Rockets’ late push jeopardizes precious draw chances

It’s been a pretty damaging week for the Rockets‘ lottery odds with a 3-2 team, including a pair of wins in Portland against a team with a roster that might not even be a sure thing in the G League. The Rockets started the week with a 122-98 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday, then beat the Washington Wizards 115-97 on Monday. On Wednesday, they lost to a Dallas Mavericks team playing without Luka Doncic. And on Friday and Saturday, they beat a Blazers team without even fielding an NBA squad twice, 125-106, then 115-98.

The Rockets, who controlled their own destiny last week, have now fallen to third place in the Tankathon standings. They are 20-55, as are the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons. The Oklahoma City Thunder (21-53), who are 1-9 in their last 10 games, are hot on the heels of Houston and have rated star goaltender Shai Gilgeous-Alexander as questionable and ruled out Josh Giddey for the season.

Banchero takes the lead

Duke forward Paolo Banchero celebrates after Duke defeated Arkansas in a college basketball game during the Elite Round 8 of the NCAA Men’s Tournament in San Francisco, Saturday, March 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

I finally started dedicating more time to studying the top draft prospects, as someone who doesn’t watch college basketball during the year. I had Duke freshman Paolo Banchero as a top prospect on my draft board before the season started, gravitated to Auburn forward Jabari Smith Jr., for much of the season, and very recently installed on the center of Gonzaga Chet Holmgren in the lead. my list. I have now come full circle, back to Banchero (which sounds great). If last summer was any indication — when I wavered between Jalen Green and Evan Mobley for weeks before landing Green as my pick — I could be anywhere until draft night.

I find Banchero’s rare combination of ball handling and play, at 6-foot-10 and 250 pounds, too fascinating to overlook. That Banchero plans to be an uncomfortable fit defensively with Alperen Sengun (to put it generously) is an issue for the future. You should never base your selection on such a high draft fit at this stage of a rebuilding project unless all options are equal.

Last summer, I thought Evan Mobley had the highest ceiling and the lowest floor, with Jalen Green being the safest choice. Even if Mobley ends up becoming the better player, I feel vindicated in that belief. Now I think Holmgren has the highest ceiling, but the lowest floor, Banchero being the safest choice. I would be delighted with Smith or Jaden Ivey too. I’ve been on Kevin Porter Jr., as a long-term starter on point guard for a while.

Holmgren scares me. When I watch it, I see one of the most unique skill sets I’ve ever seen while simultaneously thinking it’ll get whoever writes it fired. How can this 7-foot, 195-pound frame hold more weight?

Checking programming data

I had stopped checking roster data a very long time ago because, as I noted on this page, given the development of younger players, the data seems to have little value when it comes to combinations. But one recent observation is interesting: the team’s most-used lineup (Porter/Green/Gordon/Tate/Wood), over 731 possessions, has now outscored opponents by 2.2 points per 100 possessions. (offensive rating 112.6; defensive rating 110.4). I certainly didn’t expect a positive point differential for the most-used roster on one of the league’s worst teams. I’m still on Wood and Porter as long term members of this club, but this was surprising.

Overall, the Rockets have been outscored by 9.3 points per 100 possessions on 7,189 possessions this season.

The team’s second most used roster is still the “Theis Double Big” roster of Porter/Green/Tate/Wood/Theis which, with over 360 possessions, had so many fans tearing their hair out. This quintet was outscored by 26.4 points per 100 possessions with a hilariously pathetic offensive rating of 83.3 and a defensive rating of 109.7.

The future of this team is Green, Sengun and whoever gets drafted this summer. It will be Stone’s challenge to make the remaining pieces fit, in the long term, around them and it will be at least a few years before all of this is settled.

The week ahead

We are now in our final game of the season with only games 76-82 remaining. The Rockets have three games this week: a game against the San Antonio Spurs at home on Monday, then a pair of home visits from the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday and Friday. Spurs (30-44) are battling to make the play-in tournament, having won three games in a row. They are just one game away from the Los Angeles Lakers for the 10th seed. The Kings (27-48), who are 3-7 in their last 10 games, are another story. Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox may be out for the season, according to reports. That is to say, there’s a good chance the Rockets will pick up wins in both games against the Kings.

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