Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Once again back is the incredible ... Ball Don't Lie's NBA previews, outlining offseason moves, projecting win totals, spinning tracks and much, much more. It's a fun, hot mess. Today, the Houston Rockets.

2008-09 Record: 53-29, second place in Southwest Division
Head Coach/Facial Hair: Rick Adelman/White goatee
Key Additions: Trevor Ariza(notes), David Andersen(notes), Chase Budinger(notes), Pops!
Key Losses: Yao Ming(notes) (injury), Ron Artest(notes), Von Wafer(notes), Brent Barry(notes)

Houston is a bit dangerous, both to preseason prognosticators and to the rest of the league. But how much of this has to do with us getting wise to their winning ways?

Are we at a point where we might be overrating the Rockets based on winning turns that probably shouldn't have surprised us in 2007-08 and last season? Should we have been surprised by the 22-count winning streak from 2008? After all, a coin can land on the same side 22 times in a row even when the odds call for an evened-out turn, though I do concede that chance favors the side that works its ass off on defense versus the side going through the February motions.

This isn't to demean what the Rockets did two seasons ago or last year. I just wonder if we might be prone to overreact to getting it wrong with this team. Kind of like I did when I, uh, had them down for 57 wins last year.

The Rockets won 53, and while screwing things up in one year shouldn't afford you the chance to screw things up in another direction this year, I still think it's something to be wary of. Maybe they shouldn't have been surprising us. Maybe they were every bit as good as their wins suggested. And that doesn't mean we should discount our own knowledge about the game as a result. That means we just learn from these mistakes and move on.

That said, you go beat the Rockets. Go on, try to beat them. Try to score on them. Stay in front of those guards. Try to tap out an offensive rebound on that Lilliputian front line. They're so awful, you're so good ... go on. Beat ‘em.

The biggest issue this team will have will be cracking 80 points a night, and that's not an exaggeration. This team will truly struggle to create shots, create good shots and finish. From the inside-out. I suspect Carl Landry(notes) could have an absolute killer campaign if he's handed minutes and looks, but I've never been sold on Aaron Brooks(notes) as anything more than a third guard, and I don't really see many other options.

This isn't to say that all shots have to be created individually. A sound run-through of Rick Adelman's offense could provide guys like Luis Scola(notes), Shane Battier(notes) and offensively sound big man David Andersen with plenty of high-percentage looks, but a lot has to go right. And although I'd love to see the newfound ball-handling and shot-creating skills Trevor Ariza has been working on, I'll be patient this season. I'm not banking on much.

Prove me wrong, Rockets. You've done it before. And cracking 80 won't be as arduous a task when it's going to be hellish for opponents to top 75.

Seriously, even without Ron Artest on board, this team will kill it defensively. Even with Brooks (sorry for slamming on the guy, but he isn't that much of a defender) falling short as a stopper at what might be the most important defensive position in the modern NBA.

A healthy Battier will be terrific, Ariza's been a tough defender even going back to his days as an otherwise clueless 19-year-old rookie on the New York Knicks. Scola's great, Chuck Hayes(notes) is one of the best, Kyle Lowry(notes) will shut you down if he's in shape and Adelman knows how to work things on that end of the court.

Yao Ming? Out for the season. Tracy McGrady(notes)? Way ahead of where I thought he would be. Still, he was a team-killing mope last season for a good chunk of his run, and while season-endangering injuries have a way of turning that frown upside-down, he's going to have to prove a lot to me if he plays.

If he continues his run as a wing version of Chris Webber's(notes) final years, than he's still not helping. He has a giant expiring contract that could be worth quite a bit, and I trust Daryl Morey with these sorts of things, but the Rockets still have a ton to figure out.

And until they do? Look for a spirited, defensive-minded bunch that will entertain and, yes, win. Not as much as last season, but that's usually the case when you lose a 7 1/2-foot guy with skills.

Prediction: 37-45

Kelly Dwyer

Will Tracy McGrady play and contribute for the Rockets this season?

The Rockets are in a definite holding pattern with McGrady and are in no hurry to get him back on the court. The team is not actively seeking to trade T-Mac. But with a $23 million expiring contract, he'll likely become a valuable chip prior to the February trade deadline. Or the Rockets can subtract his number from the payroll next summer and jump with both feet into the free-agent pool.

