Scouting The Opposition: Houston Rockets
For every home game this season, we’ll be gathering some intel on the opposing team from someone who knows them best — a team employee, a rival blogger, beat writer or broadcaster.
For the Hawks’ season opener against the Rockets, we reached out to the excellent Jason Friedman, who covers the Rockets beat for Rockets.com.
His answers are below:
Hawks.com: The big news in Houston is the trade for James Harden. What does this trade do for the Rockets going forward?
Jason Friedman: This trade has an immense impact upon the Rockets’ fortunes from both a short and long term view. Harden’s addition to this roster provides a clear upgrade as they now have a clear offensive centerpiece*, someone to whom they can give the ball and trust to reliably create scoring opportunities for both himself and his teammates. It’s the big picture view that has Rockets fans so excited, however. At just 23-years-old, Harden has not yet even entered his prime — scary, given that he’s already one of the league’s most devastatingly efficient offensive players — meaning he will continue to grow with Houston’s young core for the better part of the rest of the decade.
*As evidenced by his 37-point, 12-assist debut Wednesday night against Detroit
Hawks.com: Obviously Daryl Morey is not afraid to deal and shake things up. Do you see other big moves on the horizon?
JF: Unquestionably. Morey said as much during Harden’s introductory press conference. With max cap space on the horizon for the summer of 2013, rest assured the Rockets General Manager already has his mind set on how he can bring yet another All-Star caliber player to Houston.
Hawks.com: Many were surprised when the Knicks failed to match Houston’s offer sheet for Jeremy Lin. What is the buzz in Houston about bringing Linsanity to Texas?
JF: As it does with any high profile player, the glare of the white-hot spotlight has affixed itself to Lin and, as is the case in such situations, the standard drama and overreaction occasionally ensues. By his own admission, Lin experienced an up-and-down preseason; not terribly surprising given the fact he is still finding his way following offseason knee surgery. But while he struggled to find his shot until the preseason finale, Lin had no such issues finding his teammates as he racked up assists at a high rate whenever he was in the game. And the fact of the matter is, the Rockets don’t need Lin to be a 20-plus points per game guy; so long as he keeps bringing his high-value arsenal of quality assists, foul-drawing, rebounds and steals to the table, the Rockets will be more than happy with their investment.
Hawks.com: The Rockets have a history of finding productive players deeper in the draft, and have several rookies on the roster for the coming season. What kind of expectations are there for Terrence Jones, Royce White, and Donatas Motiejunas?
JF: Based on the results from this preseason, Terrence Jones appears to be the most ready of the Rockets rookies to make a significant contribution at this point. His strength, athleticism and versatile skill set makes him an intriguing option for Houston at both the 4 and 5 positions, and when he started for an injured Patrick Patterson during the final two games of the preseason, he proved capable of giving the Rockets quality minutes. Just 20-years-old, Jones certainly has the potential to become a big part of the Rockets’ plans going forward.
As for Motiejunas and White, it will likely take awhile longer before they’re ready to receive significant time in the rotation. Motiejunas still needs to get stronger and White is still playing catch-up after missing the first week of training camp, but both players bring more than enough unique talent to the table to indicate that, with additional seasoning, they’re more than capable of contributing in this league.
Hawks.com: What is the best-case scenario for the Rockets this season? Can they compete for a playoff spot with all the new pieces?
JF: The Rockets’ stated goal even before the trade was to make the playoffs and it seems clear they are better positioned to make that push now having added Harden to the mix. The Western Conference is, as always, brutally competitive so Houston’s young roster will have to grow up and coalesce quickly in order to finish in the top-8. But given the complementary pieces already on hand and the team’s aforementioned ability to add more talent at the trade deadline, the Rockets have every right to believe they have a legitimate chance to accomplish that goal.