Every season, we welcome in a new group of interns and typically their work is done primarily behind the scenes. But now that the current group has been around for awhile, we’re giving them a platform to voice their thoughts on the NBA. Each week, Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, Cody Taylor and John Zitzler will discuss a topic related to the league in Cheap Seats.
This week, the interns discuss some coaches who deserve credit this season. The Coach of the Year race will likely come down to Indiana’s Frank Vogel, Phoenix’s Jeff Hornacek, San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich and Portland’s Terry Stotts, and those coaches have received a lot of ink this year. Today, we wanted to recognize some coaches who haven’t gotten as much love:
The Chicago Bulls came into the season with high hopes; the long awaited return of Derrick Rose, the emergence of Jimmy Butler, consistent strong play from Luol Deng, and Joakim Noah bringing his usual unchecked passion and energy every night had fans excited. The team seemed poised to return to the form that netted them 62 wins and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2010-11. Coach Tom Thibodeau would be equipped with his full arsenal of weapons, an opportunity that he surely had been longing for ever since the unfortunate injury to his former MVP point guard Rose.
Those expectations changed dramatically just 11 games into the season in a late November game against the Portland Trail Blazers. It was in that game when Rose would suffer another season-ending injury to his knee. A crippling blow to the Bulls’ chances of competing in the playoffs against the two elite teams in the East, the Miami HEAT and Indiana Pacers. With the East being so weak, the injury to Rose certainly didn’t remove the team from playoff contention, but even the most optimistic fan knew that it would be a monumental challenge to topple either of the conferences juggernauts without their star.
After the injury to Rose, the team was left in a very precarious position, a no man’s land of sorts. They were no longer talented enough to compete for the title, but still a playoff team in the poor Eastern Conference. The front office, not believing the current roster could compete for a title without Rose, would eventually trade their former All-Star forward Deng to the Cleveland Cavaliers, depleting the roster even further.
Without Rose and Deng, it was expected the Bulls would fade back in the standings and maybe even fall out of the playoff race. If you are familiar with Coach Thibodeau, you knew that wouldn’t be the case. When you play for Thibodeau, you are going to compete every second of every game. His team has done exactly that. As it stands today, the Bulls are 38-31, which is good for fourth in the East and if the playoffs started today would give them home court advantage. It’s remarkable when you consider the roster Thibodeau has been left to work with. The point guard duties in Rose’s absence are being split by veteran Kirk Hinrich and D.J. Augustin. Butler and Mike Dunleavy have been handling the majority of the minutes at the wing position with rookie Tony Snell spelling them at times. The strength of the roster is now in the frontcourt, led by All-Star Joakim Noah along with Carlos Boozer and Taj Gibson. Noah has been brilliant, having possibly the best season of his career, Butler and Gibson are both very solid players and Boozer can score, but at times has been a liability on defense. The rest of the roster falls into the average to below average category.
Thibodeau somehow has been able to work wonders with who he has. The Bulls are second in the league in points allowed, only giving up 92.3 points a game. This shouldn’t come as a surprise as Thibodeau has proven to be a defensive mastermind, but is still impressive all things considered. Along with great defense, the Bulls have done a good job on the glass, ranking in the top 10 in rebounding as well. The team’s toughness is what really shows night in and night out. Thibodeau, along with Noah, ooze competitive spirit and that desire to win has been contagious among the rest of the team. The offense, however, has had its struggles, sitting near the bottom of the league in scoring. Thibodeau has done a great job utilizing Noah to try a spark the sometimes stagnant offensive attack. He often begins possessions in the high post, which allows him to survey the defense and find cutters or guys coming off screens, allowing Noah to take full advantage of his passing ability. Thibodeau has guided the Bulls to a 24-13 record since Deng’s departure, which is surprisingly a drastic improvement after going only 14-18 with Deng on the roster to start the season. The team has really come together over the last couple months and no one deserves more credit for that than Thibodeau. He has his guys playing great team ball and it is leading to wins.
This Bulls team will be a playoff team, most likely not a championship team but that certainly shouldn’t be considered a failure. Thibodeau has made the most of a roster lacking much depth and scoring punch, relying on his guys to fight every possession. His team has bought in wholeheartedly. The season could have easily been lost and no one would have criticized Thibodeau, knowing the adversity his team has faced. It’s hard to argue that any coach has done more with less. Approaching 40 wins in mid March with this roster is a phenomenal achievement. Win or lose, this Bulls team will be a nightmare opponent for whoever they meet in the playoffs. While they may be out-manned if the run into the Pacers or HEAT, there is no doubt Thibodeau will have his guys prepared to scrap and claw each game.
