Rockets and Warriors

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Record:  34-48, 5th in Southwest Division, 12th (tie) in Western Conference

Statistical Comparison:

Noteable:

29th in the league in scoring (90.1ppg)
4th in opponent scoring (91.7ppg)
29th in field goal %
2nd in opponent field goal %
27th in three-point %
26th (tie) in opponent turnovers

Others:

20th in ppg differential (-1.6)
11th in rebounding
23rd in assists
14th in steals
23rd in blocks
15th (tie) in turnovers

Additions:  
Shane Battier, Kirk Snyder, Casey Jacobsen, Vassilis Spanoulis (R), Steve Novak (R), Kelenna Azubuike (R)

Subtractions:  
David Wesley, Stromile Swift, Keith Bogans, Jon Barry, Rick Brunson, Ritchie Frahm, Maciej Lampe

Key Players

PG:  Rafer Alston, Bob Sura, John Lucas
SG:  Tracy McGrady, Luther Head, Kirk Snyder, Vassilis Spanoulis
SF:   Shane Battier, Ryan Bowen, Casey Jacobsen, Kelenna Azubuike
PF:   Juwon Howard, Chuck Hayes, Steve Novak
C:   Yao Ming, Dikembe Mutumbo

Comments:  The Rockets will be one of the big questions of this season.  Last year most were predicting a deep playoff run.  They barely made a serious run at 40 wins.  Injuries accounted for some of that, but the team was also fractured and mismatched.  This year it looks like they're moving towards a big boy style of basketball instead of the sporadic, slapdash brand they've played since Steve Francis was a rookie.  I don't think they'll miss the somewhat random and often disappointing collection of talent they rid themselves of.  I suspect they will like what Shane Battier does for their team.  Van Gundy has already instituted his grinding style of defense to good effect.  A guy like Battier will help transform the halfcourt offense into similar solidity.  This is important because the team lives and dies with Yao Ming but they haven't been set up to take full advantage of him heretofore.  Last year was his best season and the team needs to captitalize.  Rafer Alston is a reasonable passing point guard but he shoots like an inebriated, one-armed blind man having a seizure.  Between that and Juwon Howard plus a cast of kiddies manning the power forward slot generating offense will again become a major concern.  They could really use a sweet-scoring, tough-rebounding power forward but it's hard to see where they'd get the pieces to trade for one.  That means a lot of the offensive burden will once again fall on the shoulders of Tracy McGrady.  How he adapts will tell the tale of their season.  They don't have the players to run a wide-open style.  If he can become a productive part of a tri-pointed, efficient offensive attack with Yao and Battier the Rockets should be in the playoff hunt.  If it's four guys running the offense and Tracy chucking whenever he thinks he's open they'll lose 45+ again no matter how many he scores.  Best guess is that it won't be an easy transition for him (no pun intended).  Since he barely topped 40% shooting last year they might be better off seeing if they could package him for a really good PG and PF.  Injuries and enormous contract or no, you know somebody will be enticed by his talent.

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS

Record:  34-48, 5th in Pacific Division, 12th (tie) in Western Conference

Statistical Comparisons:

Noteable:

28th in field goal %
5th in rebounding
4th in opponent turnovers

Others:

11th in the league in scoring (98.5ppg)
22nd in opponent scoring (99.8ppg)
18th in ppg differential (-1.4ppg)
20th in opponent field goal %
22nd in three-point %
16th in assists
8th (tie) in steals
17th (tie) in blocks
12th (tie) in turnovers

Additions:  
Devin Brown, Keith McLeod, Dajuan Wagner, Andre Owens, Patrick O'Bryant (R)  

Subtractions:  
Derek Fisher, Calbert Cheaney, Wil Bynum, Aaron Miles

Key Players

PG:  Baron Davis, Keith McLeod, Andre Owens
SG:  Jason Richardson, Monta Ellis, Dajuan Wagner, Devin Brown
SF:  Mike Dunleavy, Mickael Pietrus,  
PF:  Troy Murphy, Ike Diogu, Zarko Cabarkapa, Chris Taft
C:  Adonal Foyle, Andris Biedrins, Patrick O'Bryant

Comments: Golden State is another team with decent, but apparently mismatched, talent.  Last year it often seemed like Baron Davis and Jason Richardson were playing one style, Mike Dunleavy and Troy Murphy another, while Adonal Foyle was just clueless.  Monta Ellis and Mickael Pietrus had pretty nice years and Ike Diogu had a respectable rookie campaign.  Now enter Don Nelson to put all these pieces together.  Nellie used to be the king of small ball and the guess here is that he's going to run it again.  Look for Foyle and Dunleavy to see reduced minutes, for Ellis, Pietrus, and newly-signed Dajuan Wagner to see the floor more, and for a lot of guard play at the small forward position. (Either that or look for Nellie to turn Dunleavy into his new point-forward.)  Speed and relentless attack will take the best advantage of Davis' and Richardson's talents, will complement their opportunistic style of defense, and will make folks in the Bay Area feel better even if it doesn't produce more wins immediately.  They'll have to improve their rebounding to pull it off.  They don't have the perimeter shooters to play the Phoenix "we'll take the ball out of the bucket and score on you anyway" running style so they'll have to play the old "defend-rebound-run like hell" game.  Though they were 5th in the league in total rebounds their differential was actually negative.  Perhaps young Mr. Diogu can help Troy Murphy rectify that?  J-Rich is also a good rebounder for his size so look for him as a prime candidate to play in that 3-spot.  Because the Warriors' problems might involve reshuffling rather than reloading I'd rate their chances of improving as slightly better than the Rockets' but probably below those of the Hornets.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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