During a season in which he shot a miserable 39.5 percent from the field and showed a complete inability to create offense for himself and others, the signing of Trevor Ariza looked like a borderline disaster. Ariza played poorly in his role with the Rockets, but more importantly, the Rockets missed the playoffs for the first time under Rick Adelman.
After an outrageously good start, Ariza’s production came down to Earth. As in, way down. He shot in the 30’s percentage wise for the entire season after the first month, struggled with turnovers, and disgusted Rockets' fans with awkward off-balance shots that had no chance of going in. Suddenly, the five year, $33 million investment the Rockets made on Ariza was not looking good.
After this rough stretch, it became evident that Ariza is never going to be the go-to player or the number one scorer on the Rockets. He simply does not possess the coordination to create offense for himself against high-pressure defenses to be that kind of player. He constantly dribbled into trouble or had nowhere to go in midair, turning the ball over countless times as a result.
Then after a hip injury sidelined Ariza, things went from bad to worse for the Rockets, as they embarked on a season-crippling losing streak without Ariza and Kyle Lowry. What the Rockets learned during this losing streak was that while Ariza is never going to be a star, he is a huge contributor and is crucial to the Rockets’ success.
What makes this season’s statistics so easy to throw out is that for the majority of the season Ariza was thrust into a role that the team had not planned on him filling after they signed him. He was the team’s second or third scorer for most of the year, and simply could not perform well enough in that role.
When he finally began to fill the role that the team originally envisioned for him, as the “utility guy”, he actually performed very well. Every team must have a great utility guy, a player who can play without the ball and still be successful. And Ariza fits perfectly in this role. He plays excellent defense (he still gambles a bit too much), can make open three pointers, and slashes extremely well.
With Yao Ming potentially back in the fold next year along with Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks on the wing, the pressure on Ariza will be significantly lessened and he will be back in the role that he thrived in during his tenure with Los Angeles, not being forced to create offense for himself but depended upon to hit open shots and make key defensive plays.
After being eliminated from playoff contention, Ariza and Kevin Martin both returned healthy enough to give the Rockets a sneak peek of what the wings could potentially look like next year, and the returns were very good for Houston. No longer forced to create offense for himself at all times, Ariza picked his spots and looked very impressive, scoring more efficiently while rebounding and assisting much more effectively.
Instead of an offensively inept defensive specialist as a “utility man” like Kelvin Cato (or Shane Battier), Ariza’s future is so promising because he has a much higher upside offensively than they do. He has the makings of an adequate offensive game and Daryl Morey describes him as a “top five wing defender”. While that might be a bit of a stretch, he and Battier are in similar leagues as defenders, and if he can get rid of some of his more bone-headed mistakes on offense, he can basically become Shane Battier 2.0.
At just $6 million a year, that is a bargain, especially for a 24-year-old with athleticism and potential for improvement. He may never be an All-Star, but he will be the Rockets’ next great role player.