Today’s preview is a bit different than our usual format. This preview is running in conjunction with the CelticsBlogs previews, so I’m using their template. Make sure you visit CelticsBlog, there’s some great previews being written.
08-09 Record: 53-29
Key Losses: Yao Ming (injury), Ron Artest, Von Wafer
Key Additions: Trevor Ariza, Chase Budinger (rookie), David Andersen (rookie)
1) What significant moves were made in the offseason?
There was really only one move of great significance, and that was the swap of Artest for Ariza. For this year, the trade-off might end up making the team worse. Artest is more of a shot-creator, whereas Ariza is an off-the-ball role player. With Yao out, the team is lacking guys who can create their own shot, and Artest would’ve helped with that. In the long run, however, the move is a no-brainer. Ariza is younger and can be a quality starter for this team through the length of his contract. Artest, 30, had definitely lost a step or two last year (and is also certifiably crazy).
The only other significant acquisitions were rookies, namely Budinger and Andersen. Budinger is a guy who probably would’ve been a lottery pick a couple years ago, but fell to the 2nd round this year. With his stroke and his hops, I think he’s got a good chance at becoming a solid role-player in this league. Andersen is the more interesting case. He was originally picked in 2002, and Atlanta had been holding his rights ever since. He’s a skilled big, and an excellent shooter for his size, and his experience should make him more ready to contribute than your average rookie. More importantly, he’s the only guy on the roster taller than 6’9, and that alone should be worth some playing time.
2) What are the team’s biggest strengths?
One word: Defense. Even without Yao’s presence in the paint, this is going to be a formidable defensive team. They’ve got two of the best wing defenders in the league (Ariza and Shane Battier), a great defensive point guard (Kyle Lowry), and a trio of strong (if undersized) defensive post players (Chuck Hayes, Luis Scola and Carl Landry). They won’t block a ton of shots or force a bunch of turnovers, but they give up nothing easy. They make you take tough shots with a hand in your face, they don’t foul unnecessarily, and they rarely allow offensive rebounds. They’ve got a never-back-down culture on the team, and I don’t see that changing a whole lot even without the big guy on the backline.
3) What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
The most glaringly obvious weakness is size. Andersen is the only player on the team taller than 6’9, and both the team’s point guards are only 6’0. They have a lot of guys who play bigger than their size (Hayes, Landry, Lowry), so I think they’ll actually get by alright, but there are going to be teams (Lakers, anyone) with the length and versatility to really abuse Houston’s small frontline.
The more worrying weakness for the Rockets is their lack of a shot-creator. Brooks and McGrady are the only guys on the roster who we know can create a shot for themselves, and who knows what they’re going to get from T-Mac this year. There are tons of great role players and support guys on the roster, but without someone to carry the load offensively, they’re going to struggle. Houston was a barely average offensive team last year even with Yao, so unless McGrady stays healthy and turns back the clock 5 years, they’re going to struggle to put points on the board.
4) What are the goals for this team?
A .500 record is probably a reasonable goal for the Rockets, and sneaking into the playoffs would be a great accomplishment. A lot is going to depend on what they receive from McGrady. If he comes back strong and gives them a primary scorer, that makes their ceiling a lot higher. Even if he gives them nothing, they won’t be awful. They’re good enough defensively and have enough solid players to win 35-40 games.
5) Can a team of all undersized role players be successful?
Houston is a team that is really interesting to me this year. They’re kind of a test of standard basketball knowledge. Can you score consistently with a bunch of role players? Can you defend effectively without height on the frontline? The Rockets are filled with guys who have been underrated throughout their careers, guys who don’t have huge talent, but are successful anyway. So the question is, can guys who are successful in small roles be just as effective when forced into bigger roles? They’ll be a fascinating case study in usage vs. efficiency, and that’s exciting for statistically minded guys like me.
Projected Finish: 40-42 (10th in the West)
BallerBlogger contributing writer ‘xphoenix87′ is a college student who dreams of one day writing about sports for a living. Since that’s not gonna happen, he’ll do this instead.