On paper, the Rockets looked like a team that should have been contending with Dallas and San Antonio last year.Â Their top two guys, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, were perhaps the best 1-2 in terms of talent in the league.Â They had an inconsistent but exciting point guard in Rafer Alston, a couple solid vets in David Wesley and Juwan Howard, and a couple exciting youngsters in Chuck Hayes and Luther Head.Â The final record?Â 34-48. Yikes!Â Tracy McGradyâ€™s back limited him to 47 games, Yao played only 57, and Stromile Swift ruined everyoneâ€™s life, as usual.Â When youâ€™re as top-heavy as the Rockets, injuries to your big guys can kill your season, and thatâ€™s just what happened.Â The one big change on the roster occurred when the Rockets sent Stromile Swft and Rudy Gay to the Grizzlies for Shane Battier.Â Letâ€™s see what thatâ€™ll mean for the team:
The Stud: Yao Ming, C
Yao enjoyed perhaps his best stretch as a pro last year after the All-Star break, where he put up 25.7/11.6 with 1.8 blocks on 54/88 shooting.Â That run let him finish the year with his first 20+ scoring average and his first double-digit rebounding season.Â That was the good news.Â The bad news was he missed significant time for the first time in his career, then broke his foot at the end of the season.Â However, he was back to his dominating self at the world championships this summer, so it seems that heâ€™s fully recovered.Â Yao was #15 on the average player rater, but his draft value is a little better than that because 1) thereâ€™s no reason to think he wonâ€™t play 80+ games this year and 2) heâ€™s a center.Â I think heâ€™s a fine late-first round pick this year, and if he falls to the second somehow you shouldnâ€™t think twice.
The Support: Tracy McGrady, GF
Poor Tracy.Â Heâ€™s long been one of my favorite NBA players, but last year just didnâ€™t go so well for him.Â He had major problems with chronic â€¦ back pain.Â Chronic as in, â€œdoesnâ€™t go away.â€Â Thatâ€™s enough to push McGrady out of the first round and possibly well into the second.Â Itâ€™s just way too early to tell for McGrady right now.Â Heâ€™s obviously a first-round talent but weâ€™re going to have to see how camp goes before really judging his value.Â If everything goes OK, I still wouldnâ€™t advise taking him before the mid-second round.Â He has yet to play 80 games in his nine year career, and thereâ€™s no reason to think that heâ€™ll change that trend this year.
The Supporting Support: Shane Battier, SF
Battier is one of my favorite targets this year.Â In Memphis, even though he got plenty of minutes he was never better than their 5th scoring option.Â That changes this year in Houston, where heâ€™ll be sitting solidly in the 3 spot behind McGrady and Yao.Â He wonâ€™t see a huge uptick in stats but he doesnâ€™t really need one.Â The basics are all there â€“ steals, blocks, threes, and FG%, – for Battier to be a great roster filler, but he always played below his offensive potential in Memphis.Â Hereâ€™s an interesting statistic:Â 168 players played over 25 minutes per game last year.Â Battierâ€™s 0.22 FGA per minute ranked 157th out of those 168.Â Of the 107 players who topped 30 mpg, that FGA per minute was only better than defensive stalwarts Bruce Bowen and Ben Wallace.Â Battier may not be an offensive stud, but he is certainly not the liability that he was treated like in Memphis.Â Look for him to find his offensive abilities utilized more often in Houston, with numbers like 15/8 with maybe 2 threes and over a steal and a block apiece.Â Iâ€™ll be looking to draft him in the fifth round.
The Sleeper: Chuck Hayes
Hayes may only do one thing well, but he does it REALLY well.Â Hayesâ€™ per-minute rebounding rate (one every three minutes) is good enough for sixth among players who played more than thirty games last year.Â Itâ€™s better than KG, Ben Wallace, and Tim Duncan.Â The kid can rebound.Â Heâ€™s not worth drafting, but heâ€™ll be one to keep a close eye on early in the year.Â If he can find a spot in the rotation and maybe another stat to excel in, heâ€™ll be an interesting player.
The Slacker: Rafer Alston
12 points, 6 assists, 1.5 steals and threes â€¦ oh, if only that were the whole story.Â But, thereâ€™s the matter of his 38% from the field, and his unforgivable 70% from the line.Â Also, heâ€™s going to see a hit in points and, probably, assists if Yao and McGrady stay healthy this year.Â And thereâ€™s no way he plays almost 39 mpg this year, either.Â Save yourself about three rounds and take Luke Ridnour instead.
Double Dribbles: Somehow, Juwan Howard saw 32 mpg last year.Â He didnâ€™t have any value.Â Hopefully he stays on the bench in favor of Hayes and Battier this year â€¦ Casey Jacobsen is back.Â He, youngster Luther HeadÂ and rookie Steve Novak will attempt to fill the void left by David Wesley, and none of these guys should have value â€¦ Kirk Snyder is just buried here.Â He’s not worth your time.