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Team Previews: 2009 Houston Rockets Preview

Chris Liss

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.


HOUSTON ROCKETS
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor



STATE OF THE FRANCHISE



The Rockets gave the World Champion Lakers their toughest test of the postseason last year, taking their second-round matchup seven games despite losing Yao Ming early in the series. One can imagine what might have been had Yao been healthy, but we'll never know, especially now that Ron Artest is playing in LA, and Yao is very likely out for the entire season. With Tracy McGrady also recovering from microfracture surgery to his left knee - and his status uncertain - the Rockets are suddenly a team in transition. The signing of free agent Trevor Ariza adds another solid complementary piece to complementary players Shane Battier, Carl Landry, Aaron Brooks and Luis Scola, but the primary players are all missing. In other words, the Rockets are the rare team that has too many team-oriented, dirty-work guys and not enough ball hogs, chuckers or guys who need to get their shots to be happy. Barring a last minute trade, it will be an interesting challenge for coach Rick Adelman to get enough offense out of this group, and one wonders whether the team won't just tinker around the edges and enjoy its 2010 lottery pick whose arrival would coincide with Yao's return.


PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION



We expect Luis Scola to see 25-30 minutes at center, though newly acquired David Andersen, an Australian import who has spent time in Europe, could also be in the mix for 10-15. Carl Landry will likely see 25-30 minutes at the floor, with Scola seeing another 5-10 there and Chuck Hayes also logging 10-15. Trevor Ariza will be the starting small forward and log 30-35 minutes there, with a few at the four, Shane Battier will be the team's backup small forward, logging 10-15 minutes there and another 20 minutes or so at the two. Brent Barry is pencilled in at the two for now, and if he sticks around he could be good for 15 minutes per game, assuming Tracy McGrady's not ready for the start of the year. If McGrady's able to play he'd log 25-30 minutes at the two, with Battier backing him up. If McGrady can't go, then Chase Budinger, the team's second-round draft pick, who had a strong Vegas Summer League, could vie for minutes there along with rookie Jermaine Taylor. Aaron Brooks will start at the point, logging 30-35 minutes a game with Kyle Lowry backing him up for 15-20.



PLAYER OUTLOOKS



Center







Yao Ming: One of the elite pivots in the game, Yao's latest foot fracture will likely sideline him for the entire season, though there's some chance he could return down the stretch. When healthy, Yao is one of the most efficient offensive players in the game, hitting more than half his shots from the floor and more than 85 percent from the line. He'll also pull down 10 boards and average two blocks - essentially he's elite in all the key big-man categories. Yao has also improved his passing of late, averaging a career-high 2.3 assists per game last year. Of course, none of this means anything unless he's healthy.



Luis Scola: One of the grittiest and hardest working players in the league, Scola is aggressive on the glass, averaging nearly nine per game last season - a number that should increase with Yao gone. He's also a very efficient scorer with nice touch from the line for a big man and hitting more than 50 percent of his field goals all three seasons in the league. Scola has good court sense and is an underrated passer, so expect his assists to climb now that he's likely to be the team's primary low-post option. Scola can also average close to a steal per game if he gets an expected bump in minutes, but he won't block many shots, so look elsewhere for contributions in that category.



David Andersen: It's hard to say what to expect from Andersen who was originally drafted in 2002 and has never played an NBA game. He could potentially see significant minutes at center, perhaps even start, and he has a soft jumper with nice range for a big man. That said, despite his 7-0 frame, he's not very physical defensively, and he's unlikely to help a lot on the glass.





Forward





Carl Landry: Another very efficient scorer from the floor and the line, Landry doesn't have a lot of range, but is deadly around the basket and good on the offensive glass. He's a good second low-post option after Luis Scola and can bang with most opposing bigs. Landry isn't an elite defender and could lose minutes to Chuck Hayes at times, but it's likely the Rockets will need his scoring off the bench as the team will have to get contributions from several sources this year.


