houston rockets 2010-2011

I’m going to go ahead and take a premature look at the Houston Rockets outfit for the upcoming NBA season. Premature because Morey may still have a few aces up his sleeve. If so, these will probably have to be sign-and-trades since it appears that we have used up our salary cap while renewing the contracts of Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola.

Starters

#0 Aaron Brooks (PG)

Aaron Brooks will come back as starting point guard after a stellar year last season, where he won the Most Improved Player honor from the NBA. Brooks led the NBA in three pointers made last season and took on the role of our primary scoring option (at least for the beginning of the season) as the Trevor Ariza experiment kind of failed and Kevin Martin was finding his feet.

This season, Yao is back which means that our guards should get even more open shots as teams try to crowd the middle and double Yao. This should mean more open looks for Aaron Brooks and as long as he keeps up the performances, more points. With several scoring options on the team now, with Yao back and Kevin Martin having the summer to work his way into Adelman’s offense, Brooks will have to tone down his shooting game a bit and look for his teammates. Let’s see if he’s up for the challenge!

#12 Kevin Martin (SG)

When the rockets pulled off the blockbuster deal earlier this year, signing Kevin Martin, Jordan Hill and a couple of other guys, they were making an investment in a young shooting guard who could become our primary scoring option after Tracy McGrady moved on. Kevin Martin took some time to find his feet in Adelman’s offense and although his final season numbers left a bit to be desired (about 21 PPG), he did miss a significant portion of the end of our season, due to injury (and the fact that we were probably not going to qualify to the playoffs).

Here’s hoping that Martin has worked his way into Adelman’s offense over the summer and that he is less of a ball-hog. That stuff worked in Sacramento where apart from Tyreke Evans, he was the only dependable scorer, but the Rockets are looking at several scorers on the roster now, so Martin will need to share the ball a bit. He’s got to be our go-to guy, though!

#1 Trevor Ariza (SF)

Trevor Ariza was our main pickup last offseason after being a pretty clutch player down the stretch for the Lakers in their 2009 NBA championship. With Artest leaving for the Lakers, it was effectively a trade. Artest had been okay for us–his defense had been good but his offense left a lot to be desired.

Unfortunately, Ariza has struggled with more of the same problems during his year at the Rockets. Of course, it was unfair to ask a player coming off the bench to start and be our primary scorer, but I do think Ariza’s talents were overrated a bit.

Ariza contributed 15 points a game last year, but what he was best at was his defense. He’s not as strong as Artest by any stretch of the imagination, but he plays the passing lanes really well and he can finish strong on fast breaks. His nearly 2 steals a game was good enough for #6 in the league. His defensive contribution is inarguable but he definitely needs to improve his shot selection to continue to justify his place in the starting line-up (although we don’t really have much in the bank to replace him with).

#4 Luis Scola (PF)

Luis Scola just signed a huge contract with the Rockets. Although it has not yet been confirmed, the contract is rumored to be worth $47 million over 5 years. Considering that Scola made a little over $3 million last year, that can be considered quite a huge upgrade. And he’s worth it, too.

Scola is an absolute workhorse and probably cannot be matched in the league for hustle. He’s new to the league but he’s shown that good talent can succeed in any league. With Yao out for all of last season, Scola had to step up and help the undersized Chuck Hayes guard the paint. His offense wasn’t bad, either, putting up 16 points a game along with 2 assists. His stat line was certainly impressive.

With Yao back in the starting line-up, Scola will be even more effective in offense on the weak side. Defensively, he’ll probably allow Yao to play smaller minutes and help out a guy like Jordan Hill or Chuck Hayes coming off the bench at the center position. Scola is on the wrong side of youth, though, so his 5-year contract may well see him finish off his career in the Rockets uniform. Let’s hope he can continue contributing as he did last year. Oh, and let’s also hope that he stops flopping so much.

#11 Yao Ming (C)

For a team that was missing it’s starting center (and such a huge one at that), the Rockets did pretty well to finish as the only team in the league with a winning record but no playoff berth. Of course, Adelman tweaked our offense quite a bit to have us run more and play smaller, especially with our 3-guard line-ups and with Chuck Hayes starting at center.

Our offense this year is going to be a lot different with Yao coming¬† back, and especially a ginger-footed Yao coming back (one who cannot really run the court, if he even had that ability before–luckily we have Scola for that!). However, it will not hurt to have a shot-blocking presence in the paint once again.

