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Early Takeaways from Trevor Ariza's Performance with Houston Rockets

Jake Lapin@lapin_62094Correspondent INovember 9, 2014

Trevor Ariza is off to a good start with Houston.
Trevor Ariza is off to a good start with Houston.Matt Slocum/Associated Press

No one has gotten off to a hotter start than Trevor Ariza and the Houston Rockets. In his return to Houston, Ariza is now in the right place at the right time.

During his first go-round, Ariza was the primary scorer for Houston. He was asked to do too much and ultimately was traded away the next summer. This time, however, he is playing a specific roleβ€”and playing it perfectly.

Chandler Parsons left this past offseason to sign with the rival Dallas Mavericks. Parsons was a talented small forward who had some great years with Houston, but in the end Ariza is a much better fit for the Rockets right now. And he comes at about half the price, which is a nice bonus.

They're both great NBA players, but there is a key distinction. Parsons is an emerging star who wants to shine and prove himself to the world. Ariza, on the other hand, has been around for a while and has a different outlook on the game. He has championship experience with the Los Angeles Lakers, and as a veteran he is more comfortable accepting his role rather than trying to find the spotlight.

Within that role, Ariza has flourished early on with Houston this season. He is playing elite perimeter defense and shooting the three-ball superbly. His offensive game as a whole is a downgrade from Parsons' excellent playmaking ability, but his three-and-D supremacy have made him very valuable for the Rockets.

Let's take a closer look at his performance so far this season and find some key takeaways.

MIAMI, FL - NOVEMBER 04: Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat drives on Trevor Ariza #1 of the Houston Rockets during a game  at American Airlines Arena on November 4, 2014 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downl
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Lockdown Defense

Ariza's best quality is no doubt his shutdown defense. The main reason general manager Daryl Morey went after him this offseason was to give the Rockets a much-needed boost defensively.

Last season, Houston was not a very good defensive team, to say the least. The Rockets gave up over 103 points per game and lost a lot of bad games because of their deficiencies. Even with Dwight Howard in the middle and Patrick Beverley wreaking havoc at the point, the poor perimeter defense doomed Houston from the start.

Now insert Trevor Ariza. You have an elite rim protector in Dwight, an award winning defender in Bev, a re-focused James Harden and now Ariza. So far, so good.

With Ariza's help, the new-and-improved Rockets defense is getting the job done. They are giving up about just 90 points per contest, a significant improvement. It's been a consistent team effort, but Ariza has had the job of matching up with the opposition's best scorer.

He's shut down some great scorers already in the early going this season. On opening night, October 28, Kobe Bryant, the league's leading scorer, dropped just 19 pointsβ€”and it took him 17 shots to get there. The following night, he gave up only eight points to Utah's Gordon Hayward on 3-of-11 shooting from the floor. In Miami on November 4, he shut down Dwyane Wade in the fourth quarter en route to a nice road win.

All year long, Ariza has done a great job of locking down defensively, and as a result the Rockets are winning.

Los Angeles, CA- OCTOBER 28:  Trevor Ariza #1 of the Houston Rockers takes a shot against the Los Angeles Lakers on October 28, 2014 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadi
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Thriving From the Three-Point Line

As a three-and-D player, defense isn't Ariza's only specialty. He also makes a ton of threes, which also happens to fit in nicely with Houston's system. The Rockets shoot the most threes in the NBA, and Ariza is no exception on this team.

He's taking almost seven threes per game and making about 49 percent of them. In each of his last four seasons, Ariza has improved his three-point percentage, starting at 30.3 percent in New Orleans and raising it to 40.7 last year with the WashingtonΒ Wizards.

Out of the gates in 2014-15, Ariza has been on fire. He started out shooting 60 percent from deep through the team's first five games. Since then, he has cooled off drastically, back under the 50 percent clip. However, that's still more than sufficient for the Ariza and the Rockets to succeed.

Ariza's shooting from beyond the arc has helped space the floor and open things up offensively for Howard and Harden. His defense has been his biggest contribution, but his production on offense has been a really nice bonus.

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 13: Trevor Ariza #1 of the Houston Rockets handles the ball against the Phoenix Suns on October 13, 2014 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using t
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Playmaking Ability

This is the one category where Ariza has left a lot to be desired. He's done a great job at playing strong defense and hitting outside shots, but off the dribble he's nothing special.

Ariza's playmaking ability, or lack thereof, is his biggest flaw. He isn't even in the same ballpark as Parsons when it comes to creating his own offense. He will have a nice drive and finish at the basket every now and then, but oftentimes when he gets closed out on the three-point line he's forced to give up the ball.

Most of Ariza's facilitation comes on the fast break. He's top-ten in the league in steals per game with 1.8, and when that happens he is sufficient at getting out on the break and finishing at the rim. But other than that, many of Ariza's dribble-drives in the flow of the offense come up empty.

Hopefully, as the season progresses and the offensive flow becomes more natural, Ariza will find a way to be able to attack the basket effectively.

Conclusion

Although Parsons will be missed, Ariza is becoming a new fan favorite after his early success this season. Even the Rockets' broadcast team has moved on and embraced Ariza as the new small forward.

With Ariza in the lineup, the Rockets' desire to improve on defense has become a reality. Howard, Beverley and Ariza are all top-tier defenders, which has made the Rockets highly competitive on that end.

The new defensive focus has been fantastic, but that doesn't mean you should stop excelling on offense, and the Rockets haven't. They still focus on efficient shot-taking and have been operating inside-out, starting with Howard in the post and getting contributions from Harden and great three-point shooting led by Ariza himself.

All of the pieces are starting to come together for Houston, who has jumped out to a red-hot start and is among the best teams in the NBA record-wise early on. Even with a tough offseason, the team certainly looks much better this season compared to last, and Ariza has been a big part of that improvement.

Parsons is very talented, but the Rockets needed a different type of role player to become a better team. While Parsons is looking for his next photo op, Ariza is doing whatever he can to help the team win, a big distinction that pushes Houston over the top.

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