoni ultimately admitted this in 2017, five years after his departure from New York and a little over a year later, Anthony joined the Rockets.

One would assume that the relationship was tainted forever, but the two have now reunited in Houston. With Chris Paul and James Harden as the primary ball handlers on offense which is centered around iso-ball, that wasn’t the case in New York, nor in Phoenix for D’Antoni. In New York and Phoenix, the offense was all about on-ball and player movement, and the open player would take the shot.

In Houston, it is almost always just flowing through just two players with them finding the open guy when they are getting doubled-up. “As for clashing styles that played a big factor in clashing heads in New York, D'Antoni says that will no longer be the case between he and Anthony, thanks in part to advances in analytics.” Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey is supremely known for his use of analytics and has been a reason for a lot of the Rockets’ winning formula.

In 60 games with D’Antoni (February 23, 2011-March 14, 2012), these were Anthony’s stats.

Chart 4.PNG

Worth noting in his second season with D’Antoni, where the two ultimately split, Anthony’s numbers dipped significantly. Though I am optimistic, the two can coexist with a leader in Paul captaining the ship, and with Harden providing the support through his magnificence on offense. Combining Paul’s ball handling, IQ, and passing with Harden’s driving ability, shooting, and IQ should enhance Anthony’s game and avoid further decline in his game.

2017-2018 Season

Chart 5.PNG

Notably, Anthony had Career Lows in Min. Per Game, Field Goals Made Per Game, Field Goal %, Free Throw %, Assists Per Game, Steals Per Game, and Points Per Game.

Effective Field Goal % (2017-2018 Season)

Trevor Ariza: 54.2%------Career Best: 54.8% (2007-2008 LAL)

Carmelo Anthony: 47.6%------Career Best: 51.1% (2007-2008 DEN)

melo.png

(via NBASavant.com)

Chart 6.png

(via NBASavant.com)

Chart 7.PNG

According to the heat map provided by NBASavant.com, Ariza bested Anthony in the Corner 3s and took a much larger volume of his shots from there. He was significantly better than Anthony, especially from the left side at 42.7%, while it was the opposite for the Mbah A Moute-Ennis matchup where Ennis was the better of the two from that spot. In the post, it is quite surprising to see Carmelo Anthony well below the league average of 63.1%, and he is at 55.6%. Much like Ennis, what Anthony does bring to the table is his ability to hit the mid-range shot much better than that of the tandem of Mbah A Moute and Ariza. Anthony can hit a pull-up jumper off the dribble and can post-ups players with his big frame near the basket.

“I want as much effort on defense---maybe more---as on offense…That was never going to happen with Melo.” George Karl on Carmelo Anthony.

I worry if things do not go Anthony’s way, then he will be the nuisance he was in New York and cause a rift inside the organization, but for some reason, I feel the leadership of Chris Paul and James Harden will stifle any of that from happening. Anthony brings much more offensive power than Ariza, but the hope is that he accepts whatever role he is given and do it efficiently.

Try and guess what numbers belong to which player regarding their 2017-2018 ORtg (Offensive Rating per 100 Possessions) & DRtg (Defensive Rating per 100 Possessions)

Chart 8.PNG

*Higher ORtg number=good

*Higher DRtg number=bad

To my surprise, the player out of the bunch with the highest ORtg and worst DRtg last season was James Ennis. Player 2 is Trevor Ariza, 3 is Luc Mbah A Moute, and 4 is Carmelo Anthony. Though James Ennis was with the Grizzlies, a lottery team, and the Pistons, he was in systems that let him run wild within a below par team, it should bring some hope that he can produce just as well in a high-powered offense in the Bayou City. Mbah A Moute being the player with the highest DRtg is no surprise as back in 2016 Doc Rivers proclaimed Mbah A Moute as the “best defender in the NBA.” He did prove it in his lone regular season with Rockets that Rivers was kind of right as Mbah A Moute was their best defender until the injury bug struck. Anthony’s low ORtg and 2nd lowest DRtg is very indicative of the overall season he had. Lows in many categories across the board would scare any team away, but the Rockets are taking the risk with the hope he could regain his offensive prowess working with Chris Paul.

