Game Time: Rockets Midseason Report Card

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I grew up as the oldest child in a family with three boys. There was me, two years behind me was my brother Kevin, and then six years behind him was my brother Ryan. While all three of us were, and for the most part still are, pretty intelligent fellows, report card time meant different things to each of us.  

As the oldest and as a kid who was reading The Wizard of Oz and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at age four, expectations were high for me. Therefore, when I got to high school, if I was bringing home a report card that had anything below a "B" in any one class, I was going to hear about it from my parents, how I should have done better, etc, etc. Unfortunately, I had set expectations very high in my younger years. If I had it to do over again, I might have tanked an occasional second- or third-grade language arts class just to keep expectations lowered. Live and learn.

It kind of went the same for my brother Kevin, although I think even he would admit that my parents weren't as tough on him as they were on me. This was either because of the general parental fatigue of monitoring your kids' grades beginning to set in or because they knew my brother was going to get an athletic scholarship somewhere. Whatever the case, you could see the parental vigor beginning to fray in the Kevin Era.

And then there's my brother Ryan, who to this day is one of the funniest, most clever people I know. And yet he would consistently bring home "C's" and even the occasional "D" on a report card with no fear of reprisal from my parents. Hell, I think they blocked off our cul de sac when he got a "B" one time and had a few kegs brought in. Why were "C's" a cause for celebration for the youngest offspring in the same family where they were unacceptable for the older two? Simple. Expectations.

The 2009-2010 Rockets are basically my brother Ryan. With Yao Ming's broken foot mending and with Tracy McGrady earning his PhD in self-importance, the expectations for this Rockets team were far lower than the previous four or five seasons. Las Vegas put the Rockets win total at 37, to be exact.

Yet here we stand at the midseason and the Rockets sport a 23-18 record. Granted, they've saved their crappiest basketball for the last two weeks of the first half of the season (triple overtime with the Timberwolves? Really?), but from a quantitative standpoint, which is what report cards are based on, they are on pace for 46 wins. This is basically like my brother Ryan bringing home an "A-" in molecular physics.

So as a team, to give the Rockets anything less than an A- would be silly. And, in fact, since professional basketball is hardly molecular physics (despite the Rockets having a general manager who is probably equally proficient in both), the Rockets as a team in the first half get an "A," no questions asked. Daryl Morey and Rick Adelman?  "A's" for both of you as well. My parents would be proud of each of you.

Now let's dig a little deeper, and go player by player --

On a team that lacks a true offensive go-to guy, i.e. a guy who can get his own shot with the shot clock running down and/or the Rockets can lean on to get a basket when they've gone three or four possessions without one, Aaron Brooks has stepped into that role, even if it doesn't always fit him perfectly. Functionally, as the team's lead point guard, he still has decision-making issues; once he fully matures, then the All-Star talk that some bring up with him will be warranted. Right now, he's a less explosive, less nasty version of Allen Iverson, which is not a bad thing to be.

Actually if you buy into ESPN.com's John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Ratings, which I do mainly because they take into account the pace at which a team plays as opposed to traditional stats in which the guy with the most/least is considered the best/worst, then Carl Landry is the Rocket most worthy of All-Star consideration. He's shooting nearly 56 percent from the floor and making teams pay for sending him to the line shooting an amazing 85 percent while going to the line five times a game, most on the team. Also, he's one of the biggest bargains in the league at $3 million per year, locked up through next season.

For what they're paying him (around $5.8 million this season), you can't really complain about what Ariza has given the Rockets. However, after averaging around 22 minutes per game in a supporting role with the Lakers, Ariza's leading the Rockets at nearly 39 minutes per game appears to be catching up to him, or that seems to be some of the prevailing logic. His shooting has steadily gone downhill as the season has worn on, and as much as he touches the ball it's no coincidence that the Rockets struggles as a team have coincided with Ariza's struggles on the offensive end.

Same old Luis Scola.  It seems like you get the requisite near double-double every night from Scola whether he's playing with Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady or whether he's playing with Brooks and Landry. The best thing any coach can ask for, especially on a team where you had no idea what to expect coming into the season, is for a guy where you know exactly what you're going to get -- statistically, mentally, effort-wise. Scola is a rock.

Shane Battier is also one of those guys from whom you know exactly what you're going to get every night, the only problem is the ceiling on what you get from Shane just isn't what it is for, say, Scola. On the offensive end, Battier's repertoire is basically the corner three-point shot and whatever garbage he can get scrapping for second chances underneath. Defensively, he does a lot of things that don't show up on anyone's stat sheets (Hollinger or otherwise) -- taking charges, getting hands in the passing lanes, making Kobe read his palm on every jumper, stuff like that. His leadership role as the voice of the team should be factored in as well.

I really wanted to give Lowry a higher grade than this, but if I am giving bonus points for consistency/predictability, then the opposite must hold true as well. Lowry is as likely to throw up a double-double some nights as he is shoot 1 for 8 with four turnovers. Where Lowry has been ultra-beneficial to the Rockets is bringing a toughness and fearlessness off the bench. His style is perfectly suited to bring off the bench, and while he's not a very good shooter from distance, he draws fouls and makes teams pay by shooting nearly 80 percent from the line, which allows Adelman to sometimes close out games with both point guards on the floor.

Part of report cards in team sports is about expectations. Chase Budinger, quite simply, has proven that a whole bunch of teams screwed up on draft day when it came to evaluatiing his NBA makeup. Not DeJuan Blair-level screwed up, but still...Daryl Morey got over again. He missed a couple weeks with a sprained ankle and when he got back, he struggled a little bit. However, the last two games, he's looked like the Chase of the first month of the season. In short, he's a second-round rookie who is oftentimes on the floor at the end of games. If not a home run, he's a triple in the gap right now.

I was a little surprised when I looked at Andersen's shooting percentages (43 percent from the field, 29 percent from three-point range) because it feels like he has shot better than that this season. Basically he's doing what he was brought in to do, which is provide a little bit of size and scoring punch. As the only player on the active roster over 6-9, it would be nice if he provided at least a little bit of shot-blocking, but that's not who he is. He's essentially a poor man's Euro player. (And yes, everyone not from the United States, when it comes to basketball, is classified as a Euro.)

Chuck Hayes fascinates me.  He's the only guy in the league who could go from playing a combined 34 minutes in the first three games of a playoff series to potentially the one guy the Rockets could not do without in THAT EXACT SAME SERIES once Yao went out. He's the one guy in the league who you could line up next to fifty guys you pulled off the street, have them all shoot a free throw, and he would finish in the bottom third of a vote for "Okay, which of these guys is an NBA player?" He is a 6-6 center with amazing floor sense and a rock-solid center of gravity, and yet every layup he shoots is an adventure. In Houston, our world would be a lesser place with no Chuck Hayes. We love you, Chuck.

When we finally saw Tracy come back from the knee injury, our suspicions were realized -- he is basically the old T-Mac with a club foot. At that point, didn't we all just want him to piss and moan his way back to irrelevance one more time? I know I did. Now he is truly "Tracy McGrady's Expiring Contract." Adios, Diva.

Yeah, Cook, I remember the meaningless foul on Carmelo Anthony with five seconds to go in the Denver game in December that allowed them to cover the spread. Don't tell me the foul wasn't meaningless, Cook. The fact that you were in the game inherently meant it was meaningless. Others forget these things, I don't. I never forget someone who screws me over, and you, my fine overpaid friend, screwed me over.

Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 The Game from 3-7 p.m. weekdays on the Sean & John Show, and follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.

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