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Cheap Seats: Who is NBA’s Most Improved Player?

Basketball Insiders’ interns debate who deserves the Most Improved Player award. Is it Lance Stephenson? Blake Griffin? Kendall Marshall?

Basketball Insiders



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 the NBA’s Most Improved Player for the 2013-14 season.

Lance Stephenson

Born ready, he may not have been, but with a few years of NBA experience under his belt Lance Stephenson has more than proven this year, he is ready.

Last year, following Danny Granger’s injury, the Indiana Pacers were in need of a player to fill the void left and that player was Stephenson. The former New York City high school legend and second-round pick out of the University of Cincinnati started 72 games during the 2012-13 season and played well, shooting 46 percent from the field while averaging just fewer than nine points a game.  He was a key contributor for the Pacers during the postseason, performing well in increased minutes. However, the Pacers’ championship dreams fell short.  Though Indiana was unable to achieve their ultimate goal, it was clear that they may have stumbled upon a diamond in the rough in Stephenson.

The Pacers to date have the best record in the Eastern Conference and Stephenson has been a major contributor to that success.  He is averaging a career high in minutes per game (35.5) and has parlayed those minutes into a very productive season thus far, scoring 14.2 points per game to go along with over seven rebounds and five assists. Stephenson has proven this season that he is one of the more valuable and well rounded guards in the NBA today.  His combination of size, strength and skill set make him a very tough match-up for opposing guards.  Stephenson may not be an elite shooter from deep, but if given some space he has the ability to knock down the three. While he can shoot it, the biggest strength of Stephenson’s game may be his ability to maneuver through the lane and finish strong around the rim. Inside three feet from the rim, Stephenson is making a very impressive 69.7 percent of his shots. His ability to contribute in many different aspects of the game has made him tremendously effective.

While Stephenson has improved mightily on the offensive end, he has made huge strides on the defensive side of the ball as well.  The Pacers hang their hat on their ability to shut down opposing teams in the half court and they do as good of a job as any team in the league. The Pacers’ defense is anchored by Roy Hibbert, who does a magnificent job protecting the rim and is one of the best defensive big men in the league. While Hibbert locks down the paint, Stephenson and Paul George have been great containing opposing wings out on the perimeter. Stephenson’s defensive rating this season is 98.5 and while the Pacers’ team defense might inflate his individual rating a bit, he ranks ahead of very good defenders like Kawhi Leonard and Andre Igoudala.

Stephenson will be a free agent following this season and is poised for a big pay day presuming he can continue to produce at this rate.  He is in the final season of a four-year, $3.35 million contract and will be due a significant raise.  The question is, will the Pacers be the team to pay Stephenson the money he deserves?  It is expected that Stephenson will garner quite a bit of interest around league if he doesn’t re-sign with the Pacers and will certainly be offered a very healthy contract.  What makes Stephenson so valuable and what separates him from many other wings in the league is that ability to contribute in many different ways.  Every night, he is a threat to put up a triple double. For a player still in the early stages of his career, it isn’t hard to see why GMs around the league may be ready to open their check books to try and land Stephenson.

The Pacers are loaded with talent, most notably George and Hibbert, but Stephenson has managed to carve out a very nice niche for himself. His play will be crucial in the postseason for the Pacers when they inevitably run into the Miami HEAT.  He has very quickly developed into one of the most valuable players on the Pacers.  Hibbert and George were both All-Stars this season, and you could easily argue that Stephenson deserved to be there with his teammates.  Playing a major role on the best team in the Eastern Conference may not have been enough to get Stephenson into the All-Star game this year, but it is hard to imagine Stephenson missing many more All-Star games in the near future. He is most definitely in the running for Most Improved Player of the Year.  He has improved his stats across the board, he is playing very well within the team’s defensive concepts and he has been a huge part of the Pacers’ success so far this season. Stephenson has put it all together this year and surely has a very bright future ahead of him.

– John Zitzler

Blake Griffin

One player this season has addressed weaknesses in his game, adapted himself to a new coach and system, improved his defense, and stepped up when his All-Star teammate suffered a major injury. This player is Blake Griffin.

After missing a year, Griffin burst onto the scene, averaging 22.2 points, 12.1 rebounds and 3.8 assists, on 50.6 percent shooting from the field in his delayed rookie season. These numbers are historically impressive for a 21-year-old in his rookie year. Despite his impressive play, the Clippers did not make the playoffs in 2010-11, but an exciting core was in place that featured Griffin, Eric Gordon, Eric Bledsoe and DeAndre Jordan.

