What the Rockets can learn about building this year’s playoff team

It was shocking to watch the Boston Celtics swarm and smother Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving en route to taking a 3-0 lead over the Nets. And the first three games of Denver’s first-round series against the Golden State Warriors raised all sorts of questions about the wisdom of building a team around a less-than-mobile frontline superstar in the modern NBA.

There are of course real implications for the Rockets, as many question marks surrounding rookie center Alperen Sengun ahead of last season’s draft persist, despite my observation that he has fared better defensively than originally expected. . In this year’s draft, the Rockets could also have the opportunity to use their first pick on Duke’s Paolo Banchero, a giant-sized playmaker who hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in his engine on the defensive end.

It’s true that it’s hard to imagine a team being very successful without defensive versatility up front, but I’d also be careful not to learn too much from edge cases. Anything can really become an outlier and as we have seen historically there are different ways to build a title team. Prior to the Lakers title in The Bubble – during which they pitched Anthony Davis and Dwight Howard/JaVale McGee in tandem – it was almost axiomatic in NBA circles that dual rosters were a relic of the past. Now teams are rethinking this supposed truth.

All that to say that I wouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater at Sengun. His limitations present challenges, but he is a rare talent offensively. And, either way, the Rockets have plenty of time to figure things out, forge their own identity, and chart their own path.

Newsletter: KJ Martin

game against the Atlanta Hawks at Toyota Center on April 10, 2022 in Houston.”/>

Kenyon Martin Jr. #6 of the Houston Rockets high fives fans after a game against the Atlanta Hawks at Toyota Center on April 10, 2022 in Houston.

Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

I randomly remembered last night that Stephen Silas buried KJ Martin on the bench behind Danuel House and David Nwaba for much of the season, even after Martin was one of Houston’s most impressive players all season. previous. It’s events like this that highlight Silas’ lack of long-term perspective and leave me questioning his strengths for the job.

Martin has shot 53.3% from the floor this season and 35.7% from 3s (2.1 attempts per game). That figure has tended to rise as the year progressed – he shot 42.9% in 3 of 10 games in February and 46.7% in 3 of 17 games in March. Martin’s shooting is really the key variable to unleashing his full potential as a supporting member on this roster. With his prototypical size, engine and jaw-dropping athleticism, he has the other physical tools to thrive on the wing.

One of my favorite observations from this season was the chemistry between Sengun and Martin. It felt like they were always wreaking havoc or connecting on a key piece.

Martin should be a staple here in the long run. There should be no repeat of last season where he struggled to get minutes.

Grade: B+

old wounds reopened

Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) dribbles in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA first-round basketball playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans on Sunday, 24 April 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)
Phoenix Suns guard Chris Paul (3) dribbles in the second half of Game 4 of an NBA first-round basketball playoff series against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans on Sunday, 24 April 2022. (AP Photo/Matthew Hinton)Matthew Hinton/Associated Press

As exciting as the end of the season is for the Rockets, the team’s rookie performances over the past month create plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of the franchise, this year’s playoffs – as last year – reopened all sorts of wounds for this. hardcore Rockets fan, evoking the full spectrum of emotions.

In Miami’s Game 2 win over the Atlanta Hawks, Jimmy Butler scored a playoff career-high 45 points, including a personal 7-0 run, reminding me why former general manager Daryl Morey wanted to trade for Butler and pair him with James Harden and Chris Paul, reportedly even offered four first-round picks to the Minnesota Timberwolves in a trade.

Harden looked more than pedestrian in the first four games of his 76ers’ first-round game against Toronto, averaging 19.3 points and 9.8 assists but shooting just 37.5 percent from the floor. in total (although 39.1% of 3). Some die-hard Rockets fans, myself included, are hoping to see Harden finally get his ring after wearing the Rockets franchise for nearly a decade; thus, it was painful to watch him perform in such a weakened state. He facilitates and plays the role of general on the ground intelligently, but he did not have the crush which made him one of the most dangerous offensive players in the history of the league. It’s been that way all season, but I guess I was hoping whatever was hurting him would be healed by now. Even with Joel Embiid performing at MVP level, it’s hard to imagine Philadelphia passing some of the behemoth teams on the field (Boston, Milwaukee, Golden State.)

And last but not least: Chris Paul. Before being held to 4 points in Sunday night’s loss to the Pelicans that tied the series at 2-2, Paul had put together a masterclass performance for the Suns in record time, putting the Pelicans to bed with flawless execution in Games 1 and 3. Paul’s performance in stabilizing his team in critical moments is a painful reminder of what the Rockets lacked in Games 6 and 7 of the 2018 Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors. Watching Paul navigate the pick and roll and almost casually make his way to his seats for timely mid-range pull-up hoops presents a vision of an alternate reality – one where, at some point in the middle of the 27 3 straight misses from Houston in Game 7, the Point God rounds up his friends, abandons the game plan and goes straight to his bread and butter. Ah, what could have been; what could have been.

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