That's A Wrap
Reflecting upon the Rockets' open scrimmage and the first week of training camp
McALLEN, TEXAS - The Rockets wrapped up their six-day stay in McAllen Saturday afternoon, capping off the opening week of training camp with an open scrimmage in front of approximately one thousand fans.
The club divided its roster into two separate squads – a black team and a gray team – and played four eight-minute quarters. Both sides played it straight – this was no street ball, style-over-substance affair – and the play from both sides was fast-paced, competitive and surprisingly strong given the fact the team is still in the nascent stages of camp and the players were undoubtedly feeling the effects of the dead legs that typically accompany this time of year.
The first half was of an especially high standard – relatively speaking, of course – with the score tight throughout and a bevy of players producing strong performances. Kevin Martin caught fire seemingly right from the opening tip, knocking down shots from all over the gym in the opening stanza. Though stats weren’t immediately available, K-Mart surely approached the 30-point plateau for the contest, capping off what has been an exceptional week of work for the nine-year veteran.
In the second half, however, the gray squad led by Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik took over and ultimately pulled away. Parsons, in particular, was everywhere, getting himself and his teammates involved while providing the spark that helped his squad distance itself from the competition. Gary Forbes figured prominently in the deciding run as well, knocking down at least four three-pointers in the second half alone as the gray squad rolled to a comfortable double-digit victory.
The Rockets now return home for a few days before flying back to the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday for their preseason opener against Oklahoma City October 10.
Some final, random thoughts on the team’s first week of training camp in no particular order:
The breakneck speed of Saturday’s scrimmage placed it right in the wheelhouse of Scoot Machado, who was only too happy to push the pace at every opportunity. The Iona product thrives in the sort of up-tempo style the Rockets’ coaching staff is instilling in its squad, so it was no surprising to see him shine as a playmaker throughout the scrimmage. Machado even spent time playing the point, allowing Jeremy Lin to slide over to the two-spot; a pairing that worked well in the limited minutes Lin and Machado played together.
That partnership likely won’t see much, if any time together once the real games start, but the primary takeaway from Saturday was that Machado continues to make a strong impression in the early stages of training camp. He attributes part of his success to a trimmer physique than the one he sported during summer league in Las Vegas.
“The best weight I play at is 200 and over the summer time you guys probably saw me at 210,” Machado said. “This system is a great fit for me. I feel like this is how I played in college. I love it right now. The more we get in shape, the more we get to run and the better we look.“
Speaking of Jeremy Lin, the Rockets’ starting point guard seemed to get stronger throughout the week; no real surprise given the fact that he’s still feeling his way back from offseason knee surgery. Lin came into camp in great condition, but being in prime basketball shape is something altogether different and Lin seemed to be rounding into that sort of form as the week rolled along. As advertised, his crafty pick-and-roll game, sneaky quickness and clever angles have generated paint points and free throws aplenty for both himself and his teammates during this week's scrimmage sessions, and when left open from the perimeter he has consistently knocked those shots down.
Omer Asik might not be the Rockets’ best player this year, but one could build a very compelling case that he may very well turn out to be the team’s most important player. There’s simply no one else on this roster who can have the sort of interior defensive impact that Asik does thanks to his unique combination of size, strength, length and smarts. Everything that the numbers have said about Asik defensively is true; he’s just a behemoth down low capable of disrupting the opposition’s offense in so many ways. And the work that he put in with Carroll Dawson this summer seems to have paid off as well; Asik does indeed look more comfortable offensively, but much more than that his coaches have raved about the kind of cardiovascular shape he is in – a huge need given the fact he’ll be transitioning from a 15-minute per game player to one who is called upon to play at least twice that.
The Rockets’ Kentucky talent pipeline enjoyed an excellent first week as well. Patrick Patterson’s strong summer of work carried over into camp. He’s not just a pick-and-pop threat on offense anymore; he seems far more comfortable operating out of the low-post with moves much smoother and far less robotic then fans saw from him last season. He even backed down and scored on Asik during the scrimmage, showing off his soft touch after a pump fake to free up just enough space to get his shot off.
Terrence Jones, meanwhile, only played a few minutes Saturday after having tweaked his ankle in one of the final drills before the scrimmage began. That said, the rookie revealed all the same skills and physicality that made him one of the most pleasant surprises of this year’s Vegas summer league. As with all first-year players, he has much work to do from a refinement standpoint, but even at this raw stage he still manages to leap out at you from time to time simply due to the sheer enormity of his size/skill combination. And with his ability to play the three, four and maybe even some five in a pinch, one assumes he’s going to put up quite a fight to find his name somewhere within the Rockets’ rotation early on.
Other notables: Carlos Delfino’s veteran experience has allowed him to ease in without missing a beat, despite his arrival to camp being delayed due to visa issues. He’s had no trouble picking up Houston’s offense, and woe to those who don’t read the scouting report: Delfino is as deadly as ever when spotting up for corner 3s.
Rookie Jeremy Lamb can certainly stroke it, too; his is the very definition of effortless range. He has to continue working on the defensive end -- though his pterodactyl-esque length should help immensely from a recovery standpoint -- but there is an undeniable smoothness to his offensive game and his ability to spread the floor will be a valuable asset as he continues to earn the coaches' trust and garners playing time.
Lastly, a word on Marcus Morris, the No. 14 selection in the 2011 NBA Draft. It’s no secret that Morris languished through a disappointing rookie campaign, struggling with an ankle injury and an adjustment to the small forward position.
That said, it should be noted that Morris is entering this year with a completely different outlook and attitude. When Morris returned to Houston last month, it was as a changed man. Off the court he’s been engaging and easy to smile; a marked difference from the player who seemed to be walking around with the weight of the world on his shoulders last season. More importantly, he’s in significantly better shape this time around. Whether the new mindset results in an immediate increase in playing time remains to be seen, but Morris has been a noticeably better player so far and enjoyed some stretches of strong play Saturday as well.
“I’m just taking a different approach this year,” says the 23-year-old forward from Philadelphia. “Last year I just wanted to play so bad. Knowing that I didn’t have that opportunity, I was just upset. It was a mind thing – I couldn’t get over not playing. This summer I got away from that, spent time around my family and got back to having fun while I’m playing. That just changed my whole mindset.
“I feel like I’ve measured up good. I’ve been busting my behind, getting here early. I think I’ve been playing real well, just rebounding and showing these guys I can defend, get over screens, things like that – that’s my main focus right now is just showing I’m a lot more active than I was last year and I’m not just worried about making shots.”
And 1s: Donatas Motiejunas returned to practice Saturday after missing the last two days of work due to an infection. Shaun Livingston, meanwhile, is getting closer to a return, but remains day-to-day with a groin muscle injury.