At his peak, Yao was getting 20 points and 10 rebounds a game. He’s going to be a lot less than that statistically speaking, but I think he’s going to have a huge effect on the intangibles. With Brooks, Martin and Ariza all able 3-point shooters, we should be able to work an inside-outside game into our offense. We just need to keep Yao healthy, which means he’s probably going to have low minutes. I sure hope Jack Sikma has been working Jordan Hill into NBA shape!

Bench

The Rockets have the luxury of having one of the deeper benches in the league, although some of that advantage is wiped out by not having an incandescent (I’m stealing a word from NBA 2K10, here) starting line-up. Let’s take a look at our bench:

Centers

Our back-up centers list consists of David Anderson and Chuck Hayes with Jordan Hill filling in sometimes. Certainly not an impressive list, but one that is capable. David Anderson is a different kind of center in that he has almost no post game but has a really good outside shot. However, towards the end of last season he was showing off a few post moves, so hopefully an offseason with Sikma will have done him wonders. The Chuckwagon is… well… the Chuckwagon. He’s not going to blow anyone away, but he’s had a few good games.

Power Forwards

Our power forwards list consists of Jordan Hill, Jared Jeffries and Patrick Patterson. Of this bunch, I think Hill is probably the biggest prospect because he’s young, tall and athletic. Recent press from Sikma suggests that Hill hasn’t developed as quickly as desired. I’m hoping that they are just being tight-lipped about it! Jeffries is a decent back-up forward. He gets a lot of offensive boards and doesn’t like dunking. He’s more in the team to fill up minutes and I suppose clear cap space next season when his contract expires. Patrick Patterson is our first round draft pick but I unfortunately did not follow enough NCAA basketball to comment on him.

Small Forwards

Our backup small forwards come in the form of Chase Budinger, Shane Battier and Mike Harris (if he get’s re-signed from the D-League). Budinger could be more accurately classified as a shooting guard given how much of a scorer he is, but he’s usually not playing that position when he’s in the rotation. Budinger remains one of our shinier prospects off the bench next year. Battier used to be our defensive backbone but his performances have fallen off a bit. I personally think his best basketball is past him, but he could still be useful, given that most of our current line-up is all offense and not so much defense. Harris came from Rice (woot!) and has been dominating the D-League without managing to secure a long-term NBA contract. He’s around more for backup due to injury.

Guards

The final two players off the bench are Kyle Lowry, who recently signed a 4-year deal worth $24 million, and Jermaine Taylor. Taylor is a scrub, so not much to talk about him (apart from his great athletic ability). Lowry if a player who is coming into his own in the NBA, as our 3-guard rotations demonstrated last year. He’s great at running the fast-break and drawing fouls and he’s also worked a hell of a lot on his 3-point shot. Lowry is a pass-first point guard so he would be useful in situations where Brooks is not shooting well. Definitely a good guy to hang on to, although I foresee him being traded away towards the end of his contract.

So that’s basically it! I’m pumped for the NBA season although there are still several months to go!


ICC vs. FIFA, Part 1

This will be a 2 or 3 part piece comparing these two sporting governing bodies that host the two largest sporting spectacles by viewership in the world. Beware of rantiness!


This seems like as good a time as any to compare these two world bodies of a global sport. Both the International Cricket Council (ICC) and the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) have been at the center of controversy over the last few weeks, albeit for very different reasons. Let’s take a look at each organization’s problems.

FIFA is in the middle of hosting the world’s largest sporting event, at least by viewership. The FIFA World Cup is a global showcase of some of the world’s most well-paid athletes and is a spectacle that is much larger than the globally reaching Olympics. Football/soccer is a game that anyone in the world can play anywhere as long as they have a rotund object that rolls around and the imagination to conjure up goalposts out of items lying around or, well, imagination.

However, FIFA has had it’s share of controversies during this world cup–almost all of them stemming from very poor officiating. Like cricket and most other sports, football uses humans to officiate and referee the game to make sure it’s played fairly and within the rules. Unlike almost every other sport played at an international level, these officials have no benefit of using any technology. This lack of technology has very strongly highlighted the err part of the “to err is human” idiom.

It started out with some very tame offside calls and non-offside calls. Fine, that’s okay since the offside is very difficult to pick out during live coverage, even for a viewer. However, this quickly grew into unfathomable calls (such as the mysterious foul that was called on the US against Slovenia, erasing their game winner) and ones that were downright wrong (such as Lampard’s goal being discounted because 2 yards into the goal was apparently not quite enough). There was also an offside call that went against Mexico against Argentina that could have been used as a precise example when explaining what the offside rule was to a newcomer to the sport.

