Houston Rockets: One Skill Each Rocket Can Improve on for 2011-12 Season
The Houston Rockets finished last season at 43-39, but it wasn't enough to grab the eighth playoff spot. Four games over .500 just isn't good enough in the Western Conference these days.
Kyle Lowry and company will look to improve individually and as a team to put themselves in better position to challenge the West's other powerhouses.
Here is one skill that each Rocket can improve on that will bring team unity as well as take each respective player's game to new heights.
Skill: Defensive Awareness
Chase Budinger worked his way into the starting rotation when Shane Battier was moved to the Memphis Grizzles at last year's trade deadline.
He brought an instant scoring punch to the first five and was another aggressive attacker from the outside to complement Kevin Martin.
The Rockets are in desperate need of replacing the underrated defensive talents of Shane Battier, which used to occupy the small forward position. Many of the NBA's top players make their money on the wing, and it is important to have a strong defender in that position.
Chase shows flashes of defensive prowess with timely steals but struggles against guys that move well off the ball.
Expect Chase Budinger to expand on his basketball IQ under new coach Kevin McHale, which will lead to more defensive success.
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Goran Dragic also benefited from last season's trade deadline.
He was acquired from the Phoenix Suns in a trade that sent former backup point guard Aaron Brooks to the desert.
It was a money move that might have actually benefited the Rockets in talent by Daryl Morey. He got a player that has a longer deal at a lower price for a discontent player who wasn't going to be retained.
Dragic opened some eyes with a late season triple-double and other impressive games.
If he can translate his late season success into next year in the full-time backup role, then the Rockets' opponents will have no rest chasing around the energetic duo of Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic.
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Skill: Shot Selection
Jonny Flynn is getting a second chance in Houston after struggling to settle in with Minnesota after two seasons.
The former sixth overall pick saw his minutes plummet from 28.9 per game in his rookie season to 18.5 MPG in his sophomore season. His scoring average followed suit from 13.5 PPG to 5.3 PPG, which is why Ricky Rubio will be the Timberwolves focus at point guard moving forward.
There is no doubt Flynn is a special offensive talent, but the shot jacking doesn't fly in the NBA (unless you're Kobe Bryant) like it does in the Big East.
He will have to improve his efficiency if he wants any chance of cracking into the Rockets' crowded backcourt.
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Skill: Offensive Post Moves/Free-Throw Shooting
Chuck Hayes' NBA career has lasted longer than anyone would have ever thought through epic work ethic and crafty defensive footwork.
He has earned the favor of the fans around the Toyota Center and has even scored a shoe deal over in China. His progress since his early days as a defensive specialist have been fun to watch.
If Hayes wants to continue to be a key part of a contending Rockets team, he must continue to improve his post skills underneath the basket. He has come a long way but will need to raise the bar again to hang with the West's best bigs.
His free throw shooting jumped from 54.5 percent to 66.2 percent last year but still sits at a pedestrian career average of 60.3 percent.
Chuck Hayes will contribute to the Rockets again next year, but his role is dependent on his offensive abilities.
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Jordan Hill is the Rockets' second player on this list that will need to become more consistent in order to earn more minutes.
Jordan Hill is another high draft pick in his second NBA city. He whiffed in New York and has been hot and cold in Houston.
At times he looks like the dominant player he was in college with powerful slams and tenacious offensive glass work. Other times he looks sluggish and disinterested. The Rockets are in need of a reliable big that can play hard and contest shots at the rim.
Hill has shown flashes of brilliance, but flashes only earn you highlights.
Courtney Lee settled into Rick Adelman's system last year as an energetic combo guard off the bench. He will have a similar role next year, but larger because his defensive intensity will likely earn respect from coach Kevin McHale.
Lee was a contagious shooter from long range last year shooting a very successful 40.8 percent, but can lock up more playing time with increased ability to spread the floor.
Courtney is extremely explosive and the more the defense fears his jumper, the more dynamic Courtney Lee will be attacking the basket.
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Kyle Lowry will also benefit from an improved jump shot.
