Preseason ball is here, folks, and if there is one thing that I'd like for you to do, it is to watch it.
The preseason matters, much more than the overhyped Summer League, because now we know we're seeing the very best in players. They're coming off training camp. They're getting adjusted to their roles. What we observe should be the nearly-finished product: the fun part is finding out what the difference will be between that and the finished product.
A couple of years ago, it was Von Wafer. Wasn't that a fun preseason?
Now, we're back again, only this time the Rockets are deeper than ever. There's talent all over the board, and it's up to head coach Rick Adelman to make it all work. In this week's edition of the SB Nation Houston Top Five, we take a special look at five of those players.
No. 5: Kyle Lowry
I can't think of any particular storylines surrounding Kyle Lowry. I just like watching him play. He makes the game more fun. More intense. More valued. He may exhibit a "just happy to be here" attitude at times, but he's going to make sure that he uses every bit of his chance to contribute.
There's a rare element of Lowry's game that you don't see with such explosive players: patience. Perhaps not in his movements, but in his gameplay. He doesn't make that pass, and doesn't take that shot. He notices that there are seconds left on the shot clock, and that a better shot can be taken, perhaps off a drive. And if nothing else is there, it's off to the paint to go draw a foul.
Such is life for Kyle Lowry. Watch him play. Really, focus on him, off the ball. You'll learn about the subtleties that make basketball such an interesting game.
No. 4: Jordan Hill
I'm still waiting for Jordan Hill to really "get" it. And I'm not sure if he ever will get it. You'd think that for someone who picked up basketball so quickly, Hill could eventually expand and improve upon his game with similar ease. That, obviously, is not the case, as Hill has been far less impressive during Summer League and preseason games than he was during his brief regular season stint with Houston last year.
Maybe we're asking too much of Hill. He's not nearly as bad nor experienced as past lottery busts - perhaps he'll flourish in a year's time. As evidenced by his initial preseason performance against the Magic, he has the potential to do just about anything.
Now we ask for consistency. If Hill strings together three or four solid preseason performances, we will have seen progress in his development. And what, might you ask, is a solid game for Hill? Good interior defense, aggressive rebounding and active off-ball offensive movement (rolling on a pick-and-roll for a dunk, getting position for an offensive rebound, orspotting up in the short corner or on the elbow for an easy jumper).
No. 3: Aaron Brooks
Welcome back to Earth, Mr. Brooks. This, here, is a brand new year, and a brand new opportunity to earn the cash dollars that you've been pining for.
Brooks enters the 2010-2011 preseason with a red exclamation point hovering above his head. If opposing defenses didn't know, now they know. Brooks isn't an unknown or an overlooked anymore. He'll be targeted. How will he adjust to Yao's return? How will he and Kevin Martin fit with an entire offseason of work together?
I think the primary question on everyone's mind is whether or not Aaron Brooks will pass the ball more, or if not more, more effectively. His assist rate was fairly low last season, but it's pretty obvious that his surrounding options weren't exactly the most desirable, at least not until Martin came onboard.
But let's consider the idea that perhaps Aaron Brooks makes sense for what Rick Adelman likes to do on offense. Since when has Adelman ever employed an offense where the point guard was the Assist Man? He likes ball movement - from everyone. Backcuts, backscreens and picks and rolls - from everyone. It's a balanced, fluid offense, one that should suit a score-first point guard like Brooks quite nicely.
Don't expect Brooks to be an eight or nine assist-per-night player, because that's not the objective.
No. 2: Courtney Lee
Dream Shake, take it away:
Courtney Lee - Well, well. Mr. Lee looks like very good value. Active D, aggressive on drives and shots, I thought he was the best Rocket player tonight. His ball handling wasn't Paulesque, but it was competent, and I think he can play some PG for you against Deron Williams and other large PG.
Ariza apologists, I'll tell you one thing: you're going to appreciate the dribbling ability of Courtney Lee. It suddenly makes the Rockets much more flexible with their options on offense, and if you still don't think that Lee can defend, you're soundly mistaken.
Be watching to see how Lee fits in with his new teammates and in his new role. This isn't New Jersey, where Lee had freedom to do just about anything. He now has talent around him. We'll see how he adjusts to this revelation
No. 1: Yao Ming
Well, of course. Yao is our itch. We won't leave him alone. We'll keep scratching until everything bad just up and goes away.
Admittedly, in deciding my expectations for Yao, I think I have managed to overlook the most glaring problem facing Yao as he returns to basketball: the fact that he hasn't played a serious, full-court, NBA-brand game in a little over a year. It's going to be a while before Yao gets in sync, regardless of how healthy he is. His timing is off. His rhythm isn't there. It's going to take some work.
As the preseason gets underway, we shouldn't be looking at Yao's foot. Our attention should instead be placed upon Yao, the ballplayer. By no means was Yao perfect, even when healthy. Not even close. He has always had kinks that needed fixing, issues to be addressed. How aggressive will he be? Will he - somehow - become an even worse defender of the pick and roll? Can he get comfortable in a game setting in only 24 minutes?
We'll be watching Yao closer than anyone else, simply because he matters more. He's the story... THE story.