I can't help but saying that I was disappointed at the loss, and that I feel like Cole Aldrich will replace Kendrick Perkins someday. My mind races ahead to the season, to the playoffs, and what this all means. But, it's only the first game of the Pre-Season, played in front of 5,000 people on a remote valley. So I'll try to be as realistic as I can.
First of all, the Rockets might have new personnel, but they're playing the same game they've always played. Fast paced ball up and down the court with great passing and a variety of scorers. Jeremy Lin is supposed to be the lead scorer of this offense, but he looked less than impressive tonight. It's true that he's just coming off of injury, so that might be a part of it, but his athleticism just didn't look like it was there. Russell Westbrook absolutely dominated him in the first quarter, pulling up for easy shots right in his face and playing some tough defense. That being said, there were a few moments where Lin had the presence of mind to make the right play, like drawing a foul on Russell Westbrook and taking a seriously crazy looking charge in the paint against James Harden.
Speaking of point guards, the backup situation turned out how you might think it would. Reggie Jackson saw some solid minutes during the game, but it just didn't look like he was up to the level of Maynor. He wasn't really a threat to score, and for every good pass he made, he seemed to make an equally boneheaded turnover. But, it's only his second season, so he could improve with time and become a cheaper option if Maynor asks for too much money next season.
Eric Maynor was wonderful to see. We haven't watched him play ball since January, and even then he had only played a few games in the lockout-shortened season. But Maynor just did an excellent job all-around in this game. During the final minutes, he slowed down Lazar Hayward's constant fruitless charges into the lane and ran a solid offense. His mid-range game has gotten a bit better, and he's more confident with his shot. Granted, Maynor was 3-10, but it's the pre-season, so I'm not reading too much into it.
Moving over a bit to the Thunder wings, I wasn't really impressed with what I saw. Lazar Hayward just seemed intent on driving the lane NO MATTER WHAT. Sure, he was smart by being on the opposite block while the defense was focused on another guy, but he wasn't very good at drawing fouls, meaning that sometimes he was just straight up blocked. Of course, his all-around game was solid, but his offense needs to be a bit more diverse.
Meanwhile, James Harden got way too over-aggressive as well, shooting really poorly and fouling his defenders. About the only good things I could say about his game tonight are an insane drive he had late in the game that somehow went in, and a few crisp passes into the post. Otherwise, he left a lot to be desired.
Surprisingly, the best guard from tonight, in my opinion, was DeAndre Liggins. When he was in the game he managed to limit the pace of the Rockets offense, and he was always in position, no matter where he was on the floor. He was good at finding the right time to score in the post (unlike Hayward). The only big negative about his game is that, as I've said before, his shot can be really streaky, and you could never trust him to shoot in traffic. But right now, he looks like the leading candidate to make the roster.
But enough about these guys. I'm sure everyone's eager to hear how Perry Jones III and Hasheem Thabeet did tonight in extended minutes. Neither of them disappointed, but one thing you should understand about PJIII is that he's a power forward in name only. Offensively he never hangs around in the post, and has the green light to take threes. Defensively, he was mostly guarding guys smaller than him, because that's how the Rockets like to play. That being said, I actually kind of like him in this role, playing like Kevin Durant. He doesn't really have the body to bang down low, and if he can get a solid jumper going, like he did tonight with nice use of the jab step and triple threat position on the wing, then he could be an extremely solid player down the road. And hey, there's always the advantage that he's usually taller than the guy he's guarding, and useful on fast breaks.
Hasheem Thabeet is another story. I wasn't really impressed. The reason all of his buckets even happened was just because he's 7'3". He was technically offensively efficient, but if he ever had to bang with most of the NBA's starting centers, they wouldn't let him score a point. He has no post finesse, and is limited to standing dunks and face-forward layups. He's not really good at boxing out of having the presence of mind for boards, and he fouls way too hard and way too easily. Yeah, I know, it's only the first game. But keep in mind that we were saying the same things about Serge Ibaka a couple years back.
The guy who I really love to watch in the post is Cole Aldrich. Why?
BECAUSE THE SKY HOOK IS BACK!!!!
I know, it's not a "real" sky hook. Aldrich keeps the ball much closer to his body and doesn't shoot too far from the rim. His hook would probably be more akin to that of George Mikan. But the sheer fact that you have a guy who, at 7'1, can hit the hook with BOTH HANDS is just insane. You don't see a 7 footer, or anybody, that's able to hit the hook from more than a foot away from the basket with their dominant hand these days. To see Aldrich to bring back one of the classic moves in basketball is just breathtaking.
Aside from his hook, Aldrich had a really solid game. He looked clumsy at times, yeah. I saw him lose the ball more than once, and he had his share of stupid fouls. But his presence of mind was generally on point. He was willing to handle the ball, but didn't go JaVale McGee on everybody. He set some extremely solid picks up high, and though he's too slow to be a serious roll threat, I think what we saw from him during one of the last plays of the game exemplifies his abilities. With Cook in the corner, Aldrich set an extremely solid pick on the high wing, allowing Cook to run around him, receive the ball, and have a good attempt at tying the game with just seconds to go. Cook missed, but Cole's usefulness to the Thunder was there for everybody to see.
To round things up for the Thunder, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, and Daequan Cook did everything you'd expect them too. Collison and Cook weren't really huge factors and didn't look impressive, but it just looked like they had off nights. Durant was efficient, but he wasn't really aggressive and settled for some easy jumpers.
Overall, when the offense wasn't centering around Durant, Westbrook, or Harden, the team really seemed to take on a different personality. They didn't push the ball a whole lot, and they utilized a lot of high picks and low post passes. That's a good sign in my book, because it means the backups are much less likely to lose the lead, and they know their roles.
As far as Houston goes, they've got some work to do in deciding who's in and out of this rotation, and who to rely on for what role. They've got a nice conglomeration of solid guards and forwards, but other than Lin and Martin, it's unclear how the team is going to fit together. It will be a year of growing, but if their prospects pan out, they could be the We Believe Warriors that we never got to see beyond a couple months. Or maybe that's just me dreaming. Who knows? In any case, they beat the Thunder on the fast break multiple times, and their swingmen had some nice boards.
Before I close this recap, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Houston commentary crew's use of bad puns. I'll throw the three I noticed by you.
"And Thabeet goes on."
"Jeremy Lamb, that's one baaaad kid."
"Terrence Jones has a Basketball Jones."
I think that's all I need to say. Good night, everyone!
Thunder Wonder: Russell Westbrook, because he's better than Vin and Lin sanity.
Thunder Down Under: Kevin Durant, for being as consistent as ever.
Thunder Blunder: James Harden, for all of those bricks.
Thunder Plunderer: Terrence Jones, who did some WORK in the post despite only being 6'9".
Next Game: At the Utah Jazz, Friday, December 12th, 8 PM Central Standard Time.