He seemed to become more confident as each game passed last year with his jumper and saw his numbers rise in the process. He rose his career averages in most important categories and enjoyed success like he has never seen in the NBA since becoming a starter.
Lowry's aggression forces defenders to play off him, and a deadly jump shot is the best way to take his game to the next level.
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Skill: Defensive Intensity
There is no doubt that Kevin Martin is one of the NBA's elite offensive talents, but a lack of defensive effort keeps him from reaching All-Star status.
He can shoot the lights out and get to the free-throw line like nobody's business, but defense is an after thought in Martin's game.
He needs to take a play out of Rip Hamilton's playbook and learn to use his quickness to benefit the team defense. Hamilton has a similar offensive style, (running off screens and scoring well without dominating the ball) but didn't really hit his stride defensively until paired with the Pistons other fierce defenders back during their title runs.
Let's hope another year with grinders Kyle Lowry and Chuck Hayes will prepare Kevin Martin for the big show. Kevin McHale will surely help as well.
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Patrick Patterson is another Rocket that could benefit from expanding his jumper.
Patterson earned more playing time late in the season with tough play and a do-it-all attitude.
Daryl Morey drafted Patterson out of Kentucky and has used him to fill the void of Carl Landry, who left Houston in the Kevin Martin-Tracy McGrady trade.
Patrick has a formidable mid range jumper, but would really help the team if he can space the floor for Luis Scola and others down low by dragging his man outside. It would be nice to see him take after Scola's progression at the 15- to 19-foot jumper off the pick and roll.
Look for Patterson to be the go to man off the bench in the coming season.
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Skill: Court Vision
Luis Scola has been one of the best surprises the Rockets have had since the transfer from Carrol Dawson to Daryl Morey. His rights were traded to Houston from San Antonio for seldom used Vassilis Spanoulis, who never played another NBA game.
He has been a staple in the starting lineup since and has avoided injury until late last season.
Luis brings a blue-collar nature to the Rockets' frontcourt with unorthodox moves and strong finishing ability at the rim.
Better vision would benefit the Rockets as a team because opponents wouldn't be able to crash down on help defense to prevent Scola's drives when he puts his head down.
He will help the flow of the offense, if he can manage to keep his head up and see the floor around him.
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Skill: Anything and Everything
Hasheem Thabeet is making a strong candidacy for the worst No. 2 pick of all time. Behind Sam Bowie, of course.
He made no impact for the Memphis Grizzles and hasn't yet earned a legitimate shot with the Rockets.
Luckily for Thabeet, the Rockets are in desperate need of a defensive center to alter shots. He must find a way to stay out of foul trouble and move well enough on defensive to not be a liability.
He will be an offensive bust, but no one expected him to be Hakeem Olajuwan, just something like Manute Bol.
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The best thing Terrence Williams can do to earn playing time is be a good teammate and understand that life on the NBA bench as the team's last player is frustrating and mentally draining.
He must be ready to play every game, although it is unlikely he will enter. He must be ready for every situation, although he probably won't get the call. He must be willing to sacrifice his own success for teammates to prosper.
Terrence Williams is a gifted basketball player but will not succeed unless he learns to take bench time as motivation rather than a personal shot.
Maturity goes a long way, which is why veterans generally make out the end of the bench, not temperamental college stars.
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We will wait to grill the rookies on the skill set once they have put on an NBA uniform, so until then.
Marcus Morris: He should come in an be aggressive defensively and be a monster on the boards if he wants to get a look behind Scola, Patterson and Hill
Donatas Montiejunas: The Lithuanian can come in and make an impact if he can play with NBA toughness and knock down the outside jump shot.
The Rockets traded away their best outside shooting big man in Brad Miller and could use a smooth jumper from a 7-footer.
Chandler Parsons: He will likely spend the year in the D-League, unless he wows Kevin McHale. Parsons made a living at Florida working hard and doing the little things to help the Gators win.
At 6'10", he has good ball handling and playmaking ability to make a difference down the road.