– John Zitzler
Since the calendar turned to 2014, the Brooklyn Nets have been one of the hottest teams in the league. In 36 games played in 2014, the Nets have gone 26-10 versus 10-21 in the 21 games played in 2013. The team’s excellent turnaround has them in prime position going into the final stretch of games in the regular season. The Nets would be the fifth seed if the playoffs started today, with a first-round matchup against the Chicago Bulls. With remaining games against the New Orleans Pelicans, Cleveland Cavaliers, Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers and a couple against the Orlando Magic, the Nets could find themselves as high as the third seed at the end of the season with home-court advantage in the first-round.
The Nets owe their resurgence to the man in charge, Jason Kidd. It was easy for analysts and experts to bash Kidd in the early part of the season, but Kidd has brushed that off and has led the Nets in the right path and he deserves more praise. Nets general manager Billy King has said just as much.
“Jason has been amazing,” King said on Friday. “Nobody is really saying how great a job he’s done. It is easy to attack people negatively, but when people have success you should give them the credit. A lot of our success that we are having is directed [by Kidd].”
When things go sideways in the NBA, the heat is usually directed at the coach first. It was especially easy to blame Kidd in his first year as a coach, transitioning from a player. So when the team started 10-21 with an expensive roster that features Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, many were calling for his job. One scout graded Kidd by giving him an incomplete, because “he doesn’t do anything,” according to Bleacher Report.
The Nets have been able to continue winning without the services of leading scorer Brook Lopez and veteran big man Garnett. Lopez suffered a season-ending foot injury back in December, and Garnett has been battling back spasms and has missed the last 11 games. Garnett’s timetable to return to the floor is unknown, but the Nets seem to be faring well without him as the team has won eight of those 11 games.
This season with the Nets, Garnett is averaging a career-low 6.7 points per game and the second-lowest rebounding total of his career with 6.7 per game. Even with the lowest production of his career, the Nets are still in need of his services if they hope to make noise in the playoffs.
Kidd is on record as crediting the Nets’ turnaround to the fact that the team is starting to trust each other more. It also seems like the team has more confidence in hearing what the players are saying.
Pierce has said that the team isn’t worried about where they’ll play in the postseason. Pierce said last week that the team is capable of playing anywhere in the league, citing their wins in Oklahoma City and Miami as examples. The Nets may want to find themselves playing at home come the first round of the playoffs as the team has won 11 straight games at the Barclays Center.
Deron Williams said this week that Kidd has done a great job with the team.
“He’s had a lot to deal with just with rotations,” Williams told Newsday. “It’s made it tough, but I think he’s handled it well, this being his first year. I think he prepares us well every game. I think he gets us ready to play, and then in the game, he puts us in good situations. So it’s a learning experience for him, and I think he’s grown game by game and you can kind of see that.”
– Cody Taylor
Before everyone pulls out their pitch forks and torches, hear me out. I acknowledge that no one is going to give a Coach of the Year vote to the leader of the second-worst team in the league. The NBA, like all sports leagues, awards winning and admonishes losers. That will be reflected this year by a coach like Gregg Popovich, Jeff Hornacek or Doc Rivers winning the Coach of the Year award. However, I want to give some recognition to a coach that arguably has accomplished every goal he, and his team’s front office, set out to achieve this year.
The 76ers are not a winning team, but in terms of setting themselves up for a bright future, no one has performed as well as they have. Brett Brown is the captain of this ship (maybe a tank is a more appropriate metaphor) and has guided his young team through a historically bad season. In spite of the losing, this season has been a success.
On August 14, 2013, Brown signed on as the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.
“We went through an exhaustive search to find the right head coach for our organization—one who had a passion for developing talent, a strong work-ethic to help create the kind of culture we hope for, and a desire to continually improve,” Sam Hinkie, general manger of the 76ers, said in a statement. “Brett has all of that. He also has a wealth of experience as a head coach and a championship pedigree, to boot.”
After coaching in Australia, Brown joined the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, became the director of player development in 2002, and joined Popovich’s bench as an assistant coach in 2007 and was with the Spurs during each of their four championship seasons, which includes 1999, 2003, 2005 and 2007. Credit Hinkie for finding a coach that has worked in player development, worked on a championship coaching staff, and was capable of building a team and creating a winning culture.
