FOUR KEY POINTS

Observations from Rockets training camp and preseason (Part 2)

As the Rockets returned back from their long, grueling trip overseas, they returned to questions ranging from their on-going China controversy to actual basketball stuff. Today, we're going to break from all the China craziness and just focus on all the interesting basketball stuff. (Believe it or not, basketball is being played at the Toyota Center in the background of this geopolitical mess.) Without further ado, here's part two of observations from training camp.

​1. Ryan Anderson will play backup center (sometimes)

One of the interesting developments of preseason has been the Rockets experimenting with newly added forward Ryan Anderson at center with second units. Some of this may be out of necessity, as center Nene Hilario is out with an adductor injury and may be severely limited due to the structure of his incentives-based contract. Also, the Rockets may implement a rest schedule for Tyson Chandler, 38 years old, as they did with Hilario.

"Definitely. I think we can look at that," said Mike D'Antoni when asked about Anderson playing center. "You know Tyson, probably, some back-to-backs won't play. So obviously, there's some [minutes] there. You can go small with him, although he's big."

Anderson seemed more than open to the idea and even playfully encouraged media to refer to him as a center from now on.

"It's definitely a role we talked about here," said Anderson. "I think it's something I can be really effective at. This team can play in a lot of different ways so that's just one of them."

Chandler will likely be the primary option at backup center, but the Rockets have been known to experiment even with a full roster.

"I think [center will be an option] obviously depending on matchups and the way teams play," said Anderson. "Some teams might want to go big and we can change the lineup around to where I might play the four. It's just the way the league is now. A lot of teams go small and it could be a different dynamic of a lineup with me playing at the five."

2. Rockets players slowly adjusting to Russell Westbrook

For most of the early training camp, the questions have all been about how James Harden and Russell Westbrook can fit together.

"The first possession out of the gate, [Westbrook] went to the basket off a pick and roll, and he kicked it out to me and I hit a catch-and-shoot three," said Harden, who says he can see more catch and shoot opportunities for himself alongside Westbrook. "It just depends on how teams guard us. Throughout the course of the year, we're going to see so many different defenses. We'll take whatever they give us and try to execute."

So far, nobody on the Rockets has questioned whether or not this will be a cohesive combo. Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni, who has been enthusiastic about the pairing dating back to September, has liked what he's seen in the early going.

"It's easy. They can play together," reiterated D'Antoni at Sunday's practice. "It'll be an on-going process all year. They play off each other pretty well. The synergy there is pretty good."

However, there's also real questions about how other players will adjust to Westbrook. Westbrook, a much different player than Chris Paul or Harden, plays at a frenetic pace and for some - like athletic, young forward Danuel House - that's a welcome change.

"He pushes the ball in transition really fast, so filling the lanes is going to be a lot of fun this year," said House. "[We're] getting downhill quicker, scoring easier points. It's actually going to be good for the whole team because we can up the ante on our transition points."

House raises a valid point. Through four preseason games, the Rockets have been the third fastest team in the league - a drastic change to where they were last season (27th in the regular season, 25th in the preseason).

"We've always been a running team," said P.J. Tucker. "Now, that we have Russ, who's really good at pushing the ball and getting in the paint and making plays for people. We want to push it even more."

Westbrook, smirking, hinted that guys haven't quite adjusted to his pace yet, but claims that it's a process and the Rockets won't figure out all of the nuances in preseason anyways.

"We're getting there," said Westbrook. "The season hasn't even started yet. I only played two games. We got time. We're still figuring it out and figuring out the best way to play on both sides [of the ball]."

One thing that's been so pronounced is just how loud Westbrook is in a practice setting. Even when practice was opened up the fans on Monday, Westbrook didn't let up on the intensity. The trash talking and swearing and Rockets teammates have loved that side of Westbrook so far.

https://twitter.com/SalmanAliNBA/status/1183437195593388033?s=20

3. Turnovers may be a problem for Houston

A known risk when the Rockets traded for Russell Westbrook in July would be the spike in turnovers. Chris Paul's historically good assist to turnover ratio had been a nice counterbalance to James Harden over the past couple seasons, but Westbrook is the complete opposite in that respect. Through four preseason games, the Rockets are eighth in turnover percentage.

"The turnovers are killing us right now," said Mike D'Antoni. "Way too many turnovers. That leads to easy baskets for the other team."

Houston will try and do what they can, but looking at the way their roster is currently structured, it's hard to see turnovers not being their achilles heel this season.