Things changed, however, when the Clippers managed to swing a trade for Chris Paul. Griffin instantly became the second best player on the Clippers and the team’s focus shifted to winning right away. In spite of this change in the pecking order, Griffin was expected to develop and improve from his rookie season and be the Robin to Paul’s Batman.

With the inclusion of Paul, the Clippers were expected to compete for a championship. Thus, fans and critics looked for Griffin’s game to expand and improve from his rookie season. Unfortunately, Griffin’s highlight dunks subjected him to a reputation of being “just a dunker.” In his second season, Griffin averaged 20.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists, on 54.9 percent shooting from the field. Griffin’s stats were down, and, most notably, his free throw percentage dropped from 64.2 percent in his rookie season to 52.1 percent. He still struggled to hit midrange jumpers, and it seemed he was stuck in a sophomore slump. Because of this, the luster of Griffin’s historic rookie season was gone, and the skepticism of his game grew.

Last season, Griffin’s per game numbers continued to fall. He averaged 18 points, 8.3 rebounds and 3.7 assists, on 53.8 percent shooting from the field. However, this was mainly a result in a reduction in minutes per game. Regardless, there was a perception that Griffin was regressing. Any time TNT was televising a Clippers game, Charles Barkley would criticize Griffin for not imposing his will on opposing teams. Clipper fans would push back from this national criticism that surrounded Griffin, pointing to Griffin’s statistics averaged over 36 minutes per game, and his solid efficiency numbers. However, it seemed that with a secondary role, Griffin lost the confidence to play with the relentless energy and tenacity he displayed his rookie season.

Griffin seemed hesitant. He regularly passed up midrange jumpers, and seemed to use Paul as a crutch. In the biggest moments, Griffin would defer to Paul. Last year in the playoffs, Griffin suffered a high ankle sprain in practice, which limited his effectiveness. The Clippers lost in the first round, and it became clear that Paul could not carry this team to the Finals on his own.

This offseason, in an effort to add championship level coaching, the Clippers successfully negotiated with Boston to acquire Doc Rivers as their new coach. Rivers immediately instilled confidence in his players. Griffin was ready and excited.

“Our offense is going to have a totally different look this year,” Griffin told ESPN entering the season. “Our offense is going to have a lot of movement and floor spacing. I’m looking forward to it. … I’ve really been working, doing a lot of face-up stuff. Understanding where I’m going to be in the offense, what my options are and trying to be more of a facilitator this year.”

This season, Griffin is averaging 24.1 points, 9.8 rebounds, 3.5 assists and is shooting 70 percent from the free throw line and 53.3 percent from the field. The biggest jump has been in Griffin’s efficiency. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) is at a career-high 24.12, and his true shooting percentage is at a career high 58.6 percent. While these numbers are good, they only tell a small part of Griffin’s development this season. On January 3, against the Dallas Mavericks, Paul separated his shoulder. Griffin took on the task of keeping the Clippers afloat without its leader, the team went 12-6, and actually gained ground in the West.

In those 18 games, Griffin averaged 27.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 10.8 free throws a game and shot 55.4 percent from the field. Griffin recognized that he needed to again take on the role as the go-to player on the team. Often times he would grab a defensive rebound, run up the court and would either assault the basket with his athleticism or make a play for someone else to score. Griffin also implemented his improved jump shot. Last season, Griffin shot 34.3 percent from beyond 16 feet, and within the three point line. This season, he is shooting 40.6 percent there and looks more confident.

In February, Griffin averaged 30 points, 10.7 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 11.2 free throws, while shooting 54.5 percent from the field. There was a concern that when Paul returned from injury, Griffin would regress to his usual secondary role. Instead, Griffin has continued his strong play, and the reintegration of Paul has added to Griffin’s enhanced production.

Doc Rivers has recognized Griffin’s improved play as well.

“(Griffin) facing up has just become a weapon,” Rivers told Reuters. “It’s so hard to guard and if you do he’s such a great passer. That combination is what has opened it up. If you help, he’ll pick you apart.”

With Paul, Jared Dudley, Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison, currently injured J.J. Redick and new addition Danny Granger surrounding him at times, opposing teams have to choose between double-teaming Griffin in the post or sticking with the shooters on the perimeter. Griffin has become a match-up problem for all teams, and it seems he is finally imposing his will on games just as Barkley had called for the last few years.