The season started off with a bang, as the 76ers unexpectedly knocked off the Miami HEAT, Washington Wizards and Chicago Bulls in its first three games. The 76ers had veterans Evan Turner, Spencer Hawes and Thaddeus Young on the team. These players are young, but probably not young enough to be part of a major rebuild. In fact, they are the sort of players that can fetch valuable draft picks from contending teams that are looking for that final piece to put them over the top.
As the season continued, Turner, Hawes and Young each continued to play big minutes and be significant contributors to the team, each playing well over 30 minutes a game. Brown was trying his best to win games, and managed to knock off teams like the Houston Rockets, Brooklyn Nets, Portland Trail Blazers, Charlotte Bobcats and New York Knicks. In doing so, Brown allowed his veterans to showcase their talent for other teams, while also playing standout rookie Michael Carter-Williams the second most minutes on the team. Brown tiptoed the line between showcasing his veterans’ talent, and featuring his young star and role players prominently.
At the trade deadline, the 76ers moved Hawes to Cleveland for two second-round picks and Earl Clark. They also moved Turner and Lavoy Lavoy Allen to Indiana for Danny Granger and a second-round draft pick. Granger and Clark were bought out, and the 76ers went into full tank mode.
Brown knew this would likely happen, but said he is up for the challenge, telling NBC Sports, “I just felt like I was at a stage where I wanted the challenge. And it would be a blemish on a coaching record, but I feel like, at this stage for me, that’s not my motivation. I hope to be a part of something special and build something special here.”
With Turner and Hawes gone, Brown now gets to play his young talent and develop players who may be with the team moving forward. Players like James Anderson, Tony Wroten and Henry Sims have been able to make a case for why they should have a place with the organization moving forward. Though the losses continue, Brown has his team competing. Just ask the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, all of whom the 76ers almost upset in its last three games, losing by single digits in each game. The 76ers’ losing streak currently stands at 23, and they are only three games back from the all-time record set by the Cavaliers in 2011.
While that number is certainly an eyesore, it is the result of a deliberate plan. Look at teams like the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Lakers, who are also struggling this season. Mike D’Antoni runs a wide open offense and gives his players the green-light to shoot from the perimeter. On defense, the Lakers surrender points easily, and simply try to outscore their opponents each night. The players, many of which are on expiring deals, are putting up inconsistent performances as each takes their turn to get his stats and make a name for themselves before going into free agency. There is no rhyme and reason to the rotations, and players like Wesley Johnson are being asked to play out of position, which takes away from any value the team may have in evaluating individual players.
As for the Bucks, they acquired players like Caron Butler and O.J. Mayo this year to compete for a playoff run. Instead, Larry Sanders had a terrible year, missing time from an injury sustained in a bar fight, and the team has been a mess in general. While the Bucks have acquired under the radar talent in Brandon Knight and rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, there is little to be optimistic about moving forward in Milwaukee. Bucks head coach Larry Drew has not orchestrated the same focused approach that Brown has in Philadelphia, and it shows through the frustration of players like Ersan Ilyasova, who is rumored to want out of Milwaukee.
This is why Brown deserves recognition. He has kept his eye on the big picture this season. He allowed Hinkie to make shrewd moves to execute a long-term plan toward rebuilding, featured his veteran players leading to trades for future draft picks, given Carter-Williams the room and guidance to grow as a player, and continues to get his players to compete every night in spite of the lack of overall talent on the team. Brown has been able to do this through a unified and concerted effort toward improving the team. He runs offensive and defensive schemes that will be effective in the future, executed by Carter-Williams, Nerlens Noel and whoever the 76ers’ pick with their valuable lottery pick this offseason. If all of this wasn’t enough, Brown even went so far as to call season ticket holders personally to explain the team’s plan for the future, and convince them that they should renew their tickets for next year.
This year was about laying the foundation for a brighter future in Philadelphia. As newly appointed commissioner Adam Silver put it, it’s not “tanking,” it’s “rebuilding.” This year, no one has done a better job of “rebuilding,” than the 76ers, and Brown has done a masterful job of laying that foundation.
– Jesse Blancarte
NBA Daily: Checking In With Terrance Ferguson
Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Terrance Ferguson talks to Basketball Insiders about learning from his teammates, earning minutes and being mentally tough.