"Offensively, we played very well, but we turned the basketball over too much," agreed James Harden. "We averaged 19 turnovers the last few games. Last game [against Toronto] we had like 9 or 10 turnovers and gave away 15 points."

4. Who fills Gerald Green's void?

According to ESPN's Tim MacMahon (and confirmed by Mike D'Antoni), it seems Gerald Green suffered a significant, potentially season-ending foot injury. Green may not be one of Houston's core seven players, but he's been consistent in their rotation over the past couple years. For regular season purposes, this injury is pretty significant.

The obvious question now is who takes those leftover minutes for the Rockets. Ben McLemore has been a popular name floated as a potential replacement for Green's eighth man role, but D'Antoni seems to be hesitant to nail down one specific replacement and will more likely have the role filled by committee.

"Austin would get more minutes, Ben [McLemore] could be, Thabo [Sefolosha] could be, Chris Clemons could be," said D'Antoni. "We're still working that out.

Fortunately for Houston, they have a decent amount of time to find another long-term replacement on the wing before the playoffs. If they do choose to search for market solutions, it does appear that they may be forced to pay the luxury tax this season which they tried to avoid last season. It's still very early to make a definitive determination though.

HOUSTON HAD TO WAIT UNTIL HE WALKED AWAY TO APPRECIATE THE TRUE GREATNESS OF HIS GAME

Kobe was the man Rockets fans loved to hate

It's ok to admit it Rockets fans, you secretly respected the hell out of Kobe Bryant even as you outwardly mean mugged him and acted like you despised him. You had to, he was the best player on one of your team's biggest rivals. You furrowed your brow every time his name came up in a conversation or on a news story, but you damn sure weren't going to miss the opportunity to watch him perform live or on TV when he took the floor against your squad. You hated him because he was better than the best player on your team and you knew that his team may be less talented as a whole, but just his mere presence on that squad gave them a better than average chance of beating you. He had that "it" factor along with a lot of talent, and he was the perfect storm of what a superstar should be. He loved to be the villain and enjoyed the thrill of victory even more when it involved doing it in your gym. Don't be mad he did it, be glad you had the chance to see him do it, especially if you were lucky enough to witness it in person.

I was one of the "lucky" ones. I worked for the Rockets, so I got the opportunity to see him play up close and personal for all 20 years of his illustrious career. I could not stand him when he played my team because he just exuded confidence and bravado on the court. No lead was ever safe and most leads disappeared the minute he decided to kick it into overdrive and take over. Remember Shane and Ron Artest doing anything and everything to stop the "Black Mamba" only to end up snakebit in the end? How about the fact that after his rookie season he was 39-27 against the Rockets in the regular season and a perfect 3-0 in playoff series matchups. Sure Shaq and Pau Gasol and others played a role in those results, but the one constant in all those games was Kobe Bryant was at the forefront for the Lakers and there was no doubt he was going to leave his mark on every contest. I lost count of how many times I thought we had him beat, had victory in hand, only to head home, shaking my head, trying to figure out how he was able to do all that he did to pull L.A. through? You couldn't stop him, you could try to double him, you could even try to fight him as Artest tried to no avail, but in the end all he cared about was that you couldn't beat him. Sure the Lakers could beat themselves and mistakes could lead to victory, but the chances that Kobe was going to crack under pressure or give a game away was just out of the realm of possibilities.

I was never able to truly appreciate the greatness of Kobe Bryant until he retired. I had to have that grace period to cool off and get over all the agony, the hurt and the heartbreak that he almost single-handedly delivered to me and my team over two decades of numerous battles. Once I had the chance to look back and reflect of his career and take the personal side of it out of the equation, how could you not appreciate his greatness and commend him for all the memorable moments he provided for the game of basketball? Sure some will remember the air ball in crunch time against the Jazz in his rookie year, but more will remember the 60 points he dropped on Utah in the final game of his career. In between those bookend moments, there was the 81 point game, 5 NBA titles, 1 MVP, and all those All-Star games and All-NBA teams. Even in the darkest moments of his NBA career, immediately after suffering a torn Achilles, he insisted on going to the free throw line to shoot the two free throws. He didn't just take them, he made them, even further cementing the legacy and that "Mamba Mentality." As a player, he did it the right way, his way and set the highest standard in sports in terms of work ethic, toughness and the amount of work you have to put in to get out everything you could possibly desire. As he walked away from the game I thought he had broken my heart for the last time, but little did I know he had the ability to do it one more time. Rest in Peace Kobe.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome