Houston Rockets: 3 Reasons Kevin McHale and His Young Team Will Stun the League
Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE
Kevin McHale's post-playing career is defined by two moves involving fellow Kevins: Trading Kevin Garnett and acquiring Kevin Love. That will change this year—when he'll shock the basketball world by coaching a young Houston Rockets team into the playoffs.
With the Houston Texans barreling through the regular season, the Rockets have their work cut out for them if they hope to reclaim their town.
They started with the back pages, paying a premium to take part in Linsanity when they signed PG Jeremy Lin to a $25 million offer sheet. They also brought in a new starting center, former Bull Omer Asik.
Now we'll see how well those moves translate to success on the court.
No one's expecting much from the Rockets this season, but there's a few reasons Houston fans should be optimistic for a surprise performance from an upstart young team in 2012. Let's take a look at why the Rockets may be dark-horse contenders this year behind McHale.
1. Omer Asik Needs Post Moves (Kevin McHale Has Them)
Asik has a lot to prove, but he's looked good in limited time.
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
He may look like my dentist, but Omer Asik will be a major contributor to the Rockets next year.
He's an imposing defensive center with the seven-foot frame and lockdown interior defense that the Rockets have lacked since Yao Ming cutouts populated every McDonalds in China.
Though Asik was a role player with the Chicago Bulls, his rate stats justify the three-year, $25 million offer sheet the Rockets signed him to. According to Basketball Reference, Asik's per-36 rates would have produced 7.6 points, 13.0 rebounds (which would have put him behind just Dwight Howard and Kevin Love for the league lead) and 2.3 blocks a game.
Of course, there's always caveats to rate stats—after all, Asik will now be facing off against first-team centers instead of backups. But Asik is only 26 and has plenty of room to improve.
You can't teach height. But you can teach post moves, something Asik lacks. Is there anyone better suited to teach Asik how to score in the paint than Kevin McHale?
After all, Asik would be tough to defend on the block if he had a sweet baby hook like McHale's.
Okay, that might be too much to ask. But even still, if McHale can just turn Asik into an average offensive player, he'll be one of the better centers in the league. That will go a long way towards helping the Rockets be a dark horse to contend against a formidable conference foe.
2. McHale's System Will Get the Best out of Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin will be Houston's unquestioned star.
Brett Davis-US PRESSWIRE
Can any slideshow about the Houston Rockets not feature Jeremy Lin?
Lin was one of two sports-stars-slash-cultural-touchstones to change uniforms in 2012—along with Tim Tebow—and he's also the Rockets' marquee offseason acquisition.
Lin isn't a perfect player: He had the sixth-highest turnover rate among PGs (per Hoopdata.com) and he shot just 32 percent from deep last season. However, he's got the skills to be a top-10 NBA point guard.
He ranked seventh in steals and fifth in blocks among point guards last year. His slashing style and adept ball-handling also helped the Knicks increase the number of fouls drawn in his time as their starting PG.
And I haven't even mentioned his impressive 14.6 PPG in under 27 MPG.
It's clear Lin has talent. Now it's up to McHale to devise a fit for him in the system.
Lin thrived in the Knicks' up-tempo attack, and he'll have a similar run-and-gun offense in Houston. Houston was eighth in the NBA in pace (possessions per game) last season (per TeamRankings.com). For reference, the Knicks were fifth in pace.
Lin's got shooters around him to dish to, like SG Kevin Martin and rookie Jeremy Lamb. He's also got a roster full of players who can run with him. The pieces are there for him to play a style similar to that of the Knicks—and that's a system in which Lin can be a star.
Lin doesn't yet have a natural pick-and-roll partner like he did in New York with Tyson Chandler, but perhaps Asik or another big can step up in this role. It shouldn't be a huge concern, though. After all, the pick-and-roll is a staple of McHale's teams, and it's Lin's signature play.
This is a match made in heaven for Lin. He'll be the primary scorer on the Rockets and will help carry them into the playoffs.
3. Royce White Will Play His Way into McHale's Rotation
White has issues, but his ceiling is remarkably high.
Peter G. Aiken-US PRESSWIRE
Rookie Royce White heads into the NBA as a 3/4 tweener at 6'8". Whatever position he plays, he'll eventually find a spot in the Rockets starting lineup.
White looks like a steal at 16th overall. He has the potential to be one of the top players coming out of the 2012 draft.
The 21-year-old led his team in points, rebounds, assists, blocks and steals in his only year at Iowa State. He's the rare power forward with serious handles and the ability to score from anywhere on the floor.
There are question marks, including an anxiety disorder and fear of flying that cost him his first week of training camp. But the Rockets knew about these issues and still invested a first-round pick in him.
He'll provide a strong inside offensive presence that the Rockets currently lack, and that will push him into the starting lineup before long.
Jeremy Lin spoke highly of White upon the rookie's arrival at camp (per ESPN.com):
[Royce White] has a unique skill set. We don't really have anybody who can do what he can do. More importantly, we're thankful that he's healthy and with the team. He learned a lot today. He didn't look like he missed too much.
White will be a major contributor to a successful Rockets season if given a chance. And he should get that chance.
After all, Kevin McHale ought to have a soft spot for a forward with good footwork, court vision and graceful post moves.