What is scary for the rest of the league is that Griffin is only 24 years old, and still has a lot of room for improvement. He will never be an elite defensive player like Anthony Davis, however, within River’s defensive schemes, Griffin can continue to improve his defensive efficiency, positioning and timing. His jump shot can also still improve, along with his free throw percentage. However, unlike in prior seasons, Griffin understands his role offensively and defensively, and has managed to combine the tenacity and confidence he played with his rookie year, with his improved skill-set and increased efficiency, making him a top player in the league.

With respect to players like Paul George, Lance Stephenson, LaMarcus Aldridge and Goran Dragic, all of whom can argue they are the most improved player, Griffin has done what none of them have this season. He has usurped the mantle of most important player on his team from a top three player in the league in Paul. That’s right, Blake Griffin is the key to the Clippers’ chances of winning a title this year. He is an outside candidate to win league MVP, and if things break the right way for the Clippers, he could win his first NBA championship this year. Not bad for “just a dunker.”

– Jesse Blancarte

Kendall Marshall

The Los Angeles Lakers signed point guard Kendall Marshall to a two-year deal back in December, shortly after they lost Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar and Steve Blake to injuries. The result has been the best-case scenario for the Lakers, as Marshall currently ranks second in the league with 9.4 assists per game.

Marshall spent last season with the Phoenix Suns, the team that drafted him with the 13th pick in the 2012 draft. He was traded after the season to the Washington Wizards and was then released. The major knock against Marshall was his lack of an outside shot; he shot 32 percent from three-point range in 48 games with the Suns. It’s easy to see why the Suns traded him away, and why the Wizards then released him – point guards must have the ability to shoot the three ball.

Marshall worked hard last summer to improve, and the results have been staggering. From one season to the next, Marshall has gone from being written off as a shooter to sixth in the league in three-point percentage at 45 percent. Following his release from the Wizards, Marshall entered his name into the NBA Development League player pool, and was picked up by the Delaware 87ers. In Marshall’s first game with the 87ers, he dropped 30 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. In seven games in the D-League, Marshall averaged 19.4 points, 9.6 assists and 4.7 rebounds. He shot 46 percent from three-point range this season versus just 22 percent in nine games last season.

The Lakers made the decision to sign Marshall on Dec. 20 and two weeks later, Marshall would turn in his best performance as a pro. The game was against the Utah Jazz on Jan. 3, a game in which the Lakers had just two healthy guards on the team: Marshall and Jodie Meeks. The game would be Marshall’s first start, and first game seeing heavy minutes. Marshall led the Lakers that night with 41 minutes played, so any question regarding his physical shape was answered. Marshall dropped 20 points, 15 assists and six rebounds on 8-of-12 shooting from the floor, and 2-of-3 from three-point range.

Marshall’s first month back in the league saw him lead the league in assists with 11.5 per game. In 31 games this season, Marshall has recorded double-digit assists in 16 games, including two games with 17. Marshall’s college head coach at North Carolina, Roy Williams, told Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak that Marshall is “probably the best passer in a fast break situation that I’ve ever coached in 26 years as head coach.” Williams also said Marshall is one of the most unselfish players he’s seen, which is backed up with Marshall’s 9.4 assists per game.

On a team with a lot of uncertainty going forward, Marshall has certainly put himself in a position to earn a roster spot next season. The Lakers have only three players guaranteed on the books for next season – Kobe Bryant, Nash and Robert Sacre. Since joining the Lakers last season, Nash has only played in 60 games, including just 10 games this season, so it would be foolish for the team to continue to keep relying on him to return to form.

A positive sign for Marshall sticking around in L.A. was the Lakers’ decision to trade Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors at the trade deadline. By trading Blake, the Lakers saved money on luxury tax expenses. Marshall is just 22 and earning just $547,570 this season and $915,243 next season on a non-guaranteed contract, so depending on the team’s plans for next season, taking another season to look at Marshall may be in their best interest.

– Cody Taylor

Who deserves the Most Improved Player award? Leave your thoughts in a comment below.


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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.

Ben Nadeau



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.

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Is Kyrie Irving’s Second Opinion a Cause for Concern?

Shane Rhodes breaks down the tough situation the Celtics are in with Kyrie Irving.

Shane Rhodes



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.

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.

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NBA Daily: Houston Has It All

Deciphering whether Houston is a contender or pretender is tough, but they’re making it easy.

Lang Greene



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.

Floor Generalship

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.

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