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Since preseason camp opened almost three weeks ago, Rockets coach Rick Adelman has maintained that there are at least two openings in the team’s starting lineup.
He might be beginning to change his mind.
With all the new faces on Houston’s roster and all the lineup juggling that Adelman has done in the preseason, the Rockets coach could very well end up using the same starting lineup that the team closed the playoffs with last season. Who would have guessed that heading into training camp?
Adelman has opened with the same group of starters from last season in two of the Rockets’ first three preseason games heading into Saturday’s dress rehearsal against the Seattle SuperSonics. The starting five consists of point guard Rafer Alston, shooting guard Tracy McGrady, small forward Shane Battier, power forward Chuck Hayes and center Yao Ming.
The Rockets coach could end up using a different starting lineup against Seattle to evaluate other players, but that doesn’t mean Adelman isn’t warming to the returning group of starters.
“That first group has been really sharp,” Adelman said. The Rockets figured to have two starting jobs open in preseason camp: point guard and power forward.
Since the Rockets acquired Mike James and Steve Francis in the summer, the team entered preseason camp with three veterans capable of being starters. Alston, the returning starter at the point guard, even arrived into camp uncertain about his role. But three weeks later, Alston has started each of the Rockets’ first three preseason games, drawing praise from Adelman for his ability to run the team’s new high-motion, high-tempo offense.
Meanwhile, at power forward, Hayes has been in the starting lineup in two of the first three preseason games. Hayes has been splitting time with Luis Scola, but he has shown that he can play well with McGrady and Yao. Along with that, Scola is still learning the American game since the 27-year old rookie has been overseas prior to this season.
So far, Adelman hasn’t pegged Alston or Hayes as a starter. But the pair do have an advantage in that they’re already comfortable playing with McGrady, Yao and Battier.
“I’m pretty confident with that group,” Alston said. “Now, I want to get my game down with the other guys. That comes with more time. But our starting five has been clicking for a while now and it helps to know where guys like the ball. I know where they’re going to be at and we can play off each other.”
Adelman, though, hasn’t committed himself to that starting lineup because he’s still intrigued by the flexibility of his roster. He eventually went small against Dallas on Thursday night since the Mavs didn’t play most of their big men.
“We have a number of guys that can play the big spot in our offense when we play small,” Adelman said. “That’s a nice mixture to have. We just have a lot of flexibility on this team.”
With that said, Adelman did notice what his first group did in the opening 12 minutes against Dallas. Behind those returning starters, the Rockets bolted to a 26-6 lead, albeit against a Mavericks team that was resting most of their star players. The Rockets’ starting five ended up making 68.4 percent of their shots in the first quarter and had only two turnovers.
Because of that smooth play, Battier could envision seeing the same starting five on the floor that ended last season. But he also noted that last season’s first round playoff exit means that the team will welcome their new additions.
“We had a pretty good unit last year,” Battier said. “We had a great plus-minus ratio with that first group. I like playing on that unit with those guys. But if last year showed anything, that’s not good enough. We feel with the added additions on our bench, it’s really going to enhance our team and make us that much more tough come April.”
For starters, will everything old be new again?
In writing about Rafer Alston’s strong start to this preseason on Saturday, a thought occurred to me that I admit I never, ever would have thought possible.
Could the Rockets have the same starting five this season as last?
What kind of reaction would I have gotten to that notion three weeks ago?
There’s plenty of time to work all that out. Much of this could change several times before Oct. 30. I’m not ready to say that’s how it will be Oct. 30 in Los Angeles. I don’t even know if that’s how it would be if the season was starting Thursday. But it is possible that the Rockets could have the same starting five as last season.
Alston really has impressed. The chances that he would be the starter certainly could change before the opener. If his stock could improve dramatically after less than two weeks of practices and two preseason games, it could change – or others’ could similarly escalate – in the two preseason weeks and five games remaining.
Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming are automatic. Shane Battier is close to as certain. That leaves the power forward as the remaining position to consider.
Luis Scola might be a pretty good bet. He’s probably the guess I’d make for the starter at the four, especially after he looked so good on Thursday and I have heard so many good things about practices since the first days in Austin. But Chuck Hayes has impressed, too. We’ve yet to see Scola in a tough defensive assignment. More to the point of the decision to come: If the Rockets are playing a team against which Rick Adelman will want a true center coming off the bench, the rotation might be better served with Hayes starting.
If Dikembe Mutombo comes off the bench for Yao, you probably don’t want Hayes also coming in for Scola. Having Mutombo and Hayes on the floor together is hardly the sort of high-powered offense of Adelman’s past.
If you start Yao and Hayes, when Mutombo comes in, Scola can come with him and stay on the floor when Yao returns. If you start Scola, does he have to stay out there when Yao sits until Yao comes back?
