Shock the world.
The Houston Rockets need to familiarize themselves with the phrase.
Not just because shocking the world is looking more and more like what the Rockets have a chance to do. Winners of five straight and 12 out of their last 15 contests, the Rockets have the scoring, the energy and the teamwork needed to be this year's surprise playoff upset candidate.
What they lack is experience.
And that's where shock the world comes in.
Perhaps no team represents the combination of talent and youth more than the University of Michigan's Fab Five. The first team to start five true freshman, the Fab Five, for better or worse, changed basketball—both college and pro—forever.
In March 1992, the Fab Five were in Atlanta for their first March Madness when they found out that Muhammad Ali was staying at their hotel. The former champ called them into his suite, joked with them and did card tricks for them.
On their way out, as they all lined up to shake his hand, Ali chose Juwan Howard, leaned in close and whispered, "Shock the world," the phrase he had made famous as a 24-year-old by upsetting Sonny Liston for the heavyweight championship.
The unprecedentedly young team made it to the title game and made the phrase their own, as Howard shouted it gleefully into the cameras during their first tournament run. In fact, they made it to the title game two consecutive years.
But they lost both times.
One could argue that no more talented team ever played in the tournament: three out of the five Michigan Wolverine starters went on to have long and stellar careers in the NBA. How could a team this loaded with skill not win a title?
Simple. Talent only gets you so far.
Experience gets you the rest of the way.
Experience teaches teams to contain true celebration until the final game's final buzzer sounds. With that experience, perhaps the Fab Five would not have been blown out by Duke in the first title game.
Experience helps players keep a level head when the eyes of the world are upon you. Perhaps with that experience, Chris Webber would not have called a time-out when his team had none left, leading to their second title-game loss.
Just making the playoffs is a major accomplishment for this team. Going deep into the playoffs would certainly shock the world.
But history and stats say it unequivocally: young teams generally do not win championships. See my article from 1/4/13 for stats which back that up.
What can the Rockets do? Simple. Sign some experience.
This Rockets roster is impeccably designed, going nine deep—and that would have been 10 had Royce White not destroyed Daryl Morey's perfect plans.
Is there room here for a veteran?
Cole Aldrich, though he should have played his way into the rotation by now, is too high a pick to give up on just yet, one would think. Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas are too young to know just what their skill set is.
But James Anderson and Patrick Beverley, with all due respect to both men, are just roster filler, despite their youth.
Morey would be well-served to get a veteran or two. Because this team seems capable of a serious May—or even June—surprise.
I'm not suggesting Morey make a signing at the expense of the cap room he has so cleverly created and maintained, of course. I'm talking veterans who would add swagger and wisdom to this young and hungry squad.
How would Kenyon Martin look in a Houston Rockets uniform, fighting for minutes with Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris? He plays with a swagger the Rockets could learn from, and though his stats faded most of last year, he's still makes the plays winners make.
Take a look at these two back-to-back blocks from last season and tell me KMart couldn't contribute to the Rockets:
The Rockets could benefit from more interior defense, and Chris "Birdman" Andersen, inexplicably, is still on the open market. He plays with Rockets-type energy and is an excellent defender and rebounder.
Check out this 16-point, six-rejection effort from last season. It includes three dunks:
I say get Andersen before the Miami Heat do.
I'm not sure why Houston bought out his contract the first time, but if the Rockets do indeed make the playoffs, Derek Fisher and his five rings definitely qualify as experience. Fisher might help manufacture some Rockets memories as he did for the Los Angeles Lakers and Utah Jazz.
Alternatively, Jeremy Lin's former Knicks teammate Mike Bibby has the attitude to fit in in Houston and has, like Fisher, created some indelible playoff images as well.
Quentin Richardson still had the great three-point shot and willingness to draw a charge last year for the Orlando Magic. He also has a Rockets-type attitude and made a deep playoff run a few years back with the Phoenix Suns.
You're not going to find me offering up guys like Delonte West (attitude) or Michael Redd (knees). I'm proposing players who can and will contribute both on and off the court.
This Houston Rockets team may be so good that adding a veteran or two might be all they need to be the latest torch-carriers of Ali's famous phrase.
Rocket Shock. Houston Shockets. Houston Rockets Shock The World.
They all have a nice ring.
As in the wearable kind.