Before he reached the NBA, the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Terrance Ferguson was once often referred to as a man of mystery. After changing course on two different programs in a two-month span, Ferguson ditched the typical one-and-done collegiate season for an adventure on the other side of the planet. But even after the Thunder selected Ferguson with the No. 21 overall pick in last year’s draft — the questions still lingered. How would a teenager with one season overseas adjust to the world’s most physical basketball league?
Not many rookies can contribute to a 40-plus win squad out in the cutthroat Western Conference so quickly — but down the stretch, here Ferguson is doing just that. With the Thunder locked in a tight playoff battle with six others teams, the 19-year-old’s hard-working personality has fit alongside the roster’s three perennial All-Stars — Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. And although his rookie season has come with some growing pains, Ferguson is earning meaningful minutes and making the most of them.
“I think it’s my work ethic, I come in every day with the same mentality,” Ferguson said. “I work my butt off — inside the game, being physical. Even though I’m a skinny guy, as everyone can see, I’m still everywhere on the floor being physical. I think [the coaching staff] really likes that, especially on the defensive end.”
Skinny or not, Ferguson is one of the league’s youngest players, so the 6-foot-7 guard has plenty of room to grow — literally. But for now, he’s playing an integral role on an Oklahoma City team looking to protect its high postseason seed. Late January brought the unfortunate season-ending injury to Andre Roberson — an All-Defensive Second Team honoree in 2016-17 — so the Thunder have needed both new and old players to step up in bigger roles.
While those candidates included the three-point shooting Alex Abrines, veteran Raymond Felton and the newly-acquired Corey Brewer, Ferguson’s recent rise in the rotation has arguably been the most interesting development. Since the calendar flipped to January, Ferguson has featured in almost all of the Thunder’s games, tallying just two DNP-CDs and one missed contest following a concussion. This steady diet of opportunity comes as a stark contrast to the 15 games in which he received no playing time, spanning from the season’s opening tip to the new year.
Of course, playing time is not always indicative of success, but Ferguson himself isn’t surprised that he’s carved out a crucial role ahead of the playoffs.
“Not really, it’s all up to coach’s decision,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I’m just here playing my part, staying ready at all times and some minutes came, so I’mma take them and play to the best of my ability.”
Back in October, Basketball Insiders’ own Joel Brigham spoke to Ferguson about his unconventional path to NBA and the choice to spend a year grinding with the Adelaide 36ers, an Australian outfit. In the land down under, Ferguson averaged just 15 minutes a night, considerably less than he would’ve likely received as a highly-recruited prospect here in America. Some five months later, Ferguson’s early-season stance on the move still stands out.
“I’m living the dream now, right? I must have done the right thing,” Ferguson said.
Today, it’s hard to disagree with Ferguson’s decisions considering that they’re currently paying off. In 2009, Brandon Jennings became the first to skip college and play in Europe before being drafted, with Emmanuel Mudiay most notably following in his footsteps six years later. While those two point guards both were selected in the top ten of their draft classes — at No. 10 and No. 7, respectively — it still remains the road far less traveled.
Considered raw by most pre-draft evaluations, an early expectation was that Ferguson would spend much of the season with the Oklahoma City Blue, the Thunder’s G-League affiliate. Instead, Ferguson has played in only three games with the Blue, where he has averaged a commendable 14.7 points, four rebounds and 1.3 steals per game.
But as of late, the Thunder have found somebody that’ll always work hard, learn from others and do the little things that don’t show up in the box score.
“I’ve learned a lot more from when I first started,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I got great teammates — I got Nick Collison, I got Russ, PG, Melo, so just picking their brains. I got Corey now, so just the work ethic they put in, just picking their brains each and every day about what I can do better, watching game film, it’s a lot of things.”
When he was drafted, Ferguson had a reputation as a skyscraping leaper with the athleticism to become an elite perimeter defender. Although his current averages with the Thunder understate his innate potential, Ferguson knows he can contribute without scoring — even noting that he can make up for it “on the other side of the court.” Playing defense and competing hard every night, he has slowly made a name for himself.
And while Ferguson has tallied far more single-digit scoring outings than his 24-point breakout performance in early January, he’s earned the trust of head coach Billy Donovan and his veteran teammates, which is something the rookie will never take for granted.
“Coach believes in me and that means a lot to me,” Ferguson said. “But my teammates believe in me, so I’m not gonna let them down. I’m gonna go out every day and play my hardest, compete and try to get the win each and every night.”