Chuck Hayes: An elite defensive big man, Hayes can guard almost anyone in the post, using his solid lower body and quick feet to establish position and keep scorers away from the basket and out of their comfort zone. Hayes can rebound a bit, but he lacks the height to block a lot of shots and contributes little on the offensive end.



Trevor Ariza: Signed to a three-year $33 million deal, Ariza is expected to be a cornerstone of the team's rotation this year and should see big minutes at the three. Ariza uses his quick feet and long arms to be one of the league's elite sources of steals (1.7 per game in just 24.4 minutes), and he's also capable of knocking down the three-point shot (61 last year on 32 percent shooting). Ariza isn't a go-to scorer, instead getting most of his points on fast breaks and kick-outs, so don't expect him to carry a major load in that department even with the Rockets needing shooters. Ariza should improve across the board, however, as he's expected to see a major bump in playing time now that he's no longer competing for minutes on a very deep Lakers squad.




Shane Battier: One of the top real-life players in the game if you care about advanced stats like plus-minus and PER, Battier makes a more modest impact in fantasy, contributing to every category but excelling at none. Still, Battier's the rare player who can average a steal, a block and a three per game, and he could even bump up his scoring slightly as the team needs everyone to take more shots.





Guard:





Tracy McGrady: The superstar McGrady of five years ago is probably gone for good, and that assumes he can get back up to full speed even in his current incarnation. McGrady's returning from microfracture surgery on his left knee, and while he looked good in five-on-five drills at press time, his status for the start of the year is in doubt. If relatively healthy, McGrady can still score in the high teens, hand out five assists and pull down 4-5 boards. He'll also hit a few threes and average over a steal per game. But his field-goal shooting is poor, and his free-throw shooting isn't great from the guard spot, either. Expect him to log less minutes this year, but when he plays he will fill up the box score on occasion.




Brent Barry: At this point in his career, Barry is a one-dimensional three-point shooter, but an elite one when he's on the floor. It's possible he could even start for the Rockets if McGrady's not back, but it's just as likely he gets dealt to a contender who needs his accuracy from long range.



Chase Budinger: A big guard with a nice outside shot, Budinger had an outstanding Vegas Summer League, shooting 68 percent from the floor and averaging 17.8 points per game. His all around game is still on the raw side, but he could have a significant role if McGrady's not ready, and Barry is dealt.



Jermaine Taylor: A second round pick by the Wizards, the Rockets traded for Taylor to address their shooting guard depth. Taylor can score, but he needs to show he can handle the ball and guard opposing twos to earn a role.




Aaron Brooks: The lightning-quick Brooks took over the point guard job midseason after Rafer Alston was dealt to the Magic. Brooks was inconsistent at times as he adjusted to being the team's primary floor general, but played well in the playoffs and earned the job heading into this season. Brooks can penetrate and score at will, he's deadly accurate from the charity stripe and he's a capable, if streaky, three-point shooter. But Brooks' overall field-goal shooting is poor, thanks to some ill-advised shots, and as long as Tracy McGrady's healthy, Brooks will have a hard time cracking five assists as McGrady often initiates the offense when he's in the game. Moreover, backup Kyle Lowry is competent and more of a pure, pass-first point guard, so he could cut into and even push Brooks for minutes.





Kyle Lowry: Houston's backup point guard lacks the jaw-dropping quickness of teammate Aaron Brooks, but he's an efficient, pass-first floor general who makes good decisions and understands the game. Lowry should have a significant role in the rotation from the outset, and if Brooks struggles to build on last year's success, Lowry could even take over.




Sleeper:



Luis Scola: Scola's not a household name, but he's a polished veteran who could average a double-double on good percentages with a steal, to boot. He could also boost his assists as a passer out of the post. Don't expect him to carry your team, his downside is low, and he could be a solid contributor.



Bust:



Aaron Brooks: Brooks has upside as the team's starting point - especially because it could be desperate for scoring. But Brooks will have a hard time cracking 42 percent from the floor, and he's unlikely to be a major source of assists given his shoot-first mentality. Moreover, Kyle Lowry could push him for minutes.







Article first appeared on 9/15/09

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