Hopefully, the mid-range will be an added element to the Rockets as the “you live by the 3, and die by the 3” motto cannot be the case again this season. When that was the case, the Rockets certainly were buried, and if you are ever going to going to beat the Warriors, you cannot be one-dimensional anymore; if last years’ road to the Western Conference Finals was steep, then this season’s will much tougher.

The hope is James Ennis can pick it up along the way because his numbers suggest he won’t be an exact clone to the player Mbah A Moute was for them last season. He does bring better ball handling and a mid-range game that Mbah A Moute did not have. Carmelo Anthony is a top 10 basketball player in the league in his prime, but those days are gone. He is still a volume shooter who has a good mid-range shot and ability to get rebounds with his big frame. Ariza is not the scorer that Anthony is, but he provided much more defense than we can expect from Anthony. It’s a scoring league, and at the end of the day, it will always be about who makes more buckets at the end. With offensive playmakers like Harden and Paul doing a bulk of the work, they will only go as far the ones around them allow them to, and hopefully, Ennis and Anthony provide just enough to avoid a major collapse that ended the Rockets’ 2017-2018 season.

Rockets are off to a slow start as is Melo

While the Houston Rockets are off to a slow start and seemingly so is their big free agent acquisition Carmelo Anthony.

Much has been made about how much he has left in the tank and the impact he would have on the Rockets. The slow start to the season has many believing the 10-time all-star is on the decline.

After starting 1,054 straight NBA games, one has to wonder how much coming off the bench is affecting

him mentally and in his approach to the game. Following the game, one loss to the Pelicans Melo himself called his new bench role “challenging.” Mike D’Antoni, when asked in an interview about Melo new role, said it gave them, “the best chance to win.”

Carmelo in his six games with Houston is averaging 13.2 PPG 5.5 REBS while shooting only 37% from the field and a respectable 34.3% from downtown. Stats via Basketball-Reference. Because of injuries to starting Sf James Ennis and James Harden, the Rockets decided to go with Melo in the starting lineup.

Since entering the starting lineup, Melo production has gone up over the last three games he’s averaging 18PPG 4.3 REBS shooting a much better 40% from the field and 45% from three. It’s unclear whether Melo will stay in the starting lineup when the team gets healthier, but it’s clear he’s more comfortable in a starting role.

Does he fit?

All hasn’t been bad Melo still garners a lot of attention when he’s on the floor. Well known for his scoring prowess throughout his career, he still is respected by opponents giving the Rockets the spacing they want when he’s out on the court. Melo from day one has meshed well in Houston his professionalism, veteran leadership, personality, and friendship to Star PG Chris Paul has been the perfect fit. Melo at this stage of his career seems to be at peace and accepting of his role on the Rockets.

While it’s obvious that Melo is not the prolific scorer he’s been for the better part of his career. The advanced stats suggest everything is ok, he’s just in an early-season shooting slump as the majority of his shots are coming in the flow of the Rockets offense. It’s to early to tell how much of an impact Melo will have for the Houston Rockets. One thing is for sure the Rockets need him, they are thin at the forward position and will continue to give him every opportunity to break out of his early-season slump.

SOURCE: PRO BASKETBALL REFERENCE / ESPN.COM

Reeling Rockets Can’t Find Shooting Touch

James Harden missed his second game in a row with a grade-1 plus hamstring strain, leaving Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony, and Clint Capela to shoulder the burden for the Rockets. The defense has been a major issue with this team, leaving the Rockets “going back to the drawing board,” according to Chris Paul.

Tonight, they found themselves in Toyota Center against Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, and the 4-2 Portland Trailblazers. It was the last game at the Toyota Center before a five-game road trip. The Rockets entered as a team with something to prove, coming off of a three-game losing streak. Portland was on the back-end of their back-to-back and was playing their fourth game in six days, while Houston was coming from three days’ off since their last match.

The first quarter started very sluggishly on offense, with the Rockets shooting just 5 of 27 for 19% via NBA.com and also an abysmal 1 of 10 behind the arc. Nobody could get in a rhythm, whether it was a blown layup or a brick on the wide-open 3. However, the defense came to play after having three days off; the team came together and held the Blazers to 19 points, shooting less than 38 percent.

In the second quarter, the Rockets came out more aggressively, sprinting out on a 10-2 run to tie the game at 28. Melo woke up late in the quarter with a crossover, leading to a dunk. Immediately after, he grabbed a steal and made an outlet to Eric Gordon for a three. The excitement was short-lived because when the Rockets stopped capitalizing on defensive efforts, the Blazers went on a 23 - 8 run to finish the half.

The second half produced many of the same problems: while the Rockets were struggling to score, Portland was starting to pull away. Eric Gordon received his fifth foul in the 3rd quarter, while Lillard and Nurcic had over 20 points each entering the fourth. The Rockets would add some spark in the fourth with role players like Gary Clark, getting 11 points and kicking off a 13-2 run to get the Rockets as close as 95-79 with 4 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

Capela added to his double-double, and he finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds defensively, adding three blocks. However, the Blazers would not break as they closed out any hope for a comeback, going on a 9 –6 run to end the game. The Houston Rockets dropped their fourth game in a row: their third at home. While the defense stepped up enough to put them in a position to win, the offense couldn’t take advantage, shooting 32 percent from the field and 23 percent from three. All stats via NBA.com.

Rockets Lose to the Clippers, Part 2: Electric Boogaloo

The Houston Rockets faced a familiar foe in the Los Angeles Clippers and did not get the result that they so badly wanted.

The Rockets came out strong in the first quarter and rode the hot hand of Carmelo Anthony as he came out striking from deep, helping the Rockets out with 11 of their 30 first quarter points. Surprisingly, Michael Carter-Williams also came out hot with his best quarter of the season with seven early points.

Chris Paul made his return from the suspension he was handed after the debacle against the Lakers. His shooting touch, however, looked like he had missed the last few games due to the suspension. In the first half, Paul was 1-for-7 from the field and a -10 overall in the first half. The thing the Rockets have to be upset about the most with themselves is that the only Rocket that was in the positive for the +/- was Gerald Green, and he was only a +2. This math is a recipe for disaster for any team when practically the entire team is not producing on the court.

Another alarming feature in this game were the fouls. It seemed inconspicuous in the preseason when the refs were trying to implement the freedom of movement that was a point of emphasis this year. Well, the Rockets have yet to adjust to this situation; the entire squad was dealing with foul trouble throughout the entire game. Head Coach Mike D’Antoni even had to address fouls after the game when he acknowledged that the Rockets need to change the way they play defense. The switching defense has not been working at all this season: just look at the point totals or the 1-4 overall record.

If it isn’t obvious by now, the Rockets need a change. I don’t know if that means finding a way to get the Jimmy Butler trade off the 2-yard line and signed, sealed, and delivered. A big problem the Rockets are also having would be the conundrum that is Michael Carter-Williams. The guy has never shot better than 27% from the 3-point line in his career, and that is way below the NBA league average. Carter-Williams has not fit in with what the Rockets wanted him to do, and it may already be time for a change. There are plenty of free agents out there that can help give this team a lift. They need to go find the next Gerald Green that can ignite this team and hopefully right this ship before it gets too bad this season. The Rockets play the Trail Blazers on Tuesday at 7:00 pm. They have time to correct some errors, but these errors need to be fixed yesterday!

Source: NBA.com/stats

Adding Butler Will Not Instantly Solve Rockets Issues

The talk around town surrounding the Houston Rockets is the possibility of sending four first-round draft picks to Minnesota in exchange for Jimmy Butler. Coming off of an incredible 65-win season and falling one game shy of the finals a year ago, Houston has hit some early turbulence in a 1-4 start. Much to everyone's chagrin, as good as Jimmy Butler is, simply putting a package together for a trade is not going to solve the root of Houston's woes.

For starters, GM Daryl Morey offering four first-round picks feels like a panic move. Has everybody forgotten the big blockbuster deal between the Boston Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets? For those who need reminding, USA today's Chris Martin reported a year ago what is still considered one of the most lopsided trades in NBA history.

