So my dirty little secret as I amble along maintaining this here blog is that I while I know a lot about the Los Angeles Clippers, I know next to nothing about the other 29 teams. Or at least I feel like it sometimes. No matter though -- I have friends who know plenty.
That's why we have The Questionable Blogger! You don't have to accept my semi-to-uniformed version of what's happening with the Clippers' opponents. We can get some of the good stuff from bloggers who follow their teams as closely as we follow the Clippers.
Today we're fortunate to get input from Patrick Harrel, Editor at SBNation's Houston blog The Dream Shake. His insights into the Rockets are invaluable for understanding this exciting and dangerous team heading into tonight's game.
Steve Perrin: Patrick Beverley won the starting job at point guard over Jeremy Lin, and then got injured putting Lin back into the first five. Give us a quick "insider's guide to the Rockets point guard situation for the outsider" please. What will the team be missing during the week or two that Beverley is out?
Patrick Harrel: Quite simply, they miss a defensive presence in the backcourt. With James Harden and Jeremy Lin starting together, the Rockets have a pair of excellent offensive players but neither will do much on the defensive end. In particular, against a team like the Clippers with a quick, dynamic point guard, Beverley will be especially missed.
Lin is playing well, but the ability of the Rockets to go small with both Lin and Beverley in the backcourt is a luxury they no longer enjoy. With Aaron Brooks taking up the rest of the Rockets' minutes at point guard, the Rockets simply aren't as dangerous at that spot.
SP: It's not news that there's a void on the Rockets' roster where a traditional power forward would be. So far McHale is getting by with playing either a 5 (Asik) or a 3 (Casspi, Parsons) at that spot. Is that sustainable? It seems to create constant matchup issues -- both ways it must be said -- unless the opponent adjusts. How is McHale handling the defensive assignments when Dwight Howard and Omer Asik play together? Who will guard Blake Griffin for instance?
PH: Is this model sustainable? Yes. Is it ideal? No. Casspi, Garcia, and Parsons will all be counted on at various points to guard power forwards during this season, and though they struggle against bigger teams, they give it back as much on the offensive end as they give it away defensively.
With Howard and Asik on the floor, Howard has been handling the power forwards and Asik has taken the centers. Against the Clippers, I'd expect to see Howard on Griffin with Howard and Asik on the floor. When Asik goes to the bench midway through the first quarter, I'd then expect the Rockets to go with Casspi on Griffin to change it up.
SP: According to ESPN's NBARank (for what that is worth) James Harden is now the fourth best player in the NBA, just behind the Clippers' Chris Paul. That's up from 26 a year ago. I don't want to piss off The Dream Shake community, and believe me, I love Harden -- but it seems to me that he has gone from underrated to overrated, maybe just a little? (Ducks while awaiting answer.)
PH: In my opinion, you have a good point. Harden was a star last year, but is he the fourth best player in the NBA? I'm not so sure. When he's going at his best, he's as good as anyone outside of the obvious top three in the league, but you could very easily make the case that he has not done it for long enough or consistently enough to be ahead of guys like Russell Westbrook.
With that said, after the fairly clear top three, the next tier of NBA stars is a much more debatable topic. You could make the case that Harden belongs further down the list, but with his efficiency and playmaking skills, you could also do the same for that fourth spot. He is not underrated by any means anymore, but whether or not he's overrated is still up for debate.
SP: Last season McHale strongly embraced the Calipari-esque, spread the floor, drive and kick offensive concepts -- which included an almost complete absence of post ups. Asik was the perfect center for that, camping on the weak side, gobbling up offensive boards, finishing around the basket when Harden or Lin found him on a drive. I haven't actually seen the Rockets play yet, but I'm curious what allowances are being made for Howard's presence? When both bigs are out there, do things look very different? When Howard is the only big, will he be content to sit on the weak side and be a secondary or tertiary option?
PH: Herein lies the problem with the dual big man lineup. When Howard has been alone on the floor, he has performed fairly well. The Rockets spread the court with four shooters and leave him in the paint alone with his man. However, with Asik in the post as well, the spacing has looked much more out of whack. No matter what Asik's position is on the floor, his man will be waiting to help on Howard right in the paint because Asik is not a threat to shoot the ball. And thus, when the Rockets have gone to Howard in the post early on in games with both bigs on the floor, he has struggled, and his sky-high turnover rate tells that story.
When Asik goes to the bench, Howard has been much more effective. For one, he's more effective in the post, but more importantly, the Rockets are able to get better shots on the perimeter as teams have to choose to help on Howard or leave a guy open. The Rockets feel an obligation to Asik to give him more minutes right now, but I expect the time that Howard and Asik share on the floor to diminish over time.
Thanks to Patrick for these great answers -- and especially for not getting defensive over the Harden question! As it happens, in my own game preview which I wrote before I had seen these answers, I said almost the exact same thing -- Harden's behind the top three players in the league right now, but he's in that next group, and probably has as good a claim to fourth on the list as anyone. And with Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade aging, it helps that he's the great, young shooting guard in the league.