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News And Notes: Training Camp Edition

Examining the Rockets' emphasis on pace and the early standouts at camp so far


McALLEN, TEXAS - 
Spend just five minutes watching training camp and it quickly becomes clear what this season’s buzzwords are going to be for the Houston Rockets. In that short span of time you will almost certainly hear terms like pace, thrust and tempo thrown about as if they were beads at a Mardi Gras parade as the club’s coaching staff does its best to lay bare the message that its attempting to hammer home to its players. This much is certain: The Rockets will either play an attacking, aggressive style of basketball, or its coaches will go hoarse in the attempt.

Employing an up-tempo style seems to make sense both from a personnel standpoint and also from the perspective of necessity. With so many young legs dotting the Rockets’ roster, it would almost be wasteful to not take advantage of the boundless energy they bring. But so much youth – and so many new faces – also carries with it an abundance of inexperience and continuity, meaning it figures to be a work in progress for this edition of the Rockets to achieve the kind of chemistry typically required of clubs which thrive in the half-court setting.

So the Rockets keep pushing the tempo in practice and the coaches keep imploring them to go faster, faster, faster. There are habits to be formed and a mindset to be adopted. For their part, the players appear to be all-in with regard to this high-speed stylistic endeavor, embracing this approach despite the heavy-legged weariness that is typical this time of year.

“We’ve had three practices in two days and we’ve probably been on the court for eight, nine hours so we’re definitely feeling it,” said Jeremy Lin following Wednesday’s workout. “But it’s getting ourselves and our bodies ready to play that style during the season.  

“This (style) is what our team is made for when you look at the personnel. We’re made of young, quick, fast athletes and so that’s what we’re going to try to play to.”

It’s not unusual for NBA teams to talk about playing up-tempo this time of year, but it’s worth pointing out that only a handful of clubs seem to actually stick with it throughout the marathon that doubles as the regular season. Kevin Martin believes his team will be one of the rare exceptions when all is said and done.

“I think a lot of teams in the midseason, they do kind of stop playing with a pace because you have a lot of veteran teams that can’t play that way all season because of the toll it takes on their bodies. But with us, everybody on this team is pretty young and that’s going to be to our advantage to play like that 82 games this year.”

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Every year around this time fans are always anxious to find out which players have been most impressive at the start of camp. The rather bland truth, however, is that it’s often difficult, if not impossible, to make any sort of bold proclamations given the small sample size with which we’re dealing. That caveat aside, there’s no denying the fact that Omer Asik has been an early standout, delivering as advertised defense and a surprising amount of proficiency on the offensive end as well.

The 26-year-old center has drawn raves from both teammates and coaches ever since his arrival in Houston, and the plaudits have only grown during the first two days of training camp.

“Omer’s been great,” said Rockets Head Coach Kevin McHale. “He’s running better every day. He rebounded the heck out of the ball today and he really knows how to play both sides of the basketball. He’s a very smart player and a real diligent worker. He’s really been fantastic for us.”

Added Jeremy Lin: “He’s awesome. He’s cleaning up the boards, getting rebounds, creating space. He’s a great passer. He’s done a heck of a job so far, so I’m excited to play with him.”

Lin knows a thing or two about what life is like playing alongside a rim-protecting, rebound-guzzling monster in the middle, having played with reigning Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler last season in New York with the Knicks. And though it’s obviously premature to compare the still-nascent career of Asik to a player as highly-decorated as Chandler, there’s reason to believe the Rockets’ big man might be able to make a similar sort of impact for his team thanks to his considerable defensive prowess.

“You don’t fully appreciate it until you play with them,” said Lin when asked what it means to have defenders like Asik and Chandler patrolling the paint. “And then you realize how many little mistakes are (made on the defensive end). Even like half-foot rotations that they make … three inches is a lot in the game of basketball. (Asik is) less athletic (than Chandler) in terms of jumping but he’s huge and he’s very, very smart. Both of them just have a knack for making the right defensive play.”

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Also making a solid early impression is Gary Forbes, a 27-year-old swingman entering his third NBA season. Amid so much youth, Forbes’ NBA experience clearly shows and his jack-of-all-trades skill set makes him an intriguing option for a Rockets’ roster that figures to have no shortage of competition when it comes time to determine which players will be part of the regular rotation and those who will be left on the outside looking in.

Kevin Martin knows Forbes’ game as well as anyone, having spent several summers training alongside the Panama native at their favored gym in Florida. He believes Forbes is a classic case of a journeyman player who simply needs to find the right fit, and thinks the opportunity that now exists in Houston may be just what his teammate needs.

“Gary is one of those players who can run the point for you, or play the two, or defend somebody. He’s an all-around player who’s trying to find his niche in this league. I think he’s one of those players who’s like a Keyon Dooling who can have a 12, 13, 14 year career because he’s just the kind of guy you love to have on your team because he’s so versatile. I think this is a good opportunity for him to try to find that niche and show what he can actually do.”

And for his part, Forbes says he fully embraces the roster and rotation battles inherent within this time of year.

“At the end of the day, it is always competitive. We’re competing for minutes, we’re competing for rotation spots and we’re trying to make an impression on Coach McHale and the rest of the coaches that you or whoever deserves to play. So even though we’re aiming for the same goal, we are competing for minutes. I love the competitive nature of that, I’ve always thrived in that sense and I’m going to go out there and play hard everyday. That’s one of the things Coach McHale wants to see is guys playing hard and playing on the defensive end and I think I can bring that to the team.

“I just need to keep doing what I’m doing: Keep being versatile, keep playing defense, keep knocking down the open three and I’m sure I’ll get myself on the court.”

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And-1s: Rockets forward/center Donatas Motiejunas missed today’s practice due to an infection that is being treated with antibiotics. His availability for future practices will be evaluated on a daily basis … Royce White (personal matter), Carlos Delfino (visa issue) and Jon Brockman (eye injury) remain absent, though Delfino is expected to arrive in McAllen on Thursday.