The last couple of months it was convenient and even cute to ask if the Warriors were worried about the Rockets. While it may have seemed a timely question with the way the Rockets started out like a house on fire showcasing a dramatic offense, an improved (for a while) defense, rapid fire assists, the seamless inclusion of Chris Paul into the system-the defending champions were still the defending champions, so no, they thought about the Rockets for about five minutes.
A Harden-less and Durant-less contest between the two teams on a Thursday in January, the kind of games the Warriors relish, said just about everything we didn’t know, if we were blindfolded that is. The Warriors scorers come up big in the crunch. They have more grit inside and around the rim and their ball movement off the dribble is beautiful to watch. The Warriors don’t have to make volume threes because they make the threes they take. Thursdays “statement” game went exactly how we knew it would go. The Rockets would hang in there until Steph put his foot on their neck.
This is why Daryl Morey has his obsession. The Warriors are better at everything than his team is. The Warriors have iconic three point scorers everywhere while Morey only has one and he didn’t play. The rest, Eric Gordon, Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green, are good shotmakers but not necessarily money shotmakers. Chris Paul is the X-Factor. He’s a clutch player but Steph owns him so it’s hard to see how this works out for the Rockets. But Morey is still working.
The complexity of Morey is often missed, and he gets a bad rap, even as he copped to a Warriors obsession. He is reduced to a nerdish scientist character. But, Morey is more than his numbers and his binary obsessive nature. He has a deep affection/infatuation for superstars. The Warriors are superstar central with The Splash Brothers and Durant. The Warriors surround the elite with solid defenders and toughness in David West and Draymond Green and their young guys, Jordan Bell and Patrick McCaw, support the sum. It’s enough to make anyone jealous.
More jealousy. The Warriors pack Oracle with 100% attendance. The Rockets are not yet at full capacity, 98% for home games, which ranks them, give or take, about 14th in the league. Stars fill the seats. Morey thought he had a star in Dwight Howard. He has a legitimate star in Chris Paul but in Thursday’s game it was less D’Antoni’s version of Chris Paul and more Doc Rivers version of CP3. Too much dribbling. Innately taking too much of the offense upon himself. He even got a technical at the worst time to get one.
But what I like about Morey is that resilience is his calling card. He doesn’t brood over failure, or perhaps he doesn’t attach himself personally to what he does wrong. He rescued Mike D’Antoni’s legacy, saved him from his failed shadows of New York and Los Angeles. Like nerdish seniors at the back table of the prom writing on paper napkins, here was the strategy. Sign Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson, turn James Harden into a point guard so he can stop his death march of a dribble. Bring in defense with P.J. Tucker. Develop Clint Capela. Add an unemployed Gerald Green who can’t defend a paper bag but can shoot the lights out the gym until the last two minutes when the pressure is on. It may not be the Warriors but on offense they are 1A.
Or, maybe not. Morey still hasn’t come up with a plan as to how to defend the Warriors. You cannot outscore them. They lead the league in three point shot making. They will bury you. So how do you defend them? There are mismatches all over the floor. Durant didn’t play but the Rockets have no answer for him. Ryan Anderson is a mess when facing teams like the Warriors. He can’t guard Durant or Draymond. Clint Capela is nice but he’s still doesn’t have the body or the experience to handle the Warriors off ball. Yes, Morey in his brilliance or mad scientist, created a bombshell by stealing Chris Paul out of Los Angeles. Paul is all defense because of his grit and toughness. Until he plays Steph Curry. Then Chris Paul is extremely average. One of Paul’s issues in L.A.: he was the team’s toughest player. On the Rockets, he is the team’s toughest player.
The Rockets pathetic defense aside, the NBA needs Daryl Morey. He is polarizing. Either you believe in analytics or you don’t. Either you think the 3-point shot is a gift from God or you don’t. Either you believe in data sets or you believe in the eye test. The credibility problem with Morey’s attachment to his mathematics is that Houston has never won anything with him in charge. They have lost in the first round of the playoffs four times. They have missed the playoffs three times. Their one Western Conference Finals appearance was as much about the Clippers choking than the Rockets dominating and in the WCF they were meek and no match for the eventual champion Warriors.
D’Antoni was never going to be a defensive gatekeeper. Morey accepted that. But what he could do with the offense, with the numbers Morey believed in, was craft a special season. Same with Chris Paul. He is the best point guard of his generation. He is a leader. But he scatters bodies. He fatigues teammates with his perfectionism and need to point out wrongs. Everyone is still in a honeymoon phase in Houston but wait until the pressure is really on in May.
Not to beat a dead horse but Houston gives up 106.6 points per game (20th). That’s three points better than last year but they are still ranked 20th. Teams shoot 46.5% against them (20th). That’s worse than last year. The best thing the Rockets do on defense is guard the three, but they are 17th in the league. They don’t block shots and/or rebound at an elite level.
The best thing the Rockets do is score. It sucks for them because the best thing the Warriors do is score. And if Steph Curry isn’t enough to make the obsession catastrophic, the Dubs are number one in shooting defense. To play them is to suffer.
Suffering is what this obsession is for Daryl Morey. It doesn’t mean results, like beating the champions. Not in January. Probably not in May either.
photo via llananba