To preview the Mavericks home-and-home series with the Houston Rockets over the next three days, we've brought in Patrick Harrel from SB Nation's The Dream Shake to discuss the NBA team from Texas' moistest city.
1) Kyle Lowry has emerged as an All-Star caliber PG this season. Talk a little about his game and what you think his ceiling is.
After Aaron Brooks went down with a severely sprained ankle against San Antonio last year, Kyle Lowry took hold of the starting point guard spot, a post he has yet to relinquish (well, until his recent sickness). He had always been praised as a bulldog type player, never taking a play off and producing despite an ineffective jump shot.
As we saw after he took over the spot last year, the hard work he had put on his jump shot began to pay off. Teams started to respect his jumper, and that in turn opened up the floor for him. In year two as a starter, he just picked up where he left off at the end of last season.
On a team with slumping veterans in Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, Lowry is taking more shots, playing more minutes, and has assumed the role of team leader on the floor. He's doing what he's always been doing-rebounding at an elite level, pushing the ball in transition, and finding bigs near the basket for open looks-only his shot is falling at a higher clip.
He's come down to Earth in recent months as he endured a shooting slump, but I have no doubt that he can be an All-Star in the next few years if a guard spot ever opens up for him (I'm looking at you, Steve Nash).
With Lowry potentially out for a month and Goran Dragic playing out of his mind in his stead, the Rockets will be forced to make a decision on the duo. Will they retain both only to deal one next year, let Dragic go in free agency, or keep the point guard tandem together? Let me just say that it's decisions like these that make me glad not to be in Daryl Morey's shoes.
2) How much of an impact do you think Marcus Camby will have on this team going forward?
Ever since Yao Ming went down with the stress fracture in his poor left ankle, the Rockets have been searching some size in the middle. Brad Miller, Chuck Hayes, David Andersen, and Jordan Hill all attempted it the last few seasons, but they never found a true center who could block shots and rebound.
Now, after the Marcus Camby trade and the Samuel Dalembert signing, the Rockets have two. Camby celebrated his 38th birthday on Thursday so expectations should be tempered with him, but he was a tremendous acquisition and should help remedy the Rockets' biggest weakness: defensive rebounding. The Rockets have struggled immensely getting defensive rebounds against bigger teams because nobody on the squad outside of Dalembert is strong in that area.
Camby's a near zero offensively outside of his passing ability, but his impact on the boards has already been felt. The twenty minutes every game that he can give the team will go a long way towards helping the bench and matching up against big teams.
3) The Rockets are currently sitting in the 8th spot in the West. Do you think they hold on to make the playoffs?
As anybody who's looked at the current standings can tell you, the Western Conference is ridiculously close right now. Utah stands just half a game outside of the playoff picture at the 9th seed, but the Rockets are just a game out of 4th place (as it stands before Friday night's games).
In spite of the efforts of a Utah team playing great basketball, I would expect the Rockets to make the playoffs this season. Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin's absences will be felt, especially if they are out for much longer, but Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee have filled in admirably and seem poised to take the Rockets to the postseason.
In the pre-season prognostications, many expected Marcus Morris to be a starter by mid-season and predicted Parsons would be headed to the D-League. These predictions were warranted-Parsons didn't seem like a player who could just burst onto the scene and play immediately while Morris had the look of a polished player with NBA skills.
However, as the two got spotty playing time in the beginning of the season, it was obvious that Parsons was more of an NBA player at that point. His shot was a joke (he famously banked in his first free throw with the Rockets), but he rebounded, passed, and defended at an NBA level. Morris is transitioning to the small forward spot, and simply has not gotten enough time at that spot to be ready.
Thus, it was Morris that went to the D-League and Parsons who stayed and usurped the starting spot from Chase Budinger. Parsons has become a wing stopper who has defended Kevin Durant and Kobe Bryant exceptionally well in recent months. I'd almost like to see him on Dirk to see what he could do.
5) More broadly, what is the plan in Houston? Who would you say is in the core and who is probably available in a trade?
That is the biggest question facing Rockets fans right now. What is the plan? Why go every year and make these marginal upgrades while remaining starless? The stated plan, for now, is to rebuild while remaining competitive. Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, explained that plan to Bill Simmons on his BS report, and concluded by claiming that while it's never really been done (that is, building a championship contender without getting bad), he believes it's possible.
Some are quick to propose a complete rebuild, to tank like the Portland Trailblazers. The problem with that strategy is that his team is so deep, if you trade away your highest value players, you'll still be good enough to escape the top ten in the draft. Without their starting back court against the Lakers and the Thunder, the Rockets managed two incredible wins. Tanking sounds great in principle, but is difficult in practice.
For now, the team appears willing to bide their time, collect assets, maintain flexibility, and hope to land a star when one becomes available. The Rockets thought they had found that centerpiece in Pau Gasol before the season, they were in on negotiations for Dwight Howard up until Howard signed the waiver of his option to terminate, and will continue in their hunt this summer.
Expect the Rockets to press hard for Deron Williams in free agency (a pipe dream for sure), and try to move up in the draft. The team could have as many as three first round picks in 2012, and Kevin Martin seems to be on his way out. Perhaps that package could entice a top five team to give away their pick.
In the end, Daryl Morey will continue to push hard for value. That means that players at the peak of their value are at risk to be traded at any time. Kyle Lowry, the aforementioned stud point guard, was nearly traded for Pau Gasol at the trade deadline, Kevin Martin will likely be traded if he can reestablish his value this spring, and Luis Scola and his big contract don't appear to have a future with the club.
It's really hard to name a core of a team with so many balanced contributions across the board, but the three most important players moving forward seem to be Kyle Lowry, Courtney Lee, and Chandler Parsons. Three two-way players are young enough to build around, and should be starters for a while.