Josh Wells

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Rockets Sign Austin Rivers to a Deal for the Rest of the Season

The Houston Rockets have signed another contributor to the team, and it is someone that people are not too fond of in Houston. Austin Rivers has been a somewhat forgotten player for the Washington Wizards this season.

The Wizards are a dysfunctional franchise right now. There is drama going on between John Wall and Bradley Beal, and Dwight Howard doesn’t help the cause of bringing peace to the locker room. They have just traded for Trevor Ariza to hopefully fix all the dysfunction going on with the franchise. But notice that Austin Rivers is not the problem in this situation. He is just a bystander in the bigger picture.

For those that did not know, the Wizards traded for Trevor Ariza and sent Kelly Oubre and Austin Rivers to the Suns. Not long after the trade, the Suns immediately bought out Austin Rivers and made him a free agent. There was speculation that he may end up with Grizzlies, according to Shams Charania (in a now-deleted Tweet). But ultimately, he decided to join the Houston Rockets. The timing could not have been better, as the Rockets have lost Chris Paul to yet another hamstring injury. Luckily, it isn’t the Western Conference Finals (Sorry to bring up bad memories).

The Rockets are picking up a solid player for a minimum deal. His minutes are way down compared to last year. Rivers played nearly 34 minutes per game last season, compared to the nearly 24 minutes a game he was getting this year with the Wizards. His field goal stats are also down compared to what they were last year (from 43% overall to 39% overall and 38% from three to 31% from three). So, I can see why everyone is arguing against the signing. (Stats courtesy of ESPN.)

But let’s try to find a positive with Austin Rivers.

  1. He is an immediate upgrade to the Rockets’ bench.

With Chris Paul sidelined at least another 2-3 weeks, if not more, the Rockets need as many ball handlers/scorers as they can possibly have. This will relieve some of the tension from James Harden and hopefully not put as much wear and tear on him during the regular season. The Rockets need to find a way to conserve James as much as they can this season, and Austin Rivers can help the cause.

  1. He is an immediate upgrade from what Brandon Knight can offer this season.

Let’s face it, we all loved the Brandon Knight acquisition because we were finally able to get rid of the awful contract of Ryan Anderson. (Praise Morey!) But Brandon Knight is still trying to work his way back from nearly two years of not playing. It shows. Knight has played in six games this season, and the most points he has scored in any game this season is three. What is worse is that Knight currently has a -8.70 PER (Player Efficiency Rating). Granted, other players have a negative PER, but it is crazy that someone has a negative effect whenever they touch the floor. (Stats courtesy of ESPN.)

  1. Austin Rivers is already one of the better playmakers on the Rockets.

With Chris Paul out for the next 2-3 weeks, if you had to guess who the Rockets’ second-best playmaker was after Harden, who would you guess? (Go on, I’ll wait...) You might say Eric Gordon. The crazy thing is, Austin Rivers is averaging the same number of assists as Gordon. Gordon is a shooter and a scorer. There is nothing wrong with that; it’s why he got the contract he got. But with Chris Paul gone, you can’t run the MVP into the ground trying to create offense.

  1. Austin Rivers fits what the Rockets run.

Watch Austin Rivers’s highlights from his best season for the Los Angeles Clippers. The Rockets’ offense is all about three pointers, free throws, and lay-ups. You don’t see a lot of mid-range shots in those clips.

All in all, is Austin Rivers the signing that is going to fix the Rockets season? Probably not. But let’s take this at face value. Austin Rivers is 26 years old and is a productive NBA player. He has a skillset that lets him create his own offense, and he has a pretty decent shot. I really like this signing and can’t wait to see him (hopefully) on Christmas day against Russell Westbrook’s Thunder!

Rockets Lean on Another Historic James Harden Performance to Beat Lebron’s Lakers

Everyone knew this would be a physical game, seeing that the last game between these two ended up in fisticuffs between a few players. This game lived up to the hype that surrounded it and then some. It was a physical game for all 48 minutes. There were four technical fouls, and the referees’ whistles got plenty of use. But the game came to down to a James vs. James battle, and the James that wore the snake print suit to the game had a historic night.

Guard James Harden had a night to remember. His stat line is mind-boggling to say the least. 50 points, 11 assists, 10 rebounds, two steals, 54% shooting from the field and 18-for-19 from the free throw line. Just about every adjective you can think of can explain how amazing Harden was in this game. Without him, they do not have a chance at winning this.

Harden had support from the bench as newly re-signed two-way player Danuel House Jr. had a big night with 15 points off the bench. It’s encouraging to see, as he wasn’t even on the roster on opening night, but he is now giving this team nearly 30 minutes a game and performing well in critical moments. The Rockets are desperate for depth at the wing position; luckily, they may have found a diamond in the rough with House to provide a spark and a scoring punch off the bench.

What remains worrisome for the Rockets is the way point guard Chris Paul is shooting the ball; it’s a problem that has haunted this team for most of the season. In last night’s game, he was 3-for-10 from the field and 0-for-6 from inside the 3-point line. When the Rockets traded for Paul, everyone mentioned how he was one of the deadliest mid-range shooters in the NBA. The Rockets will need him to return to last year’s form if they want a chance to return to prominence in the playoffs this year.

It was also exciting to see Brandon Knight’s first action since February 2017. Nearly two years after his injury, Knight made his return to the court tonight. While he only played three minutes in the contest, it is still a positive sign for the Rockets, who can use an infusion of talent from any position it can get.

The Rockets’ next game against the Memphis Grizzlies tips off at 7 p.m. on Saturday. We’ll see if this momentum can continue for the Rockets, and whether they can get back to .500 for the season.

All stats courtesy of NBA Advanced Stats

Rockets could be third team in trade with Lakers and Suns, The Athletic reports

The Rockets are looking to bolster a roster that was one game from the NBA Finals in the 2017-2018 season. A lackluster start has forced the Rockets’ hand in desperation. They are looking for wing depth since Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah A Moute have departed for greener pastures. According to The Athletic, the​ Houston​ Rockets​ are emerging as​ a suitor​ for Los​ Angeles​ Lakers​ guard Kentavious​ Caldwell-Pope​ in two multi-team trade​ scenarios. There are positives and negatives in every trade scenario. So, let’s take a look at both.

The Good

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has some length, which is what the Rockets have been lacking this season. Averaging just a little over one steal a game, Caldwell-Pope can play in the passing lanes and match the mode of Ariza. He is also shooting 35% from the three-point line, which the Rockets desire.

Another positive the Rockets can look at is the contract situation. Looking through that microscope, it appears likely that the Rockets would rid themselves of Brandon Knight and his 30-million-dollar contract for the next two years. They would exchange a two-year contract for a one-year contract. And we don’t know what Knight is going to look like when he returns to action, as he hasn’t played in an NBA game since February 2017.

The Bad

The Rockets missed the boat when they failed to get Jimmy Butler, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is no Butler. Kentavious can be viewed as very similar to Eric Gordon: both are scorers who have the capability to defend. But the Rockets will also lose any Bird rights for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, as he only signed a one-year contract with the Lakers this summer. Losing the Bird rights means the Rockets cannot go over the cap to sign him as a free agent. They will have to use any available cap space to re-sign him if they want him to return.

The Verdict

The Rockets should pull the trigger on this deal, as long as they don’t give up any future draft collateral. The Rockets don’t need to break the bank to trade for a player like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and he can help this team on both sides of the ball. When you’re in the Rockets’ boat, you cannot give up a first round pick for someone that you can’t even guarantee will be back next year. If the Rockets can find a way to only give up Brandon Knight in this deal, then this should be a win for them.

Rockets Fall To 9-8 After Tough OT Loss to Pistons

After a 5-game winning streak and getting within two games of being in first place, the Rockets had a hard-fought game with an opponent they had seen just two days previously. (Side note, while the referees were not great in this game, I will not focus on them as we need to focus on what is really important: this team.) Clint Capela was absolutely amazing in this game. Clint has usually struggled with big men in the NBA, and Andre Drummond is as big as they come, but Capela absolutely held his own. He played 43 minutes and dropped an impressive 29 points with 21 rebounds (12 of which were offensive rebounds.)

James Harden had a rough night shooting from the floor overall: he was 9 for 27, including 3 for 11 from the 3-point line. Even though he will look impressive on the stat line with a 33 point and 8 assist night, it should not be overlooked that James was responsible for half of the team’s turnovers, with 7 turnovers of his own doing. This statistic was one of the first downfalls for the Rockets.

Chris Paul and Eric Gordon both struggled as well for the Rockets. Both of these guys shot sub-.500 from the floor inside the arc as well as outside the arc. But the most concerning thing for the Rockets is the use of the bench, or the lack thereof.

Not including a former 6th man of the year on the team, the most anyone played from the bench is 14 minutes. This statistic has to be concerning going forward as there is no other production coming from the bench. Just like last year, the Rockets are going to rely heavily on starters to pull out a miracle to be successful this year. While the Rockets have a great starting unit, the bench will continue to hinder the team with its youth and inexperience.

Although it was great to see Coach Jeff Bzdelik back on the bench (and he should help with the defense going forward), these Rockets have some holes that need to be filled. They are putting a lot of hope into the Brandon Knight route, as he is getting closer to return. But the big question has to be whether or not Isaiah Hartenstein is the answer moving forward. I believe a veteran should be the answer; maybe one will be available towards the buy-out market, but for now, in Morey we trust!

*All statistics from NBA.com/stats

Rockets take down the Nuggets in Primetime

The Rockets are starting to get back to last year’s team where they looked like a tough defensive team that had a few superstars to get them a win. After a rough start this season, everyone said how the Rockets would not be able to defend anyone with the loss of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah A Moute. However, after the first quarter against a very good Nuggets team that had four losses going into the game, the Rockets held them to 25 points or less in the final three quarters*.

You can tell why they needed to bring back Jeff Bzdelik back to the sidelines to be their defensive coach. The rough start had everyone jumping off of the bandwagon and had questions up and down the roster. Now healthy and away from suspensions, the Rockets have looked crisper on the defensive end. The Rockets have held their opponents in 5 of their last six games under 100 points*. Which is incredible to think about as the Rockets are a team that shoots quick shots and generates a bunch of possessions in the game.

The Rockets are also the beneficiary of the having the MVP of the 2017-2018 NBA Basketball season. James Harden is starting to get back into form last year as he completely took over this basketball game in the second half. At the end of the first half, James Harden was 1 for 5 with only 3 points *, and everyone was beginning to wonder if James Harden was going to show up to the game.

In the 3rd quarter alone, James Harden had eight points and six assists and helped the Rockets to win the 3rd quarter 32-21*. Moreover, just when you thought James Harden would have had enough, he then decided that he was going to close the door completely on the Nuggets and score 11 points in the 4th quarter*. He is starting to get back into form from his hamstring injury, and the Rockets are going to thank him many more times this season.

While James Harden seemingly stole the show, there were quite a few other performers that stepped up and contributed to the win. Clint Capela had a near double-double as he led the Rockets in points and rebounds with 24 points and nine rebounds*. Chris Paul is starting to get his shooting touch back as well as he finished with 21 points*.

The one concern going forward is that the Rockets are getting big minutes from 6 players from their team and getting sparing minutes from a pair of rookies. This could be a problem for the Rockets going forward as they need to find some sort of a rotation and a bench. Hopefully, the Rockets can figure all of this out as they suit them up again against the Warriors on Thursday, November 15th. This should be a fun one!

*NBA.com/stats

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

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