Team Building Genius
Daryl Morey is looked at as an advanced statistics savant who views basketball with ones and zeroes. This mindset is well documented in that his preferred style of play eschews the twos (point shots, that is) for threes, frees and EZ’s (layups and dunks). His particular genius hired Mike D’Antoni and unleashed James Harden as a point guard en route to an offensively historic 2016-17 season. This summer Morey added a hall of famer in Chris Paul for spare parts and a pit bull. Having two superstars is always preferable to only one, especially in the Western Conference with the Golden State Warriors laying waste to the rest of the league.
Super Teams do not only work because of the superstars. Series are won and lost by the margins: Steve Kerr hitting open threes from MJ, Robert Horry with seven rings, Birdman and ‘Rio doing dirty work for the Heat. The ultimate example is Draymond being Draymond as a superstar role player. Genius GM’s understand this principle and put players around the superstars that complement their skill sets and alleviate some of the burden of carrying a squad.
Daryl Morey has done this to perfection. Last year he let Dwight Howard leave quietly in the night and replaced him with the quintessential shot blocking and rim running modern center, Clint Capela. Capela so effectively filled this role with a 21.4 PER and 5.9 Win/Shares. In contrast, Dwight Howard owned a 15.7 PER and 0.7 Win/Shares in his final Rockets season. Running a starting center on a rookie contract with that type of impact is exactly how a front office should think. When Clint Capela starts costing $15 million a year we can have a different discussion about production and cost but for now he is exactly what the Rockets need in the middle.
Once upon a time, way back in 2011, Eric Gordon averaged 22 points a game and was viewed as the next great shooting guard. In 2016-17 he is a Sixth Man of the Year award winner by scoring 16 points a game with 13.2 PER and 3.8 Win/Shares. He is an excellent offensive complement on the wing with a picture perfect jump shot, unlimited range and a fearless, hairpin trigger. Eric Gordon is also a key piece of the Rockets system and a non-starter in stalled talks for Carmelo Anthony. Expect Gordon to continue getting wide open looks in a super-small lineup with two all-NBA point guards in CP3 and the Beard.
One more Rockets role player is expected to heavily contribute this season and that is stretch forward Ryan Anderson. He of the $20 million a season contract, Anderson epitomizes the stretch big trend that was a flash in the pan fad and is now coagulating like leftover bacon grease. Anderson is legitimately one of the best shooting bigs in the NBA, hitting 40% of his 500 attempts in 2016-17. His range is to 25 feet, he moves to get open and has a lightning quick release. He also has a big problem of shooting much better from 3 on the road (46%) than at home (33%). He also hamstrung the Rockets in the playoffs last year by making only 28% of his 3’s. If Anderson isn’t making shots, he is not helping the team in many other ways as his defense is subpar with -2.8 in the defensive +/- advanced stats category. This preseason he looks to be in better shape and has added muscle to his frame, time will tell if this is advantageous to his play.
Other contributing players are Trevor Ariza who is a perfectly average 3 and D wing and PJ Tucker who is exactly the same as Ariza, only a little stronger. The Rockets also brought in Luc Richard Mbah a Moute who can only play defense at this point in his career. Nene can still play when healthy and knows where to be but is not overly effective. In short, the Rockets are not particularly deep with solid, athletic NBA talent.
A top heavy squad that relies on three point shooting around their two superstar point guards looks to challenge the Western Conference hierarchy this season. The Rockets look good from the outside and are very thin in the middle. Daryl Morey is never afraid to make a trade so one may be in store to shore up the frontline. Look for the Rockets to be a top 4 seed in the playoffs where health and hot shooting can sink a ship or propel a squad into the next round.