Fast forward to Houston's proposed trade to Minnesota. Unlike Brooklyn, the Rockets would acquire one of the top two-way players in the game. Knowing Butler will be a free agent after the season, Morey very likely will not pull the trigger unless Butler guarantees long-term commitment with Houston.

If the Rockets were to pull off a trade for Butler this early in the season, there are two questions which would stand out to me. First, how would Butler affect the Rockets’ current chemistry? This current roster has not played much together due to injuries and Chris Paul's suspension. Given their lack of cohesion on the court, adding another star to the mix feels a little premature.

Second, how will these guys mesh under D'Antoni? Houston currently has three ball-dominant players in Melo, Paul, and Harden. The Harden and Paul duo worked extremely well last year because both James and Chris can score but also facilitate. By contrast, Melo tends towards being a ball stopper, disrupting the flow of the offense. Adding Butler, another ball-dominant player, to the mix makes me curious about how D'Antoni will be able to get the best out of the team while making everyone happy.

Final Thoughts

The first five games of the season have been a nightmare for the Rockets, though there is a long way to go. Coming into the season without departed free agents Ariza and Mbah a Moute and retired defensive assistant coach Jeff Bzdelik, the defense was bound to relapse. Last season, Houston's defense allowed just 103.9 points per game; this season the Rockets are giving up a whopping 118.8 points a night. The issues on the defensive end of the floor are a combination of health and just not putting the effort in.

Daryl Morey needs to give this current team an opportunity to get healthy and gel before exploring any deal. If things have not changed through 20 games, then by all means re-explore trading for Butler. Why is everyone so hot after Butler now? Looking all the way to next summer, assuming everyone opts out their current contracts: if the Rockets can position themselves nicely money-wise, they could set themselves up for a run at one of the top free agents. Rather than putting all his eggs in one basket by adding Butler, if Morey is truly willing to give up those draft picks, he could use them in a sign-and-trade deal. From there, not only would he have added one star to the mix, but also traded for another one. In doing so without completely depleting the roster, Morey will have reloaded for another run in 2019-20.

In the meantime, the Rockets have work to do as they try to right the ship Tuesday night against the Trailblazers.

Houston Rockets Making Major Push For All-Star Jimmy Butler

Could the Rockets be in talks to bring another star to Houston?

According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, the Houston Rockets have offered four future first-round picks in exchange for Butler in their most recent trade offer.

Yes.

Four first-round picks…

*inserts Shannon Sharpe “woah” gif*

Houston is most likely to offer their unprotected first-round picks in 2019, 2021, 2023 and 2025, to comply with the League’s 7-year rule which allows a team to trade up to 4 first-round draft picks, but those picks have to be given every other year. This offer could really help the Timberwolves’ future alongside their two other young stars: Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins.

Through four games this season, Butler has averaged 24.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while going 42.9 percent from 3-point land.

Though Rocket fans would like to add Jimmy Buckets today, they may have to wait a bit longer. The Rockets would have to wait until October 31st to complete a deal so they could send Brandon Knight, who was acquired almost two months ago, to the Timberwolves for cap reasons. If the Houston Rockets somehow pull off a deal without giving up a key rotation player from their team (aka Eric Gordon or PJ Tucker) they win this trade 100%. Jimmy Butler is a Top 15 player in the NBA. High first-round draft choices aren’t guaranteed to give you anything. Butler is a proven star in this league, so you pull the trigger now.

The last four first-round picks for the Houston Rockets have been Sam Dekker, Clint Capela, Jeremy Lamb, and Royce White.

Yes, the Royce White who was planning on taking a train to every away game during his NBA career.

You would trade those picks away for Jimmy Butler in a heartbeat.

I know it seems like a ton to give up for a player who may walk in eight months. Maybe not...this team is set to win now. The only thing stopping them is that one team in the Bay. I think adding Jimmy Butler is the equivalent to the Warriors adding Boogie Cousins. So, would you trade four first-round picks for a championship? Who says no? Let’s run it back...

*All statistics from theScore app

James Harden to Miss the Next Few Games

The Houston Rockets have faced a multitude of obstacles this year as they look to get back to the Western Conference Finals.