Anyhow, humans make mistakes and that’s acceptable. What is unacceptable is the lack of accountability both by FIFA and the referees themselves. And the lack of desire to actually move the game into the current decade. Let’s tackle the first issue here–accountability. It took a ball that was yards into the goal being called a no-score that required Sepp Blatter to publicly apologize to the relevant national football associations. The other way Blatter has responded to criticism of his referees is by sending them home. Wouldn’t it just be easier for the referees to apologize themselves and accept that they’ve made a mistake? Or in some cases, explain the thinking behind the call (I’m still looking at that US goal against Slovenia and wondering where the foul was called).

When Jim Joyce missed a call that robbed a pitcher of a perfect game, he apologized publicly in the press conference that followed. He actually felt bad. I’m sure if FIFA referees were provided a mouthpiece to voice their sorrow for missing a call, much of the football-watching fraternity would be appeased. Sure, they’d still be pissed off, but at least they would realize that they were right (and they have been right). Just sitting quietly and pretending a problem doesn’t exist just aggravates it further. Throughout the last few world cups, mistakes have been piling up quicker and quicker. And they’re becoming very evident thanks to technology.

Which brings me to my¬† next point: technology (see that awesome segue?). As I mentioned earlier, FIFA is probably the only global sports organization that has shunned technology to be used to improve the quality of games. And in my opinion, it’s shunning is completely ridiculous. People who are agreeing with FIFA here provide reasons such as “maintain the human element” and “maintain the flow of the game”. Let me pick apart each of these points one-by-one.

The only reason we used the human element in the first place is because we had no way to rewind time. If there were cameras available when the sport was first played, do you think we would still have preferred to pay 4 guys to twiddle their thumbs and run around in short shorts and striped flags? No. The concentration would be to get the call right–after all the rules were designed for a reason. As a viewer of many, many sports, I choose to watch the game because I want to see uber-talented athletes compete against each other. I don’t watch basketball, cricket, football, soccer or any sport to see referees maintain the human element. The players are human–they’re hardly competing using controllers hooked up to a PS3! When watching football, I want to see a side clawing back to even a game or take a late lead or see an inch-perfect through pass beating an offside trap to set up a striker on goal. I don’t want to see the referees lifting their flags, blowing their whistles and shoving plastic cards in players’ faces (although the cautioning system is very warranted and one I think a lot of other contact sports could do with).

Secondly, the detractors of technology claim that technology would affect the flow of the game. Excuse me! Are we watching the same sport? Maybe this argument would have made sense 5-10 years ago when players played a tough game. Now, football is probably the most interrupted game out there. Play constantly stops and starts and stops and starts as the smallest of touches causes players to fly to the ground as if they’ve been laid out by a bareknuckle boxing champion’s knockout punch. I would really like to see a comparison of how many fouls we had at the 1998 World Cup compared to the 2010 World Cup. I think the increase would be several-fold.

Furthermore, when any controversial decision happens, minutes are wasted while players argue with the referee and the referee consults all his help. In fact, many a time, the correct decision has already been displayed to TV viewers before play has restarted. I would argue that going to technology would actually save the time wasted by the arguing and the bickering–since play would actually be reviewed, players could have no complaints because they would obviously have been right/wrong.

So how should one address this problem? I think allowing referees to attend press conferences is a must. FIFA may think it is protecting the referees by preventing them to address the media but I think it is doing a lot of harm to their image and the referees image. While referees who make such poor decisions in such a huge public light are always going to have it follow them around for the rest of their career, the least they could do is allow an asterisk to a note that says that the official in question actually admitted he was wrong and was sorry.

As for technology, I think it needs to be slowly inducted into the game. I’m not for the whole microchip idea in the shoes and the ball to determine offsides–that seems overly unnecessary. I think technology should be used in two cases: (1) whenever a goal has been scored whose validity is called into question (offside, goal-line decisions, fouls, etc.) and (2) when a player has been fouled in the box to determine if a dive was involved. There’s no need to spend a bunch of money developing goal line technology or stationing officials all over the field. Taking these two steps combined with the TV replays already available would help the game significantly and not waste too much time on the field. A fifth official would simply be reviewing the TV evidence while the game is progressing and if they see a bad call, just walkie into the main official on the pitch.

Cricket has suffered from similar problems for ages. For a game that is several centuries older than football, I think the ICC has done a great job in inducting technology into the game. In the next part of this series, I’ll look at how the ICC has approached technology with regards to the international game and where they have gone right or wrong. Finally, I’ll take a look at the political aspect of this discussion, since that’s the issue that has plagued the ICC recently.