Defense tops the to-do list for Aaron Brooks

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The Houston Rockets have been one of the most entertaining teams this season, mostly due to their status as the NBA’s resident hustle junkies. Tracy McGrady barely played and Yao Ming barely practiced, but an outmatched group of confident role players took to the court with excellent effort and great team chemistry.

The only problem is that in the NBA, effort isn’t good enough. You need talent, and lots of it. The Rockets have had some, but at the end of the day they’re still leaning very heavily on Trevor Ariza and Chuck Hayes, and that’s a problem.

As a result, the Rox, despite the blue-collar approach and playing the Adelman version of the “right way,” ranked just 17th in the league in defensive efficiency. That’s despite having Kyle Lowry, Shane Battier, and Trevor Ariza, some of the more impressive perimeter defenders in the league, and the aforementioned Hayes, a technical master of post defense despite his relatively diminutive stature.

Incorporating Kevin Martin isn’t likely to help, because for all of Martin’s strengths as an offensive player (and he has many), he’s a bit of a defensive sieve. His defensive instincts just don’t light a candle to his scoring ones, and while it’s hard to complain about incorporating a terrific scorer at minimal cost, it doesn’t change the fact that Houston’s defense will need to improve around him if they’re going to excel on that end of the court next season.

Yao Ming’s return should help, supposing he’s ready to roll, but a huge part of team defense is stopping point guard penetration on the perimeter. It saves the entire defense from having to shift and rotate to compensate, and allows the entire crew of strong individual defenders to do what they do best. Rick Adelman has pinpointed the defense of his starting point guard, Aaron Brooks, as a critical threshold for Houston’s improvement. From Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:  

A matchup against 6-8 Washington point guard Shaun Livingston put a priority on Aaron Brooks to be more disruptive defensively, an improvement Brooks and Rockets coach Rick Adelman said he needs to make next season. “(Brooks) cannot be put in that position where there are bigger players playing and it puts us at a real disadvantage defensively,” Adelman said. “He’s got to find ways to be effective, whether it is fronting, being more active, picking up full court. “That’s a stage he has to go through if we’re going to become better as a team. And I think he’ll do that.”

I’m not sure Shaun Livingston is the best example of an offensive threat to Brooks, and he finished the game in question with two points on 16.7% shooting and two assists with two turnovers to match. It doesn’t change the importance of Brooks’ defense though, and right now it’s one of the weaker facets of his otherwise solid game.

Craig Sager to get third bone marrow transplant thanks to anonymous donor

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Legendary TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager talks with Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Sager is on a one game assignment for ESPN. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Craig Sager couldn’t be in Rio covering the Olympics for NBC, his cancer wouldn’t allow it. That didn’t stop Team USA from reaching out to him before they left. Or from Nike designing a sweet pair of shoes for him.

Now there is good news on his battle against leukemia β€” he will have a third bone marrow transplant, according to his son Craig Sager II.

This is fantastic news for a man and family who have been through a lot. Hopefully, this treatment is a step forward for Sager, a man beloved by everyone around the NBA.

Report: With Joffrey Lauvergne trade, Mitch McGary likely done with Thunder

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 16:  Mitch McGary #33 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Center on March 16, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Oklahoma City frontcourt is crowded. Enes Kanter and Steven Adams will start, and they will have Nick Collison, Ersan Ilyasova, Domantas Sabonis, and now Joffrey Lauvergne behind them.

Which likely means Mitch McGary‘s done as a member of the Thunder, according to Royce Young of ESPN.

McGary has battled injuries his two seasons in the league and got on the court for only 72 minutes total last season for the Thunder (he played in more games and put up solid numbers in the D-LEague). He was not part of the future there regardless. He’s an undersized five trying to play the four and what he brought as a rookie β€” energy β€” was not enough as a sophomore.

McGary will make $1.5 million this season. He may be tough to move because he’s suspended for the first five games he’s eligible to play next season for failing the league’s drug policy (five games is the standard suspension for testing positive for marijuana three times). Maybe a team looking to develop players will give him a shot, but there is little trade value for him.

Dwight Howard is shooting 19-footers to improve his free throw stroke

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If you can knock down a 19-foot shot, then a 15-footer should be easier. Right?

Apparently that β€” and just basic muscle memory β€” is the latest attempt to improve Dwight Howard‘s free throw shooting. And, he seems to be knocking down those shots.

It’s not hard to see the logic in this approach.

The challenge is form and reps are not the problems for Howard β€” or DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond or others β€” when it comes to hitting free throws. Anyone who says “why don’t they just practice the shot” doesn’t pay attention, these guys put in a lot of work on the shot. Pregame and in practice (I’m Los Angeles based), Jordan probably hits 65 percent from the line. At least.

The problem is mental. That can be a tougher hurdle to clear. Maybe taking 19 footers and knocking them down will have Howard feeling more confident at the stripe this season.

But we’re going to need to see it to believe it. Just like we’re going to have to see a rejuvenated Howard in Atlanta before we believe this season will be different from the last few.

Report: Veteran big man Jason Thompson agrees to deal in China

BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 15:  Jason Thompson # 34 of Sacramento Kings in action during the 2014 NBA Global Games match between the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings at MasterCard Center on October 15, 2014 in Beijing, China. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Until this season, Jason Thompson had never been to the playoffs. He spent seven seasons in Sacramento before getting traded to the Warriors last offseason, and then signing with the Raptors midseason when Golden State waived him to make room on the roster for Anderson Varejao. His NBA days appear over, at least for now. International basketball reporter David Pick reports that Thompson has agreed to a deal to play in China.

Since the CBA’s season ends in March, Thompson could theoretically join an NBA team for the stretch run next year. But he didn’t appear to have much interest on the free-agent market this summer.