Blazersedge 2008-09 NBA Season Preview: Rockets and Spurs

HOUSTON ROCKETS

Record:  55-27, 3rd in Southwest Division, Tie for 4th in Western Conference

 

Statistical Comparisons

 

Notable:

4th in opponent scoring (92.0 ppg)

26th in three-point % 

2nd in opponent field goal %

 

Others:

22nd in the league in scoring (96.7 ppg)

9th  in ppg differential (+4.7 ppg)

21st in field goal % 

25th in free throw attempts per game

25th in free throw percentage

15th in assists

15th in steals

8th in blocks

9th in turnovers

19th in opponent turnovers

Good offensive rebounding team

Good defensive rebounding team

 

Movement

 

Significant Additions:  Ron Artest, Brent Barry, D.J. Strawberry

Significant Subtractions:  Bobby Jackson

 

Roster

 

Coach:  Rick Adelman

 

Key Players

PG: Rafer Alston, Aaron Brooks, Steve Francis

SG:  Tracy McGrady, Brent Barry, Luther Head

SF:  Ron Artest, Shane Battier

PF:  Luis Scola, Chuck Hayes, Donte Greene

C:  Yao Ming

 

Comments

 

Covering the Summer League team in Las Vegas for the first time three years ago I got to dabble in a little bit of recreational gambling.  I wasn’t getting second mortgages from Louie “The Lip” or nothing, just a couple bucks here and there.  As it turns out, no matter what game you play and no matter how good you are at it, there’s a pattern there.  You can keep betting incrementally, trying to maximize your play time, staying at the table as long as you can.  The result is always the same.  You’ll win some, you’ll lose some, but even if you get ahead for a while it’s never enough to make a huge difference.  The only thing you’re buying is a little more time to play.  Eventually your stack dwindles until you can’t take it anymore (or you go broke) and then you go home.  As it turns out, there are only two real choices:  bet big and try to get lucky and break the bank or don’t play.

 

It feels like the Rockets have reached this conclusion as well.  For years they’ve been good at their game.  They appear to have it all.  Their defense is always at the very top of the league.  They’re a good rebounding team.  Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady are two of the more unstoppable players at their positions on offense.  Every year they build on this base, tinkering with a point guard here, a small forward there.  Every year a turn of the cards--an injury here, an unlucky playoff draw there--hamstrings them and sends them home empty handed.  After so many backs and feet going south you legitimately start to wonder how long their stars can hold up.  Their stack can start dwindling at any time.  What are they buying with these incremental changes besides another good year and another disappointment?  So it’s time to roll the dice and break the bank.

 

Enter Ron Artest.

 

The addition of the poster child for NBA lunacy is definitely going to make the Rockets a scary team.  The question is, which definition of “scary”?  He’s a huge intimidator, superb defender, and accomplished scorer.  In a way it’s almost not fair that the best defensive team in the league outside of Boston right now could pick up Artest.  It’s not fair that a team with two unstoppable players gets a third.  If the team clicks this could provide one of those “Oh…my…God!” moments to rival what Boston did last year.  The clicking you hear, however, could well be the time bomb going off in Artest’s head.  What if he takes McGrady with him?  Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

 

Overall I like this Houston team better than any they’ve had in years.  Not only do they have the Big Three, not only did they give up nothing in the way of defense, offense, or rebounding to get there, their bench is stronger than it’s ever been.  Shane Battier is great, Chuck Hayes is solid, Aaron Brooks  has a chance to step up…as long as the team stays healthy they’re equipped to handle any situation.  That’s always the story with the Rockets though.  One bad moment with Yao Ming or McGrady and they’re back to incremental gains at best.  That’s OK, but now is the time to shoot for more.

 

One thing’s for sure…if the Rockets do not make it deep into the playoffs this year for whatever reason, including the continuing string of injury troubles, it’s time to look in another direction.  This team badly needs to prove itself, moving from paper contenders to the real thing.  If it’s going to happen, it should be this year.

 

Houston needs to do two things in order to make that special year happen.  First, they need more easy points.  They need to turn that excellent defense and rebounding into transition buckets at every opportunity.  Second, they need to manufacture extra points.  A team like this needs to draw and hit more free throws.  They also need to translate Yao’s interior dominance into open, made three-point shots.  It’s hard to grind out every point and still maximize your wins.  If the Rockets can add even a little extra offense to that lock-down “D”, watch out.

 

Read more about the Rockets from out friends over at The Dreamshake.

 

SAN ANTONIO SPURS

Record:  56-26, 2nd in Southwest Division, Tie for 2nd in Western Conference

 

Statistical Comparisons

 

Notable:

27th (tie) in the league in scoring (95.4 ppg)

3rd in opponent scoring (90.6 ppg)

5th in opponent field goal %

27th in free throw attempts per game

4th in turnovers

28th in opponent turnovers

 

Others:

8th  in ppg differential (+4.8 ppg)

14th in field goal % 

11th in three-point % 

15th in free throw percentage

21st in assists

24th (tie) in steals

24th in blocks

Very Poor offensive rebounding team

Very Good defensive rebounding team

 

Movement

 

Significant Additions:  Roger Mason, Salim Stoudamire, George Hill (R)

Significant Subtractions:  Brent Barry, DerMarr Johnson

 

Roster

 

Coach:  Greg Popovich

 

Key Players

PG:  Tony Parker, Jacque Vaughn, Salim Stoudamire

SG:  Michael Finley, Manu Ginobili, Roger Mason

SF:  Bruce Bowen, Ime Udoka

PF:  Tim Duncan, Matt Bonner

C:  Fabricio Oberto, Kurt Thomas

 

Comments

 

Pity the Spurs.  56 wins, tied for second in the conference, and everybody’s talking about them being washed up.  A ton of teams would give their right arms to be so washed.  They may not be the dominant team they were a couple years ago but as long as you field Tim Duncan you have a chance.  Tony Parker is going to be fine too.  The injury to Manu Ginobili is worrisome, though, as it exposes the relative thinness of San Antonio’s supporting cast compared to their ultra-talented core.  Michael Finley and Bruce Bowen are getting older.  The other guys are pure role players, perfectly adequate to bolster the main cast but utterly lost when the spotlight glares on them directly.

 

San Antonio plays basic, winning basketball.  They defend superbly.  They rebound well on the defensive end.  They don’t turn the ball over.  As long as their talent ranks above their opponent’s they’re going to win.  They’re not playing poker here, they’re playing chess.  None of that is going to change.  The conference may have caught up to them though, and there’s a real question how superior the Spurs’ talent is to teams like New Orleans and L.A. right now.  In addition to being solid, those other teams are opportunistic, which is something the Spurs only lay claim to every other year or so.  (Though this would be one of those years by the calendar.)  Much like the Rockets the Spurs don’t force enough chaos and extra points with their defense, rebounding, and attacking game.  This leaves them vulnerable to being blitzed by younger, though less consistent, rosters.  Mr. Spock is the most capable, rational guy on the Enterprise by far, but Captain Kirk’s derring-do usually carries the day.

 

The Spurs are not done by a long shot.  Every second year pundits predict their demise.  Every year after that they win it all.  That’s less likely to happen this year, but it’s still possible.  The top of the West isn’t that secure.  The Spurs will be in the hunt.  Unless injuries gut them it would be nigh impossible for them not to be.  Do they have enough ammo to finish the job?  It’ll be down to the last shell, but don’t discount them entirely.

 

Read more about the Spurs at PoundingtheRock.com.

 

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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