Five early observations from Rockets training camp and preseason

Media day has passed, training camps have opened up, and preseason basketball has started. All indications that the 2019-20 NBA season has officially left the tarmac, particularly in the case of the Houston Rockets who have already played two preseason games while most of the league has yet to play one. As things have come underway quickly for Houston, those in the media can finally stop speculating and predicting as there's actually interesting basketball stuff to talk about.

1. The Rockets intend to play faster - a lot faster

It seemed obvious that pace would be an emphasis for this particular Rockets team once they traded for Russell Westbrook in early July, but it still stands out as quite significant. Through two preseason games, the Rockets are averaging 107.25 possessions per game, good for second among the six NBA teams that have played so far. According to NBA.com/stats, Houston was the fourth slowest team in the league last season, averaging 98.39 possessions per game. To say this is a delineation from the norm is an understatement.

Throughout training camp, the Rockets ran much more offense you'd expect to see from some of Mike D'Antoni's old Phoenix Suns teams (ex: more of the 21 series) and older Rockets teams (particularly 2016-17 - when the Rockets were third in pace). This pace of play suits Russell Westbrook and Clint Capela, both talented at running the break and getting early transition offense, but the question was always James Harden's buy-in to playing this way again. If we can take anything from preseason, it seems Harden may have re-committed to this style.

2. Houston intends to switch less on defense

One of the biggest questions going into training camp would be how new associate head coach Elston Turner chose to run Houston's defense this season. The Rockets had already drifted away last season from some of the switching that made them so lethal defensively the year before, but it looks like they may be turning the corner completely. With the Warriors effectively decommissioned for this season, it makes sense to return to a traditional, conservative approach as it's quite effective against the majority of NBA teams.

"We're switching a little less than last year," confirmed Rockets center Isaiah Hartenstein on the first day of training camp. The Rockets simply don't have the personal to switch as much as they had in 2017-18, but if they stay true to this new conservative approach (likely a drop scheme similar to what the Utah Jazz play), there's no reason they have to be limited. Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, and Danuel House will keep Houston respectable until the buyout market (if it comes to that).

3. Ryan Anderson may be a rotation player for Houston

The return of Ryan Anderson has been the ultimate feel good story coming out of training camp for the Rockets, but it would be foolish to simply call it a "cute story." The Rockets aren't known for making signings just for the sake of positive PR. Anderson's ability to space the floor and provide size to an otherwise small bench unit may earn him a nice bench role for the team. Though it wasn't likely to be a problem in the first place, a positive for Houston is that Anderson seems to have bought in to whatever role Houston has for him.

4. Ben McLemore has probably locked up a roster spot

At this point, it would be a surprise if 26-year-old swingman Ben McLemore isn't on the roster by the end of training camp. With only $50,000 of his contract guaranteed, McLemore signed with Houston knowing that his chances of making the roster were slim, but in just a few training camp practices and preseason games, he's proven that he could potentially bring a lot to the contending Rockets. In particular, McLemore's length (6'5" with a 6'8" wingspan) and shooting ability (37.3% from three-point range over the past five seasons) could serve him well in earning possible rotation minutes with the team.

When House missed Houston's second preseason game (minor leg injury), it was assumed a veteran like Gerald Green or Austin Rivers would take his spot. However, head coach Mike D'Antoni surprisingly went with McLemore, indicating that he has built up some trust with the coaching staff. It would be wise to not take away too much from preseason, but it's hard not to notice McLemore's play and ponder his possible utility with the team. Sometimes it takes the right team finding you before players find their role in the NBA and McLemore might have just found his.

5. Coaching staff replacements and promotions

There's a good chance 80% of Rockets fans won't care about the minutiae of Houston's coaching staff, but there's been some movement outside of new associate head coach Elston Turner. For one, former Sacramento Kings assistant coach Dan Hartfield has been added to the staff to help fill in for a lot of the openings that were created this summer. Also, it appears former Rio Grande Valley head coach Matt Brasse has been moved up to the front of the bench and will help coach defense this season (coached offense last season).

The Rockets are no strangers to making in-house promotions and it appears to be the route they went when filling out their coaching staff this season. Brasse has been with the Rockets for eight years and has worked in various capacities including as an intern, Director of Player Development, and being promoted to the Rockets coaching staff last season. Through his light-hearted demeanor and coaching prowess, he's developed a great reputation with players and coaches around the league dating back to his time with the Vipers so it's nice to see his work be rewarded.

4th and a Mile with Paul Muth

Gyms, Astros, power rankings, and trial by combat

A lot can go wrong here. Photo by Joshua Jordan

So I was at the gym Tuesday. Not bragging.