There’s ways to work that out, but one way is to start Hayes. Do that, and you could be looking at the same starting five as last season. And who would have guessed that when the Rockets spent the off-season adding Steve Francis, Mike James, Luis Scola and bringing back Bonzi Wells?
For four seasons, the identity of the Rockets was clear.
More than a 7-6 center from China, more than a two-time scoring champion, the Rockets’ image was tied to a defense that squeezed the life from opposing offenses and often, the game itself.
The Rockets put all sorts of new entries on the defensive pages of their record book, always remaining among the league leaders in every key defensive statistical category. And for the past two weeks, since the start of training camp, and really since they brought in Rick Adelman and his historically prolific offense, the talk was of scoring, rather than stopping it.
Yet, Adelman has some definite ideas about how he wants the defense played, including some changes nearly as significant as those on the offensive end. He and Rockets players also have spoken of using the principles that worked so well.More than anything, the Rockets have insisted that defense will not be forsaken for the allure of a fancy new offense.
“This team is really good,” Adelman said of what he has seen defensively. “We have four or five guys that are really good defenders, and they’ve been a good defensive team. They are pretty good at picking things up and staying with it.
“I know if you’re going to have more possessions offensively, it’s harder to keep your concentration on the other end. That’s something we talk about all the time.”
Talking all the time about defense would seem business as usual, but there are some changes in the ways the Rockets defend.
Jeff Van Gundy was a proponent of trapping the ball-handler on pick-and-rolls. Adelman will never trap with his centers, having Yao Ming or Dikembe Mutombo instead sinking back into the lane. He also will more often have guards try to guide the ball-handler toward the baseline.
Van Gundy insisted on contesting every jump shot, and last season wanted closeouts, even if they meant going for pump fakes, believing that shooting percentages decrease off one- and two-dribble jump shots when compared to spotting up. Adelman will more often let a specific game plan determine whom the Rockets must close out.
But the trick will be incorporating personal preferences without losing too much of what worked. In each of the past four seasons as Rockets coach, the Rockets were first or second in opponents’ field-goal percentage, leading the NBA last season.
“I want to do some of the things they did because they were so solid at it,” Adelman said. “I’ve said before, Jeff did a great job with them. When you start with the guys we have like Rafer (Alston) and Shane (Battier) and Chuck (Hayes), there’s good defenders out there. You’re going to be pretty solid defensively.”
That has been such a point of emphasis that it is not surprising the Rockets would have good habits defensively. The key might be keeping those priorities when the new offense makes it more difficult to switch back to the old devotion to defense.
“I worry more about the transition defense than anything else,” Adelman said. “The way they played before, they always had two or three guys back. That allowed them to protect all the time because they were spotting up. In our offense, guys are in different spots all the time. It’s harder to understand who needs to be back. It’s something we have to keep our concentration on.”
The word and what we heard at Camp Adelman: (Chron.com Link
Rick Adelman had to be thrilled.
His team took to its new offensive philosophy like a Hollywood actress to an Apple-tini.
There was intensity and good competition.
Yao Ming arrived late, but soon enough to show himself in good shape and entirely at ease with his new responsibilities.
Tracy McGrady made Adelman the latest coach to see him work and leave shaking his head in wonder at McGrady’s freaky vision and passing ability.
There is still tons of work to do, far more than can lead to any real conclusions. The Rockets have not put in their set plays, yet. The defense is still a work in progress. Adelman, still experimenting, has not come close to putting players in a rotation they can expect to see in a few weeks in Los Angeles. But this camp was as good a start as he could have hoped to have.
So after six days and seven practices, some trends have emerged.
As expected, I can’t say that I saw enough to have an opinion about anything I witnessed. Adelman raved about the passing of Luis Scola and Chuck Hayes. Between the two of them, I saw one pass, a Hayes bullet to a Justin Reed layup. We heard so much about Mike James’ excellent shooting. I saw him make one shot.
Instead of relying on what I saw, I spent the past three days asking around. This is what I heard the most.
McGrady’s passing continues to amaze. The guy just has tremendous vision. OK, that’s no revelation. But I heard that more than anything else so I had to start there.
Luther Head was terrific. The offense seems ideal for him. He is a guy that cuts hard and cleverly, finishes well and is a good standstill shooter. He does not do much off the dribble, but in this offense he doesn’t have to.
Rafer Alston was outstanding. Even teammates wondered how he would play, given the Rockets’ offseason efforts to replace him. He showed up in great shape, ran things well and looks like someone worth keeping.