One might assume that his year abroad in Australia helped to mentally mold him into the high-flying, hard-nosed rookie we see today. Ferguson, however, contends that he’s had that edge from the very beginning.
“I’ve been mentally tough, it wasn’t overseas that did that,” Ferguson told Basketball Insiders. “I had to be mentally tough just to go over there — so I’ve always had that mentality, the [desire] to just dominate, play to the best of my ability and compete.”
And now he’s doing just that in the NBA.
Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?
Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.
The Boston Celtics are in one awful predicament.
With a third of the roster out due to injury, Brad Stevens has been forced into the impossible task of maintaining Boston’s championship aspirations with some subpar talent; while they have performed admirably, the likes of Abdel Nader and Semi Ojeleye wouldn’t see the same run they are currently on with most contenders. Gordon Hayward has missed the entire season, save a few minutes on opening night. Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis are all currently out, some for the year and others not. Key contributors Al Horford, Marcus Morris and others have missed time as well.
It couldn’t get worse, could it?
Well, it may just have. Reports surfaced Tuesday that Irving, who had missed time this season — including the last four games — with left knee soreness, is seeking a second opinion after a lack of progress in his recovery.
My understanding is that Kyrie Irving is getting a 2nd opinion on his left knee, perhaps as soon as tomorrow. Bottom line: he needs the screws out. Knee is flaring up. He will either play thru it going forward or … he will get thee screws out and won’t play at all. Stay tuned.
— Tony Massarotti (@TonyMassarotti) March 20, 2018
With lack of progress on his ailing left knee, Celtics All-Star Kyrie Irving plans to travel for a second opinion later this week, league sources tell Yahoo.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) March 20, 2018
In the wake of the Isaiah Thomas fiasco and his ailing hip last Summer, an injury that lingered deep into this season, the Celtics will likely be more than cautious with Irving, whom they gave up a haul (the rights to the 2018 Brooklyn Nets first round pick, most notably), to acquire. But one can only wonder if these persistent issues — Irving’s left knee was surgically repaired after he sustained a fractured kneecap in 2015, and he reportedly threatened the Cleveland Cavaliers with surgery this offseason before his trade to Boston — are a cause for concern for general manager Danny Ainge and the Celtics.
The situation presents the Celtics with a quandary, to say the least.
Knee injuries aren’t exactly a death-knell, but fans need not look far for to see the devastating effect they can have on NBA players (e.g. Derrick Rose). They can snowball and, over time, even the best players will break down. Regardless of the severity, Irving’s knee issue presents problems both now and in the future.
The problems now are obvious: the Celtics, already down Gordon Hayward, cannot afford to lose Irving if they are at all interested in making a Finals run this season. Boston struggles mightily on the offensive end when Irving and his 24.4 points, 3.8 rebounds and 5.1 assists aren’t on the court. In a playoff atmosphere, especially, the team would sorely miss his scoring prowess.
Looking ahead, if Irving is dealing with these problems at the age of 25, what could the future hold for the All-Star guard? Knee issues, most lower body issues in general, are often of the chronic variety, and constant maintenance can wear on people, both mentally and physically.
Just a season separated from a likely super-max payday, will the Celtics want to commit big-money long-term to potentially damaged goods?
If there is a silver lining in it all, it is the fact that 20-year-old rookie Jayson Tatum must now shoulder the scoring load, something that should go a long way in building on the potential that made him the No. 3 overall pick last June. And, should Irving miss the remainder of this season, exposure to the fires of the playoffs should only temper the Celtics’ young roster. In the event that Irving’s absence isn’t prolonged, time like this could only serve to strengthen the roster around him.
Still, Ainge brought Irving to Boston for a reason: he was meant to lead the Celtics into battle, alongside Gordon Hayward and Al Horford, in their quest for a title. Obviously, he can’t do that from the bench. Without Irving at 100 percent, the Celtics are not a championship caliber squad, healthy Gordon Hayward or not. That fact alone will make Irving’s situation one to monitor going forward and for the foreseeable future.
NBA Daily: Houston Has It All
Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.
It is very easy to get caught up in the NBA regular-season hyperbole. The past is littered with a plethora of NBA teams that looked like world-beaters in the regular season only to pull up lame in the playoffs and emerge as a bunch of pretenders.
