In the final days leading up to regular season action, SCH will be posting divisional previews of the top teams in all six NBA divisions. Come back early and often for updates.
Yao Ming v. Al Jefferson – Yao is a beast. I think he’s one of the most underrated players in the game and one of the top 2 centers in the league. Dwight has shown himself to be more durable, but Yao passes better, has softer hands in the low post, and has a solid midrange jumper (and by “jumper” I mean, “no jumping necessary”). The only problem with Yao is his health, which consistently makes me sad. I hate that a person that is so nice, so good, and as ambassadorial as Yao could potentially have his career cut short by lingering foot problems. Anyway, considering that he will be given 24 minutes per night this season, he’s the guy to watch in this otherwise superstarless team. Yeah, it’s only 24 minutes, but don’t underestimate Yao’s ability to dismantle a team in that amount of time. He’s taller, better, and smoother than centers across the board. If Houston uses him well (and I personally think that he’d be amazing off the bench), then look out.
Kevin Martin v. whoever – This just in: Kevin Martin is good. Really good. He shot 53.6% from 3PT territory in the preseason. He’s a defensive liability, and that’s an area the Rockets will have to look out for, but his offensive abilities alone should make opposing guards nervous. He can shoot, penetrate, and knows how to draw a foul. If he can stay healthy, then stay on notice.
Daryl Morey knows what he’s doing. He’s had an unfair helping of bad luck & bad contracts, but year in and out, he’s still managed to put together a team that seems to make everyone nervous. He’s a pioneer in the NBA world for his streamlined approach to statistics and his ability to build a cohesive team. A Morey team always gels, always competes, and always has players that compliment each other. This means that despite not having a team of stars, his teams will always be good. This Rockets team has a solid starting 5, and a strong second unit. It has some leaders, some veterans, some up tempo guys, and some workhorses. It has balance. It’s not a team that will wow anyone, but trust me, when you look back at their record in 3 months, you’ll be surprised. They can win in the regular season without a prototypical superstar. That model may not work come playoff time, but they’re pretty well set to start league play. Saying all of that, it’ll be particularly interesting to see what the Rockets do as the trade deadline approaches.
The Rockets finished the 2009-10 season at 42/40, in 9th place (by 8 games), and on the outside looking in to the playoffs. They played the season without Yao (broken foot) and used the injured player exception they were granted on Trevor Ariza. It was a frustrating, purgatorial season for Rockets fans.
The Rockets have played 169 games against the Jazz and are 76/93 all time. They split 4 games in the 2008-2009 season, and lost to the Jazz in the playoffs in both 2006-07 (in 7 games), and 2007-08 (in 6 games).
I respect Rick Adelman. In his 18 outings as coach, he’s had 16 winning seasons and 15 playoff appearances. He knows how to use the players he’s got, and he never gets rattled. If Jerry Sloan retired today, there are 3 coaches that I would be happy with as replacement, and Adelman is on that list. He’s an old school guy that rewards good players, not good contracts, and he’s the kind of guy that maintains stability in an industry flanked with tumultuous conditions.
This season hinges on Yao and his lame foot. If he stays healthy, plays his 24 minutes of power, and the Rockets stay competitive until the trade deadline, I can see Morey and the boys pulling the trigger on a big-time guy to come in and make a push for the playoffs. If the chips ALL fall right, this team could be SCARY come playoff time. Imagine a healthy Yao (who probably wouldn’t have limited minutes in the playoffs) a hyped up Kevin Martin, and a determined Luis Scola. Throw in any ‘ol superstar (Carmelo?) and that team gets frightening. Saying all of that, any number of things could go wrong, the whole thing could implode, and you’d end up with another season that mirrors the 2009-10 mess that Rocket fans already suffered through once. Without Yao, things won’t be horrible, but there won’t be as much to get excited about… and if the Great Yao falls once more, then it could potentially be his last time in an NBA uniform.