— Fran Blinebury, Yahoo! Sports 2009-10 NBA Preview magazine

The Dream Shake: "The goals for this team are very straightforward: Develop the young players, play hard every single night and to do whatever it takes to make the playoffs. The team is not bad enough to do any worse than the back of the lottery, so with the added revenue of a playoff team, it is a no-brainer to take a shot at the playoffs. Night in and night out they will play hard, focused defense. If at any point in the season they are not hustling they will get run off the court. There is not enough scoring on this team to play anything but all out, all the time." [more]

BallerBlogger: "Houston is a team that is really interesting to me this year. They're kind of a test of standard basketball knowledge. Can you score consistently with a bunch of role players? Can you defend effectively without height on the frontline? The Rockets are filled with guys who have been underrated throughout their careers, guys who don't have huge talent, but are successful anyway. So the question is, can guys who are successful in small roles be just as effective when forced into bigger roles? They'll be a fascinating case study in usage vs. efficiency, and that's exciting for statistically minded guys like me." [more]

The Baseline: "Sometimes you read about how in the jungles of some part of South or Central America, there will one day be a perfect storm of guerrillas, drug traffickers and terrorists all hanging out together despite very different dietary preferences. I think that's kind of already Afghanistan, but putting it in a jungle makes it even crazier and gives it more boom/bust potential. I'll go ahead and stake that analogy on the Rockets this season. Advanced stats. A potentially sublime style of play. Exciting guys like Ariza and Aaron Brooks. Lynchpins Battier and (even now) Landry. There's also that wild card of Luis Scola, an international gem who in the NBA, has been patiently waiting to bring together all these strains. Some predict stardom for him on these shores. I'm just content to see him step up and become a wacky, mobile, intelligent forward with a little bit of Vlade to him. Is that too much to ask?" [more]

Puff Daddy, Faith Evans and 112, "I'll Be Missing You"

The Notorious Y.A.O. is out, and they're definitely going to be missing their franchise cornerstone, but the Houston Rockets are doing what they can to survive. If that means remaking the team around a bunch of high-efficiency guys, so be it. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Daryl Morey wasn't a little excited about seeing his experiment taken to its most extreme conclusion. It should definitely br interesting. And just like Puffy didn't flinch at profiting off Biggie's death, don't think that the Rockets aren't going to still enjoy that China money.

— Trey Kerby, The Blowtorch

The Rockets are an intriguing team from a fantasy perspective. Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady's career usage rates are 26.8 and 30.5, respectively, so there is a massive portion of the offense up for grabs here. Aaron Brooks will get his fair share of possessions, and he's a shoot-mostly-first point guard. He's likely to lead the team in scoring and make lots of threes, but won't shoot at a high percentage and isn't someone to count on for a lot of assists. His scope of opportunity alone means that I'll gladly take him a round earlier than his current ADP of 130 and expect return on the investment. Luis Scola will be the team's featured post player with Yao gone. His sterling efficiency makes him an ideal roto target, but his lack of defensive stats need to be noted for H2H purposes. He's a Round 8 value pick and should be among the league's double-double leaders.

Trevor Ariza "replaces" Ron Artest for the Rockets, and should rival his steal totals with starter's minutes, but the comparisons end there. Artest is much more advanced and assertive on offense. Ariza can finish with the best of them — a plus with the team going up-tempo - but half-court offense isn't his strong suit and he's not on a team with many distributors. Target him for top-tier steals help in the seventh round and it's gravy if some of that hot shooting from last season's playoffs carries over. Shane Battier should once again be a featured fantasy "glue guy" as a steady veteran influence on both ends of the court for the Rockets. Consistent incremental production and potential to join the one-plus three/steal/block club hearken back to past top-50 roto seasons. Among players battling for frontcourt minutes alongside Scola, Carl Landry offers the most fantasy potential, Chuch Hayes offers the least, and David Andersen figures to be middling. Where's T-Mac, you ask? Not on my rosters. I have little faith in a return to a substantial impact, and that has less to do with Tim Grover than T-Mac himself.

— Matt Buser, Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Basketball /

Sign up now for Fantasy Basketball '09.

MeanGene13: Let's look at this thing from a ... um, from a standpoint of status. What guys do we have on this team that aren't injured?
about 23 hours ago from TweetDeck

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