Premature Southwest Division Preview: Houston Rockets


April 21, 2012; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets power forward Luis Scola (4) drives on Golden State Warriors forward Jeremy Tyler (3) during the first quarter at the Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE

Houston RocketsRecord: 34-32Offensive rating: 105.5 — 12thDefensive rating: 105.2 — 17thPace: 91.7 — 11theFG%: 49.2% — 11thDefensive eFG%: 49.0% — 17th

Burning question: How come Houston always seems to finish with an average record?

Houston has toiled in mediocrity for as long as I can remember. Even when they had the potentially awesome duo of Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, they never reached the pinnacle of basketball. Of course, that may because they are Houston. But, more realistically, it’s simply because they haven’t acquired enough elite talent to build a franchise around. They’ve been mediocre because Darryl Morey has made the most of what he’s been dealt with — it’s pretty hard to win consistently when you have mid-to-late lottery picks every year and don’t have an enticing market for free agents — though I don’t fault him for meticulously constructing his teams. That’s the San Antonio model. The only thing? The Spurs were blessed with Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Kevin Martin and Luis Scola are valuable contributors but they can’t be the best player on a championship team.

I’m not saying anything that is innovative, admittedly. Even casual fans acknowledge that superstars are intricate part of any teams. Check out the last eight championship teams: They were sperheaded by Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James. Those are all players that we will acknowledge as all-time greats.

Houston can continue to draft players like Tyler Zeller and finding serviceable rotation players without drastically improving heir chances of winning a championships. Until they break up their core — it doesn’t have to be totally demolished either — lose some games and find the next superstar then, only then, they could potentially make the proverbial leap.

Apr 18, 2012; Dallas, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard Courtney Lee (5) and point guard Goran Dragic (3) wait for play to resume during the game against the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center. The Mavericks defeated the Rockets 117-110. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-US PRESSWIRE

Player(s) to watch: Goran Dragic/Kyle Lowry.

The Rockets are in an interesting predicament. They currently have an above-average point guard on their roster and another point guard that is developing into an effective option. This usually is a beneficial scenario for teams. Yet, in this instance, the latter is a free agent.

Kyle Lowry is their starter. He isn’t uber-efficient nor is he an elite shot creator but his 18.9 PER is more than acceptable. Lowry is also an excellent defender and rebounder and he exhibits impressive pick-and-roll acuity. Lowry scored 0.97 points per possession as the ball handler in the pick-and-roll, good for 13th in the entire league. Goran Dragic shot more efficiently in pick-and-roll situations but Lowry differentiated himself because he limited his turnovers.

Here’s the thing: Houston doesn’t need both Dragic and Lowry. They aren’t natural fits on the floor together hence the high probability that one or the other will not be on the roster. Dragic wants to start and so does Lowry. Dragic is more efficient overall and, in a limited sample size, was highly effective when juxtaposed with a variety of lineups.

It appears that Houston will probably decide to retain Dragic and flip Lowry to another team. We can conclude that because general manager Darryl Morey wants “to get something done early” and that Dragic has expressed desire in returning to the Houston.

“That is what I would want to have,” Dragic said. “I really like the Rockets, it is a great organization. I really     liked playing for Kevin McHale. He’s a great coach, great guy. He was a player so he has had a lot of     experience. He helped a lot with me this season, taught me how to run a team. I hope that in the future, I     am still going to be with him.”

Considering they will both be expected to handle at least one out of every five possessions, this isn’t such a simple decision.

Important statistic: At-rim defense.

Houston’s defense at the rim, even when you factor in their two centers that block approximately 5% of their shots on the floor, was abominable. They allowed opposing teams to convert at the rim at a 65.3% clip. Only Phoenix, Sacramento and Utah allowed their opponents to convert on a higher percentage of shots at the rim.

Perhaps, you ask, they offset their deficiency by limiting attempts? Nope. They allowed 25.7 attempts at the rim per game and 37.5 attempts inside of nine feet.

As a result, they are actively shopping Samuel Dalembert and the 16th pick. They will re-sign Marcus Camby though, according to league sources.

Either Meyers Leonard or Tyler Zeller seem to be realistic fits for their respective needs. Both are long, athletic and can run the floor well. Houston’s size has always been a detriment and bolstering their size will be imperative this offseason.