The Rockets have lost Chris Paul to a 2-game suspension for being spat on. The Rockets then lost their starting wing in James Ennis to a right hamstring strain and now, they are dealing with the league MVP having a hamstring injury. The Rockets have been dealing with injuries from a multitude of their players as they only had nine guys that were suited up to play in last night’s game against the Jazz.

James Harden has been the heart and the soul of this franchise ever since Daryl Morey worked his magic and found a way to steal him from the Thunder. In his tenure as a Rocket, James has prided himself as being a durable player. His track record shows it as well; the most games he has ever missed in a season is 10 games (and that was his MVP season.) It is crazy to think about how durable James is as his game is really built around looking for contact and trying to get easy points.

Now having to think about how the Rockets can handle what life will be like without the league’s MVP, they will need to continue to have a next-man-up mentality and find a way to have role players step up. It is asking a lot to have guys like Michael Carter-Williams, Carmelo Anthony, and Eric Gordon replace Harden’s contributions. Michael Carter-Williams has been averaging 4.8 points per game on 35% shooting from the field. Carmelo Anthony, in his 15th year, is struggling to find his shot from the three point line, shooting 26%. Eric Gordon is shooting poorly from everywhere on the court, shooting 35% from the field and 24% from three point line. These guys have got to play better in general for our Rockets to have any chance this season.

The Rockets could really use some health right about now as they have some talent that the fans would love to see out on the court. Brandon Knight is probably the best back-up point guard that this team has had in the Chris Paul-James Harden era. Marquese Chriss was another huge trade piece for this team with his youth and his upside to be the backup to Clint Capela this year. The Rockets have the talent on this team, they just need to find a way to get healthy in order to reach the goal the team and the players have set for themselves, which is nothing less than a championship.

*Source: NBA.com/stat

Rockets Fall Late to the Clippers

The Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Houston Rockets by a final score of 115-112.

The Rockets were without their All-Star point guard Chris Paul, who is currently serving a two-game suspension due to his fisticuffs with Lakers’ point guard, Rajon Rondo, the night prior. The suspension could not have come at a worse time because the Rockets so desperately missed Paul’s playmaking and scoring abilities. The Rockets were looking to sweep the Los Angeles road trip and win their first back-to-back games of the season. However, the odds were not in their favor.

The Good

The reigning MVP, James Harden, looked the part last night. He had a game-high 31 points and 14 assists. Harden was focused in every aspect of the game, even making a few plays on the defensive end. Eric Gordon seemed to have found his shooting rhythm, shooting 5 of 8 from the perimeter.

The Bad

Carmelo Anthony has yet to find his rhythm in a Rockets uniform. Anthony struggled again as he shot 3-8 from the field. Glass half-full? The Rockets as a team look like they are deep-sea diving to find out who they truly are going forward as a team, so it is too early to make a final judgment on Melo. When Anthony does get the ball, the offense is already without flow, which leaves him either to force up a shot or make a split-second decision.

James Ennis’ defensive awareness has been really low to start the season. It showed against the Clippers once again, as he picked up early fouls in short spurts.

The Ugly

The Rockets took a major step back on the defensive boards this season. They allowed 12 offensive boards to the Clippers and were out-rebounded 49-35. Crashing the glass starts with Clint Capela, who grabbed a lackluster 6 rebounds.

What’s Next?

Rockets will be without their All-Star point guard, Chris Paul, yet again as they face a tough Utah Jazz team Wednesday night at Toyota Center. The good news is that Paul will join his team Friday when they seek to redeem themselves from Sunday night’s outing against the Clippers. Paul does not have to wait long for another showdown against his former team. As for Wednesday, Rockets will need to crash the boards, not allowing the Jazz to get second-chance opportunities, and they will need to come out with the same defensive intensity as last season.

*Stats from NBA.com

Rockets: The Good, the Bad, and the Fight?

The Rockets are 1-2.

I repeat, the Rockets are 1-2 and Twitter is losing its collective mind, hoping this isn’t 2015-2016 all over again. Let me talk you off the small ledge that you are standing on before you write this season off and start looking at next year’s free agent class.