Mike James and John Lucas shot well from the first day. That is no surprise with James. He looks like he will flourish this season. Maybe it should not be a surprise with Lucas, either. He has always been a good shooter, but he just never got his shot going last season. I’m convinced he is an NBA player. I’m not sure he is a full-time No. 2 point guard or an emergency No. 3 guy. It probably depends on the team. But he belongs in the league.
Steve Francis had more trouble fitting into the offense. That was expected. This is probably more of an adjustment for him than anyone on the perimeter. He showed that he still gets to the rim, though, and the Rockets believe they need to get that ability in the mix. He did better on the break than in the halfcourt, and there were plenty of breaks.
Mike Harris had a very strong camp. He showed as much or more familiarity with the offense than anyone, having spent more time in Toyota Center this summer than just about everyone. By Saturday, they moved him to the black team with McGrady to see him cut to McGrady passes.
Chuck Hayes was a revelation to the coaches. He had never been asked to pass as he has this week. They were raving about his passing from Day 1. He still is a force defensively. The guy gets so little credit for his defense because when big fours shoot over him, it looks easy. But it’s so tough to get that position on him, when you look back, there are usually just one or two of those moments in a game. Adelman almost always mentioned Hayes and Scola together, indicating that Scola also did well. But Hayes, who is so often unappreciated by the general public, does so much so well, he has to get playing time.
Shane Battier struggled with his shot. I didn’t really ask about him. He’s sort of that good kid in the class you forget about because he’s always there, never any trouble. But he told me that he didn’t shoot well and usually does not early, so I threw that in there.
Aaron Brooks was overwhelmed at times, defensively. That is not unexpected for a rookie going against this offense and in the first few days, he had to go against Head a lot. Opponents are going to hate chasing Head around. Brooks looked pretty good offensively. He was able to find his shots, but did not shoot well.
Hayes gave Carl Landry fits at times. I didn’t really ask about Landry, but when talking about Hayes, several guys mentioned all the trouble his defense — particularly when slapping the ball loose — gave Landry.
Finally, Dikembe Mutombo showed up in better shape than expected. He insists he did not touch a basketball since last season, but did work out. He also landed elbows all over the gym, flattening Francis on Sunday. So after six days, the more things change, the more at least one thing stayed the same.
More updates from those at “Camp Adelman”
Thanks again to Clutch for the updates and the mentioning the site to Chuck!
Here are some more pictures from camp also taken by Clutch.
Chuck Hayes shook off a bruise to the top of his left foot and was back on the floor Friday morning. He also stayed on the floor late, working on his free throw shooting. His form has changed slightly. He’s standing more upright rather than leaning across the foul line. But he’s still got that hitch at the top.
“He’s shooting them pretty good in practice,” said Adelman. “The next thing is to get that to carry into the games.”
A career .627 free throw shooter, Hayes has been working with director of player development Kenny Atkinson.
“He’s helping me trust my legs,” Hayes said. “Over the summer, he had me shooting with just one hand. Now I’ve got my other hand on the side of the ball.
“It’s all about making it a repetitive thing. And I have to work on running up and down the court, getting banged and being tired and then go and make them, like I’ll have to do in games.”
I’m from central Cal. and watched Chuck Hayes play at Modesto Christian, followed him at Kentucky, and onto the Rockets. I’m a big fan and admittedly a little biased. I realize he’s undersized, and limited offensively. However, I also feel that numbers such as rebounding rate, and winning percentage don’t. It’s a statistical fact that he improves teams when he’s on the floor. Do you think Adelman will take this into consideration when picking starters and/or allowing playing time?
(Any coach would be able to look past the things that Chuck does not do well to see all that he brings. My first impression when I got in the gym Tuesday and Wednesday was how good a player he is. A lot of the people that I have talked to that have watched all of the practices were talking, as usual, about Chuck. — Jonathan)
(One of the guys yesterday was raving that when Hayes gets on the court, his team immediately starts pulling away. Today, there was a lot of talk about his passing. I’ll have more later in the week. — Jonathan)
(Chuck Hayes looked great. Justin Reed did some good things both days. Battier had a very strong drive and James hit a few tough jumpers yesterday. By the time we got in the room today, Francis and McGrady were done, and guys were tiring. — Jonathan)
(Hard so say. In some ways, Hayes excels. He fights well for position, is an outstanding pick-and-roll defender and when trapping on high screens. Opponents can shoot over him when they get low position, but that’s tough to do. At their best, I’d say McGrady is a good answer, but it depends on how much weight you place on consistently being their best. — Jonathan)
(I wouldn’t expect anything from Chuck’s jumper, but as much as I believe Shane in underappreciated, Hayes is by far the most underrated player by Rockets fans. — Jonathan)
Thanks again to Clutch *www.clutchfans.net
“No problem,” Hayes said. “I’m fine. I’ll be ready for practice in the morning.”