ROCKET LAUNCH

Let's discuss the most exciting Rockets storylines this preseason

The Rockets play the Raptors on Monday night. Composite image by Jack Brame.

This Houston Rockets team so far is entertaining, energetic, and fun to watch, but is still trying to understand the learning process of the NBA. In the preseason, this young core went against the Washington Wizards and Miami Heat, which was a huge difference between the two competition wise.

The Wizards are in a similar process because of the new acquisitions they have on their team (Spencer Dinwiddie, Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Aaron Holiday). While the Heat had the experienced veteran team with a former a Rocket, PJ Tucker, and newly acquired Kyle Lowry.

The Rockets matched up well against the Wizards, as there was a slight pull in the 2nd quarter because of the veteran player Bradley Beal. But it was entertaining to see Kevin Porter Jr. counter with a great performance of 25 points, 50 percent around the three-point line, and 52 percent from the field. He showed a combination of step-backs, handles, and composure. Porter looks more commanding of the point guard position, which is good. He seems to understand how the five-out offense works for Stephen Silas. It was fun to watch Porter allow the actions (offensive plays) of the offense to create for themselves.

Porter looks confident as a point guard to run the offense for the Rockets and keep his teammates involved with creative passing across the other side of the court, pick-and-roll, and in transition. He understands his duties on the court while knowing scoring is still important for him. The Heat played incredible physical defense and knew how to close the driving lanes for the Rockets. Porter is learning how to get to the free throw line with a unique skill set, which is like his favorite player, James Harden (former Rocket). He shot 66 percent at the free throw line versus the Heat.

The Heat challenged the backcourt of Jalen Green and Porter. Green struggled from three the previous night against the Wizards but still showed his incredible speed, first-step, and aggressive driving techniques at the basket. I cannot forget Green's incredible skill set as a dribbler at 6'6. In his debut versus the Wizards, Green had 12 points, but had a better night against the Heat with an impressive 20 points, 44 percent at the three-point line, and 40 percent from the field. Green had to get creative because of the closures in the driving lanes and physicality of the Heats' defense. Green made a statement on the Heats' physicality on defense.

He made an incredible showcase of shooting the basketball versus the Heat, as they had tight defense the whole night. Green had to make tough shots and show his creativity with the basketball, including making open shots when given. Silas was impressed with Green's strong performance versus the Heat.

So far, Green and Porter have combined for 69 points in the two games that they played together, and love playing with each other. Hopefully, the combination continues to grow as John Wall and Silas encourage the two to keep growing.

As I move onto the frontcourt, which is Alpren Sengun, Daniel Theis, and Christian Wood, this group of big men is promising, but it could still take some time, as Silas mentioned.

"Still work in progress. Christian does a great job of rebounding the ball and pushing it up the floor and rarely makes mistakes in those situations," as Silas said. "He usually gets to the rim or a handoff to a teammate and that's a way to get him involved and get him the ball. And with Theis, he is a great screener and roll. He likes a little short roll, and he makes that little shot. It's going to take time for those two to learn how to play off each other."

Wood and Theis are trying to challenge each other by guarding 1-5 on defense, as that could help the younger backcourt of Green and Porter. These big men have the length and wingspan to challenge guards on defense. Wood did have a 112 defensive rating and struggled in drop coverage last season on guards, which were switches (1.18 points per possession and 5.4 percentile in guarding the pick-and-roll ball handler)

Theis has mentioned that Wood has improved on his defense and continues to get better.

Wood will be tested on defense but thankfully Theis is around to help. It also seems to me that Wood is putting the ball on floor more, which is good. Being versatile around the perimeter could put him in the company of Anthony Davis. His versatility will keep defenses on their feet, and he'll be more unpredictable this season.

Theis has provided his screen mobility and rim running ability for the Rockets in preseason. His leadership has been pivotal for this young core. Green said:

"I talk to him all the time. I look at him as my big bro already. He is just giving me advice off the pick-and-roll and how to come off it. He just has so much knowledge."