The Rockets have played three very good teams to start the season, have not had a backup center, and the defense has lacked communication. These are problems that can be easily fixed and, with time, will be worked out.

But to be fair to those fans who believe this year may be like the 2015-2016 season, the elements for a disaster are there. The 2015-2016 team did not have the offensive talent that this team has, but when bringing six new players in, new roles have to form; some newcomers may not agree or accept the roles required by the team.

Carmelo obviously can still play in this league, but he is now a bench player in the eyes of Rockets. Things may change over time if Ennis cannot perform. But for the time being, and with it so early in the season, a starting lineup change will not come until it is evident to the coaching staff that Ennis can’t do his job as a starter.

By now you have probably all seen the video of CP3 and Rondo getting into their fight, which ended in a two-game suspension of CP3. Although the Rockets did beat the Lakers behind the efforts of James Harden, MCW’s play has been subpar and there are questions regarding how he will integrate himself with this offense. But like the starting lineup, MCW will need time to adapt, and if he can’t, the coaching staff won’t be able to play him.

With reports of Jimmy Butler still being in the Rockets sights, a lot of early season results may push Daryl Morey towards or away from trading for the 5-time All-Star. However, with or without Jimmy Butler, this team will need to adapt very quickly to this season. It isn’t the Western Conference of last year. The Rockets can be beaten by a Western Conference team on any given night and they will need to bring the same intensity they showed against the Lakers to be able to win on a nightly basis.

It’s just three games. I know these losses can make people remember 2015-2016 and panic immediately, but this team has two Hall of Fame point guards, a Hall of Fame forward, and a Hall of Fame head coach. If this team is 20-20 after 40 games, I will then be worried at a level 5 on a scale from 1-10. But until then, in the words of the great Aaron Rodgers:

R-E-L-A-X

Restocking the Cupboard: What the Rockets Wing Additions Bring to the ‘18-‘19 Rotation

Last preseason, we saw a glimpse of what newcomers like Luc Mbah a Moute and PJ Tucker would bring to the 2017-2018 Rockets.

The versatile additions showed glimpses of what was to come in a preseason game against the OKC Thunder. In that preseason game, there were a couple of possessions in which Paul George tried taking Mbah a Moute off the dribble. It was encouraging to see Mbah a Moute hold his own and keep Paul George out of the paint. In that same game, Tucker made his defensive presence felt with toughness, hustle and physicality. His fit in this Rockets scheme was evident from the get-go.

Now that the preseason is behind us, and the Rockets have played a handful of games, we have an inkling of what the new additions to the 2018-2019 Rockets roster will bring to the table.

The “Wing” Additions

James Ennis III

Man, is James Ennis III active or what? I loved the Ennis signing when it was announced and thought that he was the ideal guy on the free agent market to replace Ariza. He’s locked down a starting spot in the rotation because of how well he fits in the Rockets system.

Here’s a microcosm of how James Ennis III is who everybody outside of Houston thought Trevor Ariza was: You can see Ennis here grab a defensive rebound and sprint all the way to the opposite corner of the floor in about five seconds. The result? Great floor spacing and a Harden three. It’s easy to tell that Ennis III already has a great understanding of his role and what he needs to bring to the team: energy, defense, hustle, and floor-spacing. He even offers an element that an older Ariza didn’t offer, which is spacing the floor by running the court. His tendency to get out on the break and run the floor hard will help the Rockets starters and second unit play faster when it becomes advantageous to do so.

Here was Ennis’ net rating in the preseason:

Ennis.PNG

Incredible. It’s also worth noting that he shot 56.3% from three on 3.2 attempts a game in the preseason. That 25.0 minutes-per-game mark should creep up to around 30 minutes in the regular season, as there are plenty of rotation minutes to replace after losing Anderson, Ariza and Moute. I envision four or five three-point attempts per game in the regular season, and if he can knock down, say, 36-37% or higher, he’ll be a great asset to this team.

Through three regular season games, here’s his net rating:

Stats 2.PNG

His numbers have normalized after three regular season games. It is worth noting that Ennis is shooting 42.9% from three on over four-and-a-half attempts a game in the regular season. Regardless, we’re looking at some pretty small sample sizes here. The main point is this: James Ennis’ athleticism, activity level and shooting make him a great fit for this Rockets team.

Michael Carter-Williams

Since the NBA Draft, I’ve had push notifications turned on for Woj’s (Adrian Wojnarowski) tweets, and I’ll admit, I was shocked when I got the notification that the Rockets signed Carter-Williams. Then, one day while I was perusing Twitter, I found myself watching a three-minute montage of Carter-Williams blowing layups and making boneheaded plays during his 2017-2018 season with the Hornets. However, and it pains me to say this, Carter-Williams has looked pretty good in the Rockets system.

In the first preseason game against the Memphis Grizzlies, Carter-Williams had 19 points, missed zero layups, and was pretty active on the defensive end as well. He poked a good amount of balls loose, though he did get called for a couple of fouls on those plays. He cut to the basket at opportune times, finishing difficult layups in traffic. He also attacked off of aggressive close-outs with ease. He looked bouncy, and when he and Ennis were on the court at the same time, they really got out and ran.

I’ll say this about Michael Carter-Williams: Chris Paul and James Harden had defenses so broken down at times this preseason, that when defenders went to close out on an open Carter-Williams from the three-point line, the defenders didn’t even have time to process who they were closing out on. In a vacuum, an NBA defender is not worried about Carter-Williams from three. But when the defense gets broken down, and either Harden or Paul kicks the ball out off of a drive for an open three, the defenders didn’t process that Carter-Williams was the guy open. The defenders closed out on him as aggressively as if he was a competent shooter, and Carter-Williams just blew by them.

Though there have been instances in which this happened in the regular season. It also took less than one regular season game for an opponent to help off of Carter-Williams on defense in the half-court. That could be why Gary Clark got the first crack over Carter-Williams off the bench in the first quarter of the Clippers game (more on Gary Clark later.) And though Carter-Williams has made some great passes in the preseason and the first few regular season games, too frequently is he missing the open guy or simply not making the right pass. For these reasons, we may see Carter-Williams get phased out of the rotation.

It’s okay if the MCW experiment doesn’t work out. Carter-Williams was simply another Daryl Morey “bargain bin” acquisition: the guy has a three-minute YouTube compilation of missed layups, and Morey finds a way to make him a potential rotation piece. And to add to the Morey-ness nature of this acquisition, Carter-Williams’ contract was partially-guaranteed, with a very late guarantee date. They can waive him by 1/10/2019 and save $500K of his $1.76M contract if the situation sours.

Carmelo Anthony

Carmelo Anthony will likely come off the bench for the Rockets, but he’s going to be an important contributor to the team. He also may technically be disqualified from being considered a wing, as the preseason usage indicates D’Antoni will use him more as a four and a five this year.

Rockets fans who were hopeful to see any remnants of Olympic Melo should be encouraged. Here are some key advanced stats from his year with OKC:

Stats 3.PNG

For reference, the average effective field goal percentage (EFG%, above) in the NBA last year was 52.1%. Melo didn’t have a very efficient year last year, but early signs show that he’s going to turn that around in Houston. His advanced stats in four preseason games with the Rockets looked like this:

Stats 4.PNG

These stats are encouraging. This performance is night and day from his advanced shooting and usage numbers in OKC. His usage (USG%) is down ~30% compared to OKC and his true shooting and effective field goal percentages are up. These changes are the result of taking more efficient shots, as the Rockets system is allowing him to take more open threes and less deep twos.

The Rockets also posted him up at opportune times this preseason, mainly in situations where the shot clock was running down and Melo had a smaller defender on him. This strategy is a great way to use him to maximize his skillset, as well as maximizing efficiency, so long as he buys in. If he buys in, he will be a scary ancillary offensive weapon for this team.

Let’s take a look at his net rating this preseason, compared to last year’s preseason numbers in OKC:

Stats 5.PNG

This comparison is also encouraging, as it reinforces what we’ve seen so far this preseason. Melo went on to post a 5.2 net rating last year in the regular season in OKC, so look for his net rating of 2.1 to trend up as the season goes on.

Lastly, let’s talk defense. The team defense for the Rockets has looked shoddy after three regular season games, and perhaps some of that can be attributed to Melo’s arrival. But it’s not all bad. His basketball IQ has shown itself on defense, as he has played the interior passing lanes well, and his quick hands have allowed him to strip some players who tried backing him down. As I mentioned earlier, it appears he’ll be more of a four and a five than a traditional wing defender, so perhaps this helps mask his defensive limitations.

Gary Clark

What a pleasant surprise Gary Clark has been. At 6-8 and 225 pounds, the undrafted rookie had the NBA body, the defensive ability, and defensive instincts coming out of Cincinnati. But his shot was way better than advertised in the preseason, as he hit a smoldering 55.6% from three on over three-and-a-half attempts a game.

Though that 55.6% clip is unsustainable, I think Clark’s play gives the Rockets an additional wing rotation piece that they weren’t initially anticipating. Clark is a very similar body type to Mbah a Moute, and he should be able to switch onto nearly any player and hold his own defensively. That, coupled with his athleticism and his seemingly improved outside shot, means that Clark could be a real rotation player this season. Here are some of his advanced metrics from the preseason:

Stats 6.PNG

Unreal. These numbers indicate that although he’s on a two-way contract this season, he earned a roster spot on the Rockets and he even saw first quarter action against the Clippers. Even if he’s not a contributor this year, and it looks like he will be, I’m very excited for Clark’s future. Simply put, he just makes sense in today’s NBA.

* Source: stats.nba.com

Rockets: The Standoff at Staples and the Aftermath

The Houston Rockets secured their first win of the new season on Saturday in Los Angeles defeating the Lakers 124 to 115.

James Harden proved why he is the reigning MVP, taking over down the stretch to keep Lebron James winless on the season. Harden would finish the night with 36 points, seven rebounds and six assists. On a normal day, his efforts would be the headline from a fast-paced, exciting, up-and-down game. Harden, however, would not be who everyone was talking about the morning after this game.

The headline from this game was an eventual brawl that broke out between Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo. What started as a foul committed by Brandon Ingram on James Harden, turned into a massive argument by most of the players on the court over the call. While players and referees were trying to restore order, Rondo reportedly spat on Chris Paul which started a full-fledged fist fight between Rondo and Paul.

By my score card, Paul was ahead on points because he was the busier fighter, landing more power shots. Ingram would try to land a sucker punch late before all three players were ejected. Video evidence then surfaced to support Paul's claim that Rondo spit on him.

The altercation would result in suspensions of four games for Ingram, three games for Rondo, and two games for Paul. The Rockets felt the impact immediately while playing the second night of a back-to-back with the Clippers. They would lose that game 115 to 112, despite another terrific effort from James Harden. While the suspension for Paul is the shortest of the trio involved, I feel the impact is greater because of how much it seems that the Rockets need to gel as a team.

With the new additions to the roster It is clear early on that the team does not have the rotation configured to maximize its effectiveness. Going into the season most talking heads assumed the defense would suffer with the changes to the roster. In examining the first few games, it is actually the offensive efficiency that is lacking. In the Wild West, every loss is magnified; losing to a team like the Clippers shouldn’t happen, given the talent on the roster. However, this team has shown over the past few seasons that bumps in the road here or there can be overcome. One thing is certain, this season’s start is not the one Rockets fans were hoping for.

*Source: NBA.com

Too Hot To Handle 2018 - 10 - 19 Episode 34 - Astros Eliminated

Jacob Payne, Trey Campbell, and Keith Quigley

Topics:

04:09 - Astros Eliminated

14:39 - Fan Interference

15:49 - AJ Hinch Outmanaged

21:15 - Barrel Fire Shot Take (Raiders Fire Sale, Rockets Won't Win 50, Deshaun Watson Will Suffer Season-Ending Injury in Jacksonville)

38:00 - Texans/Jags Preview

52:45 - Does Jesus Have Interns?

55:30 - More Upsetting (Threatening Fans Who Interfere or Telling Kids to Shut Up at Sporting Events/ALCS Cheating Scandals)