I've never been a fan of gyms. I like lifting, but I don't like gyms. I don't like the music (even if I actually like the music), I don't like the culture, I don't like vibe. But I also don't own a squat rack, and unless I can guarantee that my landlord won't take away my deposit for doing deadlifts in the kitchen, it's off to the gym I go.

Even if everything is perfectly fine, I unwittingly go out of my way to find things that annoy me every time. I'm constantly looking for more reasons to dislike gyms, like watching the guy with a sleeveless black button down over his red short-sleeved under armour shirt and cargo pants sitting at the lat pulldown machine for 5 minutes having a conversation through his airpods without attempting a single rep.

Now I'm not gym gatekeeping, I'm not qualified to do so even if I wanted to. I'm just grumpy. I want to be alone but I don't have the option so everything bugs me. My big giant over-the-ear headphones should suggest my preference for solitude.

So Tuesday.

I'm over by the dumbells, near a bench. Nothing of mine is on the bench. I AM NOT AFFILIATED WITH THE BENCH.

I'm about to start a set of 15 reps. I tighten my wrist straps. Deep breath. Let's get it.

I'm facing the mirror and I see a guy approaching from behind, eyeballing that stupid bench. He stops at it and begins to stare at me.

I don't like gyms. I close my eyes to focus on finishing my set. That's when I felt him tap my shoulder.

Now this dude isn't part of the "New Year, New Me," crowd. He's this jacked little guy who has obviously spent enough time in a gym to understand that one of the cardinal sins within the Iron Temple is interrupting a set for anything short of life, limb, or loss of eyesight.

As my eyes summoned the power of a thousand suns to glare through his spaghetti strap "Beast Mode" tank top, I ripped my headphones off and whipped around to find out what was so important.

"Are you using this bench?"

I'll let you imagine what happened next, but it wasn't cordial.

I don't like gyms.

To the Astros Apologists

This advice is coming from someone who has gone to at least 30 games a season for the past four years. I've got excel spreadsheets documenting every game. I've traveled across the country for years just to catch Astros away games, and I've got an Orbit tattoo that's hard to show off in the winter. I've lived and breathed this team as long as I can remember. With that said:

Stop.

After reading reddit comments, tweets, Facebook posts, and even a few radio listener call-ins, there seems to be this idea that Astros fans should "accept being a villian," and adopt an "us against the world" mentality.

This chapter in the Astros franchise ended much like Adam Sandler's latest movie, "Uncut Gems." It ends so abruptly, that in the midst of the whiplash you're caught trying to see if there was something that was missed, and if in fact it's actually over.

It's over. The investigation is over. The Astros unequivocally cheated, and when you wake up tomorrow, they will still have cheated regardless of how mad you are about the whole thing. Adopting some "us against the world" mentality says more about your values than it does your fanhood. So let's ease off that approach and find a different way to cope.

Instead, take it on the chin. I'm not saying abandon your team, but just because it's a thing you love doesn't mean you should blindly defend the indefensible. We all knew that one kid growing up who would get into all kinds of trouble, but was never disciplined because his mom believed he was an angel who could do no wrong. Don't be that mom. Own that they messed up, handle it however you want, but don't defend them.

I'm still not sure how to process the whole thing myself. It's like looking back on fond memories with someone after you learned they cheated on you. I don't think it's enough to end the relationship, but I do need some time to step back and reassess.

World Power Rankings of the Week

#5 James Harden's new 'do

I wasn't sure if the braids were hanging around, but our dude is lookin' slick these days and Reddit's r/Rockets is having a mild meltdown over it.

#4 Kendrick Perkins and Kevin Durant's twitter beef

Honestly, all twitter beef is gold, but this week offered some solid haymakers from retired big man Kendrick Perkins, and the NBA all-time record holder for feelings per minute, Kevin Durant. Perk called KD a quitter, KD told Perk he was trash, and down the hill we went. I'm a sucker for NBA drama and it rarely disappoints.

#3 Leonardo DiCaprio, Lifesaver

Imagine having fallen off a cruise liner and treading water for roughly 11 hours. The thought of a rescue would begin to seem dim. Now imagine a glistening yacht arriving out of nowhere and plucking you from your impending watery grave. That's already a pretty awesome way to elude death's icy grip. Finding out who this yacht belonged to must have been pretty sweet as well.

#2 Anything Derrick Henry does in January

Anyone watching the playoffs next to me during any Titans game has since become tired of me reminding everyone that his nickname is "Tractorsito." He's throwing touchdowns, he's stiff arm spinning opponents and pushing them into their own teammates. He's also more than doubling his quarterback's passing yards (160) with his rushing yards (377) throughout the playoffs.

#1 Trial by combat

I'm down for it anytime, anywhere. As a spectator. Especially when you're requesting it from a judge toward your ex and her attorney during a custody battle so that you can "rend their souls" from their bodies. Not sure I'd want that on record, but ok.



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