News And Notes: Training Camp 2.0
HOUSTON - You could hardly blame them if the Houston Rockets occasionally cast an ungrateful glance upward toward the scheduling gods last week for bestowing them with an early preseason slate that began with a five-games-in-eight-nights stretch.
Such rocky roads allow precious little in the way of practice time, severely restricting the coaching staff’s ability to implement the full breadth of their system and the players’ opportunities to congeal and coalesce in the sort of fundamental way that can only take place on the practice court. Games are great and certainly provide their own set of challenges, tests and opportunities for growth, but the law of diminishing returns begins to kick in when the balance between game time and practice sessions gets too far out of whack.
Today, however, the Rockets were able to start reaping some of the rewards for making it through that grueling early season stretch by launching into what effectively amounts to a second training camp. With no games on the docket until next Wednesday, Houston’s players and coaches now have five days at their disposal to do as they please, affording them plenty of time to delve far deeper into the playbook, work on their weak spots and shore up their strengths.
Defensively, a significant portion of Friday’s practice session was devoted toward addressing the club’s shortcomings in transition - an area too often exploited during the club's back-to-back defeats at the hands of San Antonio and Dallas. It goes without saying that energy and effort are essential when it comes to thwarting opponents’ opportunities for easy scores on breakouts, but so, too, are communication and an understanding of one’s responsibilities the second a shot goes up on the offensive end. Confusion has occasionally reigned in that regard, so Houston’s coaching staff is going to great lengths to make sure those mistakes are minimized.
“That’s our biggest bugaboo and we’ve got to make sure we get back,” said Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale, while discussing the team’s need to improve upon its transition defense. “We’re going to play with some pace; teams are going to run it back at us so we’ve got to make sure we get back and protect that paint.
“We just have to get everybody tied together so that we get to the point where are mistakes are jump shot mistakes, not layup and dunk mistakes. The mistakes have got to be reduced from the basket on out; if you make a mistake, make it on the perimeter where you give up a jump shot – you can’t make mistakes in the interior.”
On the offensive end, meanwhile, the Rockets of course have plenty of room for improvement, but also just as much reason for optimism early on. Houston ranks 10th in the league in points per possession through the preseason according to Synergy Sports, with its offense derived from the pick-and-roll and cuts proving especially effective. The Rockets also rank No. 2 overall in assists per contest.
Obviously no one is going to put Houston in the same class as last season's Spurs when it comes to offensive explosiveness after just five preseason games, but at the very least those numbers reveal that the Rockets are scoring and sharing the ball effectively early on; something that should only improve as the players familiarize themselves with and explore the multilayered depths of McHale’s offense.
“Every play we have, it’s not just one option,” says Chandler Parsons. “There’s many counters off of that play and we sometimes stick to just the first option and if it doesn’t work we just go to a pick-and-roll.”
In other words, the Rockets want to make sure they diversify their offensive portfolio. And with the opportunity for five straight days of hardcore practice sessions currently at their disposal, there’s no better time than the present to do just that.
It can’t be emphasized often enough: preseason games and stats should be taken with a Yao Ming-sized serving of salt at all times. In fact, it’s entirely possible the word caveat was created just so people could be forewarned about reading too much into preseason results.
With all that having been said, it’s at least mildly noteworthy to see Jeremy Lin sitting 4th overall in the NBA in terms of assists per 48 minutes among players who have averaged at least 20 minutes per game so far. While the 24-year-old point guard has struggled in terms of generating his own offense, he’s certainly had no such issues getting his teammates going. Lin is averaging 12.6 assists per 48 minutes through five games and doing so while having cut down on his turnover rate from last season.
Are those numbers indicative of Lin feeling more comfortable right now as a distributor rather than a scorer as he continues to work toward regaining his burst in the wake of offseason knee surgery? Or could it be that defenses are playing him differently and doing their best to take away his preferred driving lanes now that they have more detailed scouting reports on his skill set and scoring tendencies?
Lin doesn’t have a definitive answer, but does acknowledge that part of his evolution and growth as a playmaker hinges upon something so simple, yet often maddeningly difficult for young players to learn: Patience.
“I think the scouting report is out there in terms of my strengths and weaknesses,” he says, “so I think from that end they’re going to try to take away my No. 1 option. It’s about adapting.
“I’m just trying to take whatever the defense gives me. Some games there will be more shots and some games won’t be as many, but I don’t want to force the issue; I just want to take what the defense gives me.”
Marcus Morris continues to rehab and recover from the sprained ankle and bone bruise he sustained during the Rockets’ first preseason game October 10 against Oklahoma City. He was held out of practice once again on Friday, but says he’s optimistic he’ll be able to return to action next week in time for either the team’s game next Wednesday in New Orleans or Friday in Orlando.