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Houston Rockets

Patrick Beverley, the New No-Stats All Star

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When Patrick Beverley is on the court, the Houston Rockets win. They are 9-2 since Beverley came back from knee surgery, are now tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for third in the Western Conference, and are looking at a creampuff schedule of Dallas, Sacramento, Brooklyn, New Orleans, and Minnesota for their next five games. Beverley may not have the most impressive box score stats averaging 7 points and 5 assists per game this season, but he does the little things which win teams games.

A few years back, the New York Times wrote a famous article entitled “The No-Stats All-Star” on Shane Battier, another Rocket who did the little things which mattered. The erudite, karaoke-loving Battier can seem to be a complete contrast from the inner-city Chicago Beverley. But the two are similar on the court. They know the importance of the fundamentals, know their role, play smart defense, and stick to that role. Those are the things which has let Beverley play a key role in bringing Houston to its current position.

Fire and Wit

People love to talk about Beverley’s intense competitiveness and how he will never hesitate to stand up to anyone. Just look at this Oklahoma City profile on him and note how everyone who has ever known him talks about his competitive drive and tenacity.

But while toughness and competitiveness are positive qualities, there is more to Beverley than that. Just being tough is not enough to be a great defensive player, and analysts all too often make the easy mistake of claiming that good defense is “just about effort.”

Defense is not just about effort. It is about knowing what to do and requires talent. Not just in a one-on-one battle, but from a team perspective. This knowledge was what made Battier great given his ferocious interest in analytics. And while Beverley may or may not be as interested in the numbers as Shane was, he pays attention to what he has to do.

While the defensive duels between Beverley and Russell Westbrook like what happened on Friday are certainly entertaining, we have to remember that those individual battles are not as important as team defence requiring a Toledo personal injury lawyers and knowing where you are supposed to be rotating to at all times. This is especially true for a guard, given how they will switch more on the screen and roll compared to a big man.

For example, James Harden is not a bad defender because he plays poor one-on-one defense. While he is no Beverley, he can perform adequately if facing another guard in an iso position. Harden’s biggest defensive weakness is his tendency to ball-watch and lose track of where his man is. This leads to open corner three-point shots and back door cuts.

But while players like Harden make rotational mistakes, Beverley knows what he is doing when he is on the court. Look at the next three defensive possessions starting from these highlights in the Rockets-Thunder game. The first possession has Beverley funneling Westbrook to his left, where Nene and Beverley contest a layup which does not go in. The second possession sees Beverley stay to Westbrook’s right and cuts off the driving lane at every turn, forcing Westbrook to fire up a three.

But the third possession, the last one, shows Beverley’s intellect and commitment to the team. Beverley chases Westbrook around the screen by Steven Adams, but instantly drops off without hesitating when Eric Gordon decides to cover Westbrook. He then immediately finds the open man in Domantas Sabonis, boxes him out, and grabs the game-sealing rebound.

Nothing about that play really stands out in a box score aside from the rebound, but that rebound is more than the product of mere hustle. Beverley’s defense is not just the product of his relentless energy, but from knowing where he had to go. And that sort of knowledge combined with his ferocity makes him as valuable to the Harden Rockets as Battier was to the Yao-McGrady Rockets.

Knowing your Role

Almost from the minute Beverley came out of nowhere in 2013 and grabbed the starting spot, the Rockets have been looking for someone to replace him. There were always Rockets fans who thought that the team would be better off starting Jeremy Lin, and then the front office tried the disastrous Ty Lawson experiment.

But as the Rockets are rolling, it is clear that Beverley is the point guard this team needed all along. He may not have the offensive numbers of other point guards, but he plays defense, hustles, knows what to do, and does not need to take the ball away from Harden in order to be effective.

This latter point becomes all more important when you consider how Harden has had issues playing alongside other guards like Lin and Lawson who needed the ball. Now Harden can rack up the assist numbers which have created this powerhouse Rockets offense, Eric Gordon can keep Houston humming while Harden rests, and Beverley does the dirty work.

That dirty work may not make the ESPN highlight reel. But it is necessary to win games, and suitable for another no-stats all-star.

Houston Rockets

The 10-Year Saga of Daryl Morey and “Moreyball”

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It has been over ten years since Daryl Morey took over as  general manager of the Houston Rockets. Back then, the Houston Rockets had two stars in Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, but were capped out and had no young prospects to speak of after a disappointing 2005-06 season.

Today, the Rockets have three stars in James Harden, Chris Paul, and Clint Capela, but are once again capped out, have no real young prospects, and face a seemingly grim road towards returning to title contention. The Houston Rockets have the fifth-highest salary in the league, but are barely above .500 and not in the playoffs. Under such circumstances, you would normally see fans and journalists begin calling for the general manager’s head.

I am not arguing that Morey has not been an excellent GM. The Rockets managed to rebuild themselves after the Yao Ming era with arguably the greatest trade rip-off in NBA history in the Harden trade, and I will claim that last year’s Rockets are the greatest NBA team ever which did not win a ring. But a lot of what has defined the early years of the Moreyball era is gone, and the Rockets need that early magic to avoid being capped out and facing no path to a title.

Morey and Draft Picks

Beginning around 2010, Morey began talking about how the biggest value contract in the league was the superstar player. The logic is perfectly sound. As there is a maximum value on what superstars can earn, and since superstars have a disproportionate effect on the basketball court compared to other sports, getting a superstar on a max contract was in fact the true encapsulation of Moreyball.

But that was not what Moreyball was defined from 2007 to 2010, when the Rockets did have two superstars. Then, Moreyball was defined by getting good though not great players at an incredibly cheap price using a Dallas SEO company. Using advanced statistics, Morey uncovered gems such as Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, or Chase Budinger late in the draft. None of these players were stars, but they gave production wildly out of proportion with their miniscule salaries.

In fact, every dynasty needs players like these. The Warriors would not be the Warriors without finding Draymond Green with the 35th pick, and the Spurs famously found Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker late in the draft. And the Rockets did find Capela with the 25th pick in the 2014 draft.

But since then? Nothing. The Rockets just waived Zhou Qi, who now becomes another failure alongside Chinanu Onuaku or Sam Dekker. Gary Clark showed some promise early in the season, but his shooting numbers collapsed and he has played just 18 minutes total in games this December.

The fundamental story of this disappointing Rockets season is that while Harden has continued to be great, Houston’s other core rotation players have struggled and Morey completely failed to fill in the hole created by Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute’s departures. And while some of the blame can be laid on the Carmelo Anthony mess, the Rockets lack depth because Morey has failed to draft the young, decent late round prospects which once defined Moreyball.

Chasing the Big Name

And we cannot pretend that Morey holds no responsibility for the Carmelo Anthony mess. It is possible that Morey felt he had to sign Carmelo to make Harden and Paul happy, but we have no way of knowing if that is true. And the Carmelo Anthony saga is just another example of Morey trying to bring in the next star only for that go nowhere – remember Ty Lawson, guys?

Moreyball and Morey’s emphasis on advanced statistics was once supposed to be a revolutionary strategy which would help him recruit underrated gems. But as other teams have also jumped on the advanced stats revolution, the Rockets have failed to stay ahead and we have seen a greater reliance on this team getting conventional names like Lawson or Anthony. Both times, these players were supposed to find a new home in Houston and revitalize the team. Instead, both times they played key factors in creating disappointing seasons.

The last ten years under Morey have been filled with both great and frustrating moments for Rockets, from the thrill of chasing the Warriors last year to the struggles to get a star between Yao and Harden. But as the Rockets look at a disappointing, expensive season under a new owner, fans should realize that this is exactly the sort of environment which cause said new owners to decide on radical changes under new management.