So when it comes to the Houston Rockets, it’s no surprise many pundits and fans of the game fall heavily on one side or the other. The 2017-18 Rockets are a polarizing squad in that respect. On one side of the fence, you have the folks that are struggling to get behind Houston until they see how the franchise performs in the playoffs under the brightest of lights and on the biggest of stages. On the other, folks that place a great deal of weight on the 82-game regular season and the ability to sustain consistency throughout the marathon.
As always, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
At the top of Houston’s lineup are two future Hall of Famers in James Harden and Chris Paul. The latter was a perennial star in his heyday and is still a top-tier talent in the league. Harden, on the other hand, is closing in on his first MVP award and had serious cases for winning the honors in prior seasons, as well. Both Harden and Paul are criticized for their past playoff failures.
Paul entered the league during the 2006 season and has been dogged by the ever looming fact that he’s never reached a Conference Finals. Harden has been to the NBA Finals but has been dogged for multiple playoff missteps and shaky performances that remain etched in everyone’s memory. But something about this season’s Rockets team (57-14) seems different as the duo closes in on 60 wins.
One way to measure the true greatness of a NBA team is evaluating how many ways the roster can win playing a variety of styles. From the eyeball test, Houston checks the boxes in this category. The team sustains leads during blowouts. They have an offense built to erase large deficits quickly. The team possesses the talent to employ an array of versatile lineups to withstand top heat from opposing teams. Head coach Mike D’Antoni has shown the ability to adjust on the fly during certain situations. Houston is seemingly comprised of a bunch of guys that are selfless and ready to sacrifice at this stage of their respective careers.
Time will tell on all of those aforementioned aspects, but the Rockets are built to compete and win now. On paper at least, the team fits the criteria.
Paul has a chance to go down as a top five point guard in NBA history .His court vision is unquestioned and his big men always seem to end up being in the top five of field goal percentage each season (i.e. Tyson Chandler, DeAndre Jordan and now Clint Capela). In years past, the Rockets faltered down the stretch of games because the entire system ran through Harden. But this year’s club has the luxury of taking some of the on-ball expectation away from Harden and by giving the rock to Paul who naturally thrives in this role the squad doesn’t take a step back on the floor.
This is going to be big for Houston which has seen Harden gassed late in playoff games from carrying the entire load.
Small Ball Ready
Presumably standing between the Rockets and an appearance in the NBA Finals are the Golden State Warriors. The Warriors turned the NBA upside down with their free-flowing offense, long range accuracy and the successful ability to push the pace while playing small ball.
At the height of Golden State’s success they employed the “death lineup” which places All-Star forward Draymond Green at center. In different variations this gives the Warriors five guys on the court who can dribble, drive, pass and shoot. Versatility is important and if you look at this year’s Rockets team they have the ability to match the death lineup with their own version. Veteran forward P.J. Tucker would be able to guard Green in this scenario at center or Houston could just rely on the athleticism of Capela.
When it comes to defense, the Rockets will never be confused for the bad boy Detroit Pistons of yesteryear, however, the team has an assortment of individually capable defenders on the roster. Paul has all defensive team honors hanging on his mantle during his time in the league. Small forward Trevor Ariza made his bones in the league by placing an emphasis on defense. Before Capela emerged as a double-digit scorer, he was relied on as a defensive spark off the bench. Luc Mbah a Moute has a reputation and consistent track record of being a very willing defender.
Shooting, Versatility and Experience
All of this success, leads to the variation D’Antoni can put out onto the floor. The versatility to go with a small ball lineup or a lineup heavily skewed toward defenders is a luxury amenity. Houston also features five guys with 125 or more three-pointers made this season with Harden, Eric Gordon, Ariza, Paul and Ryan Anderson leading the way. A sixth, Tucker, should join the +100 club before season’s end. Veteran Gerald Green has only played 30 games with the franchise but has already knocked down 76 attempts from distance.
Experience is key as well. This year’s Rockets team features only one player under 25, receiving 25 or more minutes per night in the rotation. Look at NBA history, title winning teams are full of veterans not second or third year players.
Again, the Rockets will never be confused with the late 80s or early 90s Pistons but the team has more than a few guys that don’t shy away from contact or physical play. The collection of Nene, Tucker, Green and Ariza have had more than their share of shoving matches when things get heated on the floor.
With the start of the NBA playoffs (April 14) under a month away, the Rockets continue to build momentum toward a title run. Will Harden and Paul’s playoff demons from the past emerge or is their first true shot at greatness with a complete team? These questions will soon be answered.