Scouting the Rockets Rookies and Newcomers

Friday October 2, 2009 12:37 PM

Scouting the New Guys takes a closer look at the rookies and newcomers

Jason Friedman Staff Writer

Houston - There’s no denying the fact that the Rockets are a team in transition. New names and faces abound at the start of training camp and it’s extremely likely that the club will feature five players on its opening night roster who were not with the team when the Rockets’ season ended last May.

So to help get you up to speed, sat down with Assistant Coach/Advance Scout Pat Zipfel so that he could share his unique insight on most of the newcomers currently populating the Rockets’ roster. Zipfel has spent the opening week of camp with the team before he hits the road to scout the Rockets’ opposition, so he’s been able to acquire an up close and personal feel for the players’ strengths, weaknesses and how they interact with their teammates.

JCF: Alright, let’s start with the club’s big offseason acquisition Trevor Ariza. Obviously you’re already familiar with his game since you’ve scouted him plenty of times during his previous stints with the Lakers, Magic and Knicks.

PZ: He’s got great length. Really plays the passing lanes well. Obviously steals the ball a lot. He can get to the rim and runs great in transition which is going to be key for us this year. Trevor is a really likeable guy, who gets along well with everybody. He’s funny and I like him a lot. I don’t think it’s any surprise that he’s a very good player. Management did a great thing bringing him here.

It will also help him that we’re playing a little faster because that’s the type of player he is. He can defend and he’s got a lot of skills which will help this team. With Yao gone, we don’t have a true back to the basket player who’s going to give you 20 and 10, so that opening up of the court allows Trevor a lot more freedom.

JCF: What do you expect from him offensively?

PZ:Well, he averaged nine or so per game during the regular season last year and then went up to around 11 during the playoffs. I think his free throw shooting percentage went down during the playoffs (it did drop from 71% to 56.3%). Now getting to the free throw line will be a strength of his so converting free throws will go a long way in deciding whether he averages around 12 points per game or 15. I think those two things go hand in hand, so his free throw percentage needs to go up. I don’t think he’s at a point where he’s ready to take us all on his back and carry the load offensively, but is he an improved player? Yes. Will the fans like him? Yes, because he plays hard and is exciting to watch with the ball and also defensively off the ball.

JCF: How about David Andersen, a guy you had not seen in person before until just this week?

PZ: That’s true. He’s a skilled, long pick-and-pop guy who can shoot it. Has a pretty good understanding of basketball and is a good teammate; really gets along well with these guys. Very good sense of humor. Fans will love him because he’s so likeable. A guy who can play away from the basket. Playing with his back to the basket is not a strength. His strength is facing the basket and shooting it. He’ll struggle a little bit defensively if he’s playing the five but, overall, he’s got a skilled package. And, again, open court favors him as opposed to a clogged middle.

JCF: Is he the starting center on opening night?

PZ: I honestly don’t know. As coach himself has said, it’s wide open right now. And, look, you know how our money says, “In God we trust?” I say, “In Rick we trust” and I mean that. I do. I came here for him. The No. 1 reason I came to Houston was to work for Rick Adelman. I trust him completely and will let him do what he does.

We’re in transition and just have so many new faces. Gregg Popovich had a quote the other day about his team. He said, “You’re either a returner or a learner.” In our case, we have a lot of learners so I’ll let Rick make the decisions because he’s a proven winner who’s made the playoffs 16 of his last 18 years in this league and is a guy who belongs in the Hall of Fame.

JCF: Fair enough. How about Chase Budinger?

PZ: Smooth. “Smooth jazz,” that’s my nickname for him. He is, surprisingly, better than I anticipated. He just knows how to play, can knock down a shot, plays hard and, again, another great teammate. Has already acclimated himself to Coach Adelman’s system. He’s just a smooth, smooth player. He can jump out of the building and has incredible athleticism in terms of the ability to rise up and dunk it. Smooth jazz. Plays with a poise unknown of a rookie.

JCF: What does he need to work on?

PZ: First, the defensive game in the NBA is different than the college game. If he takes an academic approach to defense he’s going to be just fine. And he will. He’s smart and surrounded by good coaches. We’ve always been known as a great defensive team and he will help that process continue.

JCF: Jermaine Taylor?

PZ: I have this correlation with JT and only I see it but, for me, Jermaine is a young Martell Webster. Now Martell has been out due to injury in Portland but I see a lot of the same characteristics in Jermaine with his explosiveness and ability to shoot it. Both are pretty offensive-minded. Same athleticism, both can rise up and dunk it and fun to watch. He’s still learning the game but I see a young Martell Webster when I see Jermaine.

He can really get to the basket but needs to work on getting his jumper more consistent. I think both Jermaine and Chase are going to have a big learning curve but that’s not unusual. It takes years to adjust. Even Kobe didn’t come into the league doing what he’s doing now. It takes years to learn not only the plays but how to defend, how to keep your body healthy, how to travel correctly, because the NBA season is a grind – it’s really three college seasons wrapped in one; we play about 90 games and they play 30 games a year. So both of them are going to have to adjust to a learning curve on all of those topics on the court and off the court, which is why we have such a great support system in place for player development, health and rehabilitation, and strength and conditioning.

JCF:Next up:Pops Mensah-Bonsu

PZ: Great athlete who can hit a midrange shot if open. At his best cleaning up the glass, rebounding and running. Can defend a little bit inside. Not a tremendous back to the basket-type scoring option. Has Joey Dorsey-type similarities.

JCF: I know Garrett Temple has a lot of fans here – what are your first impressions of him?

PZ: Garrett has surprised me a little bit – in a good way. He really knows how to play, has nice length for a guard and can defend ones, twos and threes well. He keeps guys in front of him. Not a flashy guy but just a very solid player. When the fans leave the building they’re probably going to remember Jermaine’s dunk or Chase’s jump shot off a pin-down or Pops’ athleticism running the floor and dunking. I don’t know if they’ll notice Garrett, but basketball people will know just how solid Garrett is. He does everything solid.

JCF: And last but certainly not least, tell me a little bit about Will Conroy.

PZ: Tough little guy. Man, he’s tough. He’s a point guard who’s got leadership capability. He can drive hard to the rim, penetrates well and is a solid defender. He’s not afraid of anything. Most importantly, he’s hungry. Obviously behind Brooks and Lowry he’s got his work cut out for him but there’s definitely a place for him in this league. He’s just tough and fearless.

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