‘Last of a dying breed’: Rockets find leadership, flexibility in Fred VanVleet

Coming off a 34-point performance in Saturday’s blowout win over the Utah Jazz — including 10 made 3-pointers, tying a franchise record — veteran Houston Rockets guard Fred VanVleet felt good heading into Monday’s matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.

VanVleet’s attitude changed quickly as Portland’s lineup of young rookies put Houston on its heels early. His 1-of-11 shooting (9%) in the first half was much different than his 7-for-8 (88%) start two days prior. Combine VanVleet’s anemic start with a 23% showing from Jalen Green, Dillon Brooks, and Amen Thompson, and that 51-47 halftime deficit looked like a generous gift from the Blazers.

Then, just as they have done numerous times during their current nine-game winning streak, Houston bounced back in the second half as Jalen Green torched Portland’s defense for 19 points (finishing with 27). It was his sixth straight game to score 25 or more points.

But as impressive as Green’s second-half performance was, it was the resurgence of VanVleet that helped the Rockets win, 110-92.

“He is going to keep his head in the game,” Rockets head coach Ime Udoka said about VanVleet’s resiliency. ‘He did not have a ton of assists due to us shooting poorly, but he was making the right plays.”

After the halftime break, Udoka used a different strategy to get VanVleet going as he turned his miserable first half into a respectable 4-of-7 shooting (57%), 13-point second half.

“What we tried to do was take him off the ball a little more,” Udoka said of the change in approach. “They were switching a lot and that gave us some trouble in the first half. We took him off the ball and ran some backside action that got him some better selections. That is the luxury with him. You can play him on or off the ball.”

VanVleet has been a calming presence for Houston this season, with his veteran leadership helping guide young players such as Green, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., and rookies Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore as they seek to maximize their potential.

But it isn’t just coaches and teammates that recognize what VanVleet has done to help the Rockets (36-35) get over the hump this season. Opposing head coaches, such as Portland’s Chauncey Billups, acknowledge what he has done to help the Rockets improve.

“He is the last of a dying breed,” said Billups, who played 17 seasons in the NBA. “He is a pure point guard. He plays on both ends of the floor, and he plays the game from the neck up. That is not the case as much anymore, as the game has changed a bit in terms of that.”

“He is just a leader and has brought them [Rockets] that stability, he has brought them some toughness, he has elevated their [basketball] IQ, and he makes the game easy for a lot of those guys over there,” Billups concluded. “I think he allows Jalen Green to go and do what he does because he can put you in the right spots at all times. He knows how to speed the game up and slow the game down when it matters. It is a real treat to have a guy like that, and I am happy for Freddy.”

Story originally appeared on Rockets Wire