This is the 2nd in an ambitious 29 part series covering all of the teams chances heading into the 2012-13 season.
Enemy: Houston Rockets
Coach: Kevin McHale
Potential Starting 5: Jeremy Lin, Kevin Martin, Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, Omer Asik
Other Key Players: Donatas Motiejunas, Marcus Morris, Royce White, Terrance Jones, Jeremy Lamb
Threats: Kevin Martin, Surprise breakouts
Grizzlies 2011-12 Record vs.: 2-2
Oh the Houston Rockets. Call it the curse of Shane Battier if you want, but since the famous Shane for Rudy swap of 2006, the Grizzlies have yet to win a season series against the Rockets; breaking even only twice. In a system in which you play your division rivals 4 times per year, it is never a good thing to give too many of those games away. Luckily for the Grizzlies, Houston, a thorn in our Beale St. blue-colored side for longer than we would like to admit, figures to be a far less menacing adversary this year. Descending from a long line of Grizzly killers, Kyle Lowry (ain’t no fury like a Grizzly scorned) is finally out of our division. Along with him, the Rockets have chosen to part ways with stabilizing power forward Luis Scola and breakout performer Goran Dragic. After their full-court heave for Dwight Howard floundered, the Rockets used their stockpile of draft picks to do what they in hindsight should have done years ago: rebuild… to some extent. While placing a greater emphasis on young players and their development than they have in recent memory, the Rockets have not distanced themselves completely from the big money free agent market. The Rockets delivered poison pill offers to restricted free agents Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, to effectively strong-arm the Bulls and Knicks, respectively, out of the bidding. The contract for Omer Asik is a slight head-scratcher, but maybe they know something about him that we don’t. As for Lin, this move is a win-win for the Rockets. Whether or not he translates to be the electrifying “Linsane” player that captivated the basketball world for a few wild weeks in New York, the Rockets have to be hoping that he will help re-establish the stranglehold that they enjoyed on the monstrous Chinese market during the Yao Ming era.
There is a lot of youth on the Rockets’ roster, with many, if not most of their projected contributors still collecting paychecks on their rookie deals. Consequentially, a lot will rest upon legendary big man-turned head coach Kevin McHale to get these guys up and ready for the NBA grind. This is not a dissimilar situation to the one that he was charged with just a few years ago in Minnesota. How McHale reacts to the situation this time around should be pretty telling of his capacities as an NBA head coach. Despite its lack of experience at this professional level, this roster contains a good deal of bottled up talent. The young guns are all full of potential waiting to be tapped with essentially a roll of the dice. While it is not likely that all of Donatas Motiejunas, Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, Terrance Jones, Marcus Morris, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Patterson break out into bonafide NBA players (if they do, lookout!), it is equally as unlikely at this point that none of them do. The upside contained within this group is strong, but for varying reasons, none of these guys are true sure bets that the franchise can bank on. Motiejunas, despite a formidable showing at the Summer League lacks the bulk to play true in the paint, which makes one wonder whether or not he will be able to withstand the grind of the 82 games. If he can, then Rocket fans have a lot to look forward to. Lamb could turn out to be a real gem, the next Kevin Martin, or a total dud. White, Jones, and Morris are caught in the tweener zone, which boasts versatility to the roster, but costs them definition. Patrick Patterson is definitely capable of attaining a nice career as an NBA player, but at the extent of what role is yet to be defined. He has some talent and is strong, but doesn’t quite hit the boards as hard as one would like. If he comes in and attacks the glass with a vengeance, he could be in for a Kurt Thomas-like career, but if not I see little more than an average backup. Coming from the 38th pick in the draft, Parsons was a nice surprise last season, and figures to have a nice career ahead of him in Houston. He could turn out to be everything that Adam Morrison was supposed to become, and I feel safe saying he does have the highest downside of the Rockets’ young bunch. Worst case scenario, I think he builds upon last year just enough to be a quality starter at the 3. Asik should be pretty solid in the middle, providing good defense like he does, but will probably not quite play up to his contract. Then again, the way the market is, few big men do. As for Lin, it’s hard to say as well. Is he the star that D’antoni’s offense made him appear to be, or is he merely a serviceable point guard that will hold the starting role respectably, but not offer much more? As with everything else regarding this incarnation of the Rockets, time will tell. It’s going to take some time to sit down, wait and see what they bring to the court before we can really evaluate what they’ve got. Even if the players pan out, Kevin McHale has to get them to play together. As I said before, he’s got his hands full.
On the Grizzlies front, it’s relieving to note that the dreaded Kevin Martin was not the same player last year. With Scola and Dragic already shown the door, and Jeremy Lamb waiting in the wings at the position, it’s not so far-fetched to think that he could be next. For the time being, though, as long as he is on the team, he will be a threat to us. Chandler Parsons would generally scare me as the type of player that would break out against us, but his lines in our matchups were pretty pedestrian last year. Our post players should ground and pound their inexperienced front line. Jeremy Lin was a turnover machine in NY, and with Mike Conley emerging as one of the premier ballhawks of the league, I expect that he has a field day on the defensive end. Otherwise, I’m struggling to find any serious threats that the Rockets pose for us at the moment. I say this with caution, because any one of their talented young guns could catch us sleeping and go off for a big game. Clearly, the innate volatility of a group like this makes it very difficult to forecast what the team is going to do for the season, but I have a good deal of faith in our Grizzlies’ chances to finally take a season series from them.