It's proven that Theis has a great ability when making unique moves toward the basket and hanging around the rim for lobs. He has helped Porter in pick-and-roll and used his voice with Green. Theis is showing the ability to force his opposing player into tough shots because of his lateral quickness and size as a big man. He was worth the three-year deal he received from the Rockets in the offseason so far. Theis' duties so far are keeping this young core together and doing the dirty work, which is screening and finishing around the rim.

Sengun has shown a lot of the scoring but also being creative at dribble-hand-offs and passing the ball in tight spots. I have seen a decent amount of rebounding from Sengun. Sengun can develop a knack around the basketball as a rebounder (seven rebounds per game). The impressive thing about Sengun is the passing, as he is averaging three assist a game in the preseason. He slightly reminds me of Nikola Jokic. Theis said that he reminds him of Enes Kanter too on media day. "His skill set is big, he is a post player, and reminds me of Enes Kanter," Theis said.

Josh Christopher has shown great resilience in the 4th quarter for the Rockets, as he is not trying to play in the G-League. He has provided life for the Rockets because of his great transition skills. Christopher is averaging 11.5 points per game for the Rockets in the preseason and shooing the three-ball at 42.9 percent. His three-point shooting has impressed spectators the most. Silas will love that the most because in the five-out offense, shooting is important. I love that Christopher plays hard and is patient with the playing time that is received. Hopefully, his versatility on offense and defense is seen more this preseason.

The Rockets take on Scottie Barnes and the Toronto Raptors on Monday, so hopefully more growth is seen.

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Jeremy Pena could have some big shoes to fill. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images.

MLB and the MLBPA are embroiled in yet another labor dispute. The owners and players have both dug in their heels and refuse to budge. No end is in site for the lockout as Spring Training is drawing more and more near each passing day. So what does that mean for our 2022 Astros' season?

One sigh of relief came when Justin Verlander signed his new deal. Two years for $50 million dollars isn't bad at all. Factor in he's closer to my age than my son (coming off Tommy John surgery), and some may worry. Not me. He's the closest thing to Tom Brady MLB has seen since Nolan Ryan. Jim Crane and James Click did a great job bringing him back. His spot as the ace with the rest of the staff they have should help shore up the bullpen if one or two starters can make that transition. I know I said I didn't want him back a few months ago, but time has passed, and wounds have been healed.

When it comes to Carlos Correa, I'm growing more and more comfortable with the thought that he may not be back. I talked about his potential replacement months ago. Maybe the reason being is that the club loves Jeremy Peña at that same position, and Pedro Leon could also factor in. Plus, Peña is tearing the cover off the ball in the winter leagues.

At 24 years old, turning 25 in September, he'll be under team control for the foreseeable future. That truly depends on the new labor agreement. So does Correa's new contract. His contract will be largely based on the parameters set in the new labor agreement, since he didn't sign before the lockout took place. And now we know that contact will be negotiated by Correa's new agent, Scott Boras.

I'm all for the doom and gloom when it comes to an MLB labor issue because they've historically screwed over fans. The most notable and egregious was the '94 World Series being canceled. However, there's way too much money at stake right now. More money than ever to be exact. That said, it's precisely why there's a dispute. That, and the fact that the owners have always gotten over on fans and players, and the players are poised to get their just due.

When the season starts, the Astros should be contenders yet again. Don't look for them to come out the gate firing on all cylinders as this team may look a bit different. Guys may not be fully ready after a lockout and there will be some roster turnover. The bulk of the core will be here, ready, and healthy. Whether Correa is a part of that group remains to be seen. Am I concerned? Hell no! This team has enough to fill that void at least partially and will have either guy under team control for a while. Think about this upcoming season as the time you fixed up your older car. New tires, headlights restored, rims polished, inside made over, and a fresh coat of paint after the transmission rebuild. It still has over 150,000 miles on it, but you wouldn't trade it in for anything because it still runs well and has sentimental value. You know one day it'll give out and need to be put out to pasture, but you're holding on and riding until the wheels fall off. Enjoy Astro fans, because the ride will be over one day. Hopefully much later than sooner.

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