There are just two words to explain what’s wrong with the 6-9 Houston Rockets: Jeff Van Gundy. Or is that three words?
This is not to say Van Gundy is a bad coach. He’s just the wrong coach for the Rockets.
We see it more in college than in pro ball, but this is a classic case of a coach demanding his players adjust to him rather than him adjusting to them. And this is not one of those disciplinary, make-them-work, good-for-the-coach, teach-the-bums values things. The Rockets have a good group of players, by most accounts serious-minded and committed.
They’re playing a slow game, mostly walking the ball up and running a half-court offense. It was a good tactic for Van Gundy with a team like his aging New York Knicks, a slower, possession game that can keep a less talented team in the game and steal some wins.
Now he has young talent in YaoMing and Tracy McGrady, although Houston, to be fair, doesn’t have that much overall talent after giving away three starters to get McGrady.
But the Rockets need to run, or at least play more in transition. Defenses are setting up against them, turning them perimeter-oriented, thus limiting McGrady to jump shots and surrounding Yao and making him work too hard for baskets. It has tired him, and he has had trouble finishing games.
The Rockets’ statistics reflect their style, not their talent. They are 29th in scoring, 28th in rebounding, 27th in steals and 23rd in blocks even with Yao (above). Their field-goal attempts are 26th most, and they are 29th in free throws, showing a lack of penetration to the basket.
McGrady, the league’s leading scorer the last two seasons with a combined average of more than 30 points per game, has had only two games this season over 25 points. Yao, averaging 17.8, has been in single digits five times this season, twice in the last two games against teams without dominating centers.
“My game right now, I’m hesitant on the offensive end and I can’t get into a rhythm,” McGrady said after Saturday’s loss to the Jazz. “I really don’t feel in sync on the court. I can’t get into the flow at all. I don’t know what it is.”
I do. McGrady needs to get easy baskets in transition to open up his perimeter game. Of course, better rebounding would help. Yao is one of the league’s best running centers, but he’s walking into the defense too much.
“Neither of those guys has played like we need them to play to win down the stretch,” Van Gundy said last week.
The style Van Gundy favors wears out players. The Rockets aren’t great, but they have too much talent to allow lesser teams to stay in the game with limited possessions.