Eight weeks of the NBA season are over. The Rockets have played twenty-two games— 26% of their schedule; their season is now a quarter of the way done. I am disappointed that they are 14-8; I think it is safe to say a lot of people are disappointed in this. The Rockets have lacked ball movement this year and have relied on too much one-on-one play, while at times seeming to give up on the defensive end. Injuries are once again slowing the Rockets’ progress, which is not the answer we wanted at the beginning of the year when the huge question was, "Can the Rockets stay healthy?" Yao Ming has missed one game; Ron Artest has missed one, although he played hurt in several more when he probably should have been sitting. Tracy McGrady, one of the biggest question marks as far as health goes coming into the season, has missed seven games, already a third of the games the Rockets have played. You then have Shane Battier, who has missed sixteen games and wasn’t even ready for the beginning of the season. Twenty-two games in, and I don’t think we have seen our best line up or rotation for a game yet. So, a quarter of the way in, and here are my grades for the Houston Rockets.
Rockets as a team: B
The Rockets have played through injuries to sit at the top of the Southwest Division with a 14-8 record. Like last year, they have won their games with defense. They are fourth in the league in defense, allowing 92.6 PPG and seventh in opp. FG%, holding teams to 43.8% shooting. They are third in the league in free throw shooting, but that is their only good shooting stat. The Rockets have shot lower on the year than their opponents, 43.3%, for 26th in the league. They rank 22nd in points per game and 26th in the league for assists. The Rockets "Big 3" hasn’t been so big this year, but they do have three other players scoring in double figures: Luis Scola, Aaron Brooks, and Rafer Alston. At the end of the year they could be looking back at losses to the likes of the Grizzlies, Pacers, and Spurs as the difference between a 3rd and a 6th seed. The Rockets have played down to bad teams and failed to close good teams out. Interesting notes are that when the Rockets score 100pts or more, they are 8-0; they are 2-5 when allowing 100 pts. or more. They are 27th in the NBA in blocked shots. When will they get another big?
Yao Ming: B
It has seemed at times a struggle to get the ball to Yao in the post. Yao, in my opinion, is the key to the Rockets’ success. Yao has played in twenty-one games; they are 14-7 with him in the line up. In those fourteen wins, Yao has averaged 21ppg, shot 57.9%, averaged 10.7 REBS, and 2 assists. In the seven losses, he has averaged 13.9 ppg, shot 40.7%, averaged 7.7 REBS, and 0.4 assists. Those two stat lines themselves demonstrate that all offense must go through Yao Ming. He must demand the ball, own the paint, and make smart passes when the double and triple teams come. His teamate need to realize this also, and GET HIM THE BALL!
Luis Scola: B
Scola gets the start but splits a lot of time with Carl Landry. Scola has not played well against the higher caliber Power Forwards in the league on defense. It is his ability to draw the charge or grab an offensive rebound that gets him his grade. He is shooting 48% for the year and averaging 11.2 PPG and 7.7 rebounds in 27 minutes a game. Not a bad running mate for Yao Ming on the front lines. He is usually picking up the slack when no other starters can find the bottom of the net.
Ron Artest: C
I like the energy Artest brought to the Rockets at the beginning of the season. He has played great defense all year, taking on the better guards every game while Battier has been out. As the addition to T-Mac and Yao, he is the third of the "Big 3." People wondered how he would fit in. I don’t think he has found himself on the team yet. He averages the most shots per game on the team at 14.6; that is where I want Yao to be. What makes that stat even worse is that Artest is shooting 35% on the year; Artest has never shot under 40 for a season. This leads me to believe he is forcing his game, trying to fit in. Like Yao, his numbers drop dramatically in losses for the Rockets. In fourteen wins, he has averaged 16.9 ppg, 38% FG, 42% 3PTFG, and 3.8 assists. In the seven losses, he has averaged 13.7 ppg, 30.5% FG, 36% 3PTFG, and 2.1 assists. He has been battling a bad ankle, and when McGrady gets back, I look for him to sit out a couple games to let it heal up a bit.
Tracy McGrady: C
Goodness sakes, can this guy get healthy? He hasn’t been 100% yet this year, and has already missed seven games. He is shooting 40% for the season, 3% less than his career average. Unlike Yao and Artest, whose scoring goes down in losses, McGrady’s actually goes up, but his other stats drop just like the other guys. In ten wins, he has averaged 15.2 ppg, 44% FG, and 48.5% 3PTFG. In the five losses, he has averaged 16.4 ppg, 35.9% FG, and 26.7% 3PTFG. I think this line goes to show that with T-Mac, less is more. Although he scores more in the defeats, it is because he is taking more shots and missing them. It must be hard for a two-time scoring champion to realize he isn’t his team’s best scoring option, but he needs to realize it. I think T-Mac could serve well as the decoy/second option, drawing the double team and moving the ball, trying to get others the open looks.
Rafer Alston: C
Alston’s play in the last several games saved him from getting a "D" in these first grades of the year. Alston is shooting 37% on the season. He is averaging 11.8 PPG, but that comes from heaving up the third most shots on the team. Alston is averaging 5.1 assists a game. I would like to see that go up, but the whole team needs to shoot better for that to happen. Alston was a huge part of the Rockets’ success last year, and they really need him to step up his game if they want to contend this year.
The stars of the bench have to be Aaron Brooks and Carl Landry. Brooks has been a huge surprise this year, spelling Alston. Brooks has doubled his scoring from last season and is in double figures this year, scoring 10.5 ppg, shooting 44% from the field and 39% from the 3PT line. Landry is shooting a team high of 56% but has struggled with foul trouble when he gets in the game. I like the way Von Wafer has stepped up since McGrady went down, cutting through the lane, and getting to the hoop. It seems he is the only guy on the team dunking the ball. Chuck Hayes is our 6’6" back-up center. He is horrible on offense,(shooting 30%), and should never touch the ball; he is one of our better defenders on the other end of the floor. Although Luther Head scored 21 in a win versus the Spurs, I am disappointed in him and Brent Barry. They are both shooting less than 30% from the 3PT line for the year. Barry was brought here to give leadership and to hit outside shot; with his injury he really hasn’t done either of those things. Head is an undersized shooting guard already; we don’t need him out there if he can’t make better than 27.3% of his threes. The Rockets need a back-up center on this bench. When Yao goes out, they have no height at all. They might be able to survive in an 82-game season but, in the playoffs, they will need a back-up to Yao.
Coach Rick Adelman: C
I know that there have been injuries, but why is it that he can’t get the Rockets to grasp his offense? He continually says that the players are not doing what he asks of them. His offense uses good ball movement, and the Rockets seem to do a lot of dribbling. I like Adelman; I hope he succeeds, and I know he wants to win. He needs to get these guys on the same page.