Super Small Ball

The Rockets report, brought to you by APG&E: Rockets defeat Mavericks in Houston 128-121

This may not go down as one of the more exciting Rockets' games this season, but it's certainly a noteworthy one considering how much the Rockets experimented with small ball units. For 48 minutes, the Rockets did not play a traditional center once and for the most part, found a lot of success in playing this way. For the first three quarters, the Rockets played well enough defensively to build a huge lead and throughout the game, the Rockets had solid scoring opportunity after opportunity due to the amount of space they had to work with.

Though fans may be upset that backup center Isaiah Hartenstein didn't play tonight, the players seemed to really enjoy playing without a big clogging the lane. Russell Westbrook and James Harden got clean looks for most of the game, but especially in the third quarter, where Houston scored 36 points on 14 of 26 shooting from the field and 4 of 11 from three-point range.

"It's real fun though," said Danuel House about the small units. "The ball has a lot of energy and the defensive intensity is super high, so I enjoy it."

An interesting development to watch is Thabo Sefolosha at the backup center. Sefolosha hasn't played significant minutes for most of the season, but Houston's finally found a role for him, as unconventional as it might be. Sefolosha played 14 minutes tonight and the Rockets didn't fair too bad in that time (+4).

Though Houston got killed on the boards with Kristaps Porzingis dominating the paint (35 points and 12 rebounds on 12 of 20 shooting from the field), Houston clearly made the calculated decision to forgo these disadvantages for the offensive advantages that they took advantage of tonight.

Star of the game: When James Harden is playing well, there are few weapons you'd like to have with a spaced floor like the Rockets had tonight. After being in a slump for much of January, Harden erupted for 35 points, 16 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals on 10 for 25 shooting from the field, 6 for 14 shooting from three-point range, and 9 for 10 shooting from the free throw line. Harden made an effort to be aggressive early in the game, attempting seven field goals in the first quarter alone.

Honorable mention: It's becoming a regular occurance for Russell Westbrook to have games like this, but it's still impressive nonetheless. Westbrook had 32 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals on 13 of 28 shooting from the field and 6 of 7 shooting from the free throw line. More than anyone on the team, Westbrook benefits from a spread floor. Houston had plenty of driving lanes and he took advantage of them, in transition and in the half court.

Key moment: The Rockets had their best stretch in the game in the third quarter, where they outscored the Mavericks 36 to 25. Russell Westbrook and James Harden had some of their best stretches as a duo in this quarter and together combined for 24 points on 9 of 12 shooting from the field. Westbrook really got going in transition, found teammates (4 assists), and got to the rim himself (12 points on 6 of 8 shooting).

Up next: The Rockets play the New Orleans Pelicans in Houston at 1:00 p.m. on Sunday.

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Nick Caserio's history of drafting injury prone players has become a problem. Composite Getty Image.

Nick Caserio was hired to serve as the general manager (GM) of the Texans on January 7, 2021. Some saw it as another nod to the organization's obsession with the Patriots. Others saw it as the team finally getting their guy after pursuing him previously. They were even hit with a tampering charge while trying to talk to him about the job. Since he's been on the job, there have been highs and lows.

Recently, the news about Kenyon Green and Derek Stingley Jr put a stain on his tenure. Green was placed on season-ending injured reserve (IR) and Stingley Jr is expected to be placed on IR, likely missing six to eight weeks, per Aaron Wilson. Both guys were Caserio's 2022 first rounders. Both guys are starting to look like busts and have fans a little more than just upset.

Green's case was curious because he was said to have needed surgery before he tore his labrum during the Saints preseason game. He had knee surgery this past offseason. There were knee injury concerns when he was coming out of A&M. Adding to his injuries, Green has played poorly. To make matters worse, the Chargers drafted fellow guard Zion Johnson two picks later. Johnson played all 17 games last season as a rookie at right guard and has moved to left guard this season. The pick used to draft Green was part of a trade back with the Eagles. They used the 13th overall pick to take Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, a guy at a position this team could desperately use.

Stingley Jr was a highly touted recruit coming into LSU as a freshman. He played as well as any corner in the country that year. Oh, and they won a national title with arguably one of the best teams in college football history. His net two years in Baton Rouge were marred with injuries. Some believed his junior year was more him holding back to stay healthy for the draft. It worked because he was taken third overall, one spot ahead of Sauce Gardner. Gardner went on to be an All Pro as a rookie. While he's surrounded by more talent on the Jets' defense, people will forever link them because Stingley Jr hasn't lived up to expectations. He missed six games last season and is set to miss at least that many this season. When he has played, he's looked okay. “Okay” isn't what you want from a guy drafted third overall ahead of the other guy who was widely considered better than him.

For the 2021 draft, Caserio was handcuffed. He had no first or second rounders, and made a few trades that lessened his draft pool from eight to five picks. Of the five guys drafted that year, only Nico Collins seems to be a player. The 2022 draft was more productive. Although Green and Stingley Jr were the headliners and haven't played up to the hype, the others are carrying the load. Jalen Pitre and Dameon PIerce alone make that draft class dope. This past draft was seen as the one to save the franchise so to speak. Getting C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr got the team a franchise quarterback and edge rusher with picks two and three overall. The price paid to move back up to three was hefty and puts more scrutiny on Anderson Jr. They appear, so far, to have also found a couple other nice players. Tank Dell being the hidden gem of this class.

While people can't, and shouldn't, base Caserio's performance strictly off of the guys he's drafted, one must call it into question. The '21 draft was a wash. The '22 draft looks suspect, but has some redeeming qualities. The '23 draft will most likely be his saving grace. But should it? Former Texans GM Rick Smith nailed almost every first rounder he drafted. Even he was almost run out of town because folks didn't like what he did. Why should Caserio be any different? So what if he cleaned up the mess by the previous regime! That's what he was hired to do!

“Keep that same energy!” That phrase is used when people try to hold others to different standards. Where's that energy everyone had for Bill O'Brien, Jack Easterby, Rick Smith, Gary Kubiak, David Culley, and Lovie Smith? When others weren't performing well, their heads were called for. I see some people holding Caserio accountable. For the most part, it appears as if he's getting a bit of a pass. I'll be interested to see if this continues should the team has another subpar season. If that pick they traded to the Cardinals is another top 10 pick and the Browns pick the Texans own isn't...if Green can't come back and/or Stingley Jr doesn't show any signs of being a lockdown corner...then what? Let's hope none of this comes to fruition. If it does, we'll have to revisit this conversation.

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