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Houston Rockets

The Houston Rocket’s Biggest Goats This Season

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The 2018-19 season has started miserably for the Houston Rockets. Any hopes that this team was turning things around have been hit hard by Thursday’s defeat against an Oklahoma City team without Russell Westbrook. And while it is hard to believe that Houston will finish in the lottery, it seems all but certain that Houston will not push Golden State to the limit like they did last year.

Everyone on the Rockets bears some responsibility for this mess, from the highest star to the lowest benchwarmer to the front office. But certain problems and players in particular are holding this team back and could prevent any hopes of a sudden turnaround.

Carmelo Anthony

Melo to some degree has been unfairly targeted as the single scapegoat for all of Houston’s troubles, but he has hardly proven those who were skeptical of his signing wrong. On offense, he is averaging 13.4 points on 12.1 shots, only slightly more efficient than his time in Oklahoma City despite his reduced role. While he has been taking far fewer long mid-range jumper and more 3-pointers like he promised to do at the beginning of the season, shooting 32.8% from long range will not cut it.

And that does not even begin to touch on Carmelo, or the Rockets as a whole on defense. Houston’s switching defense requires cerebral players who know where they are supposed to go at all times, and the Rockets have watched players blow past Melo time and again.

Bench Depth

If Carmelo was the only Rockets struggling off the bench, perhaps the Rockets could live with it. But Carmelo’s struggles become so much more apparent precisely because the Rockets bench as a whole has been disastrous.

Maybe Eric Gordon’s struggles can be excused due to injuries. But Gerald Green has failed to step up, shooting 36% from the field and 26% from 3. Michael Carter-Williams has been such a disaster after a promising preseason that he has been pulled out of the rotation altogether. The Rockets were supposed to compensate for Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute’s departure by adding other players, but those players have not delivered.

The other concerns about Houston’s bench depth is the total lack of a back up center to Clint Capela. This complete lack of insurance should be worrying. Isaiah Hartenstein has performed better than Rockets fans could have hoped, but the Rockets need Nene to come back from whatever is ailing him. Capela has always struggled with bulkier centers in the post like Marc Gasol or Brook Lopez, and Houston has been mauled badly on the boards in each one of their losses.

Chris Paul

This is the big one. The Rockets can bench or even waive Carmelo. They can revitalize the bench by getting players off the scrap heap or getting healthy. But if Chris Paul plays like this, there is nothing Morey or anyone else with the Rockets can do to make a comeback.

Paul has never been a true volume scorer, but so far this season he is shooting less than 40% from the field and 27% from long range. His turnovers are higher than they have ever been, and he just appears slow and off in all of his games. Houston’s offense and inability to score has been the biggest cause for their malaise, and that exists because Paul has been unable to be the offensive monster he normally is.

Tim McMahon with ESPN reports that Paul has a right elbow injury, and Rockets fans can hope that Paul will improve. But we also knew that Paul would have injury concerns throughout the years. Paul’s decline is also much scarier than Melo’s or Gordon’s struggles given the massive 4-year contract Houston gave him this summer. Everyone knew that the latter years of said contract, where Paul will be making $44 million at the age of 36, will likely be painful. But if it becomes a bad contract starting now, Houston could be in serious trouble for the next several seasons.

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Houston Rockets

Rockets Land Jersey Sponsor Deal with ROKiT Phones

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Befitting of their names, regardless of how they are spelled, the Houston Rockets have reached a jersey sponsor deal with RoKit Phones, according to a team announcement.

“We were patient in deciding on our inaugural jersey partner and are thrilled to select ROKiT, a company which shares our commitment to excellence both on and off the court,” Rockets Chief Executive Officer Tad Brown said.

“We have high expectations heading into this season and look forward to introducing our fans to the quality products and high level of service that ROKiT offers.”

The team added the following:

“The partnership also includes select ROK Drinks brands, with three lounges at the team’s Toyota Center arena to be rebranded as Bogart’s Lounge, ABK Beer Garden and Bandero Tequila Terrace.”

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