Houston Rockets v Phoenix Suns

Rockets off and running without Yao

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Here’s the little thing everyone has missed while talking about Yao Ming for the past couple years — without him the Rockets are one of the league’s more entertaining teams.

In the last two seasons — save for the handful of games Yao played — the Rockets have become a running team. Right now they play at the sixth fastest pace in the league and that has been without Aaron Brooks — the speedy point guard made for a running offense — who has been out with a severely sprained ankle.

The Rockets are a pretty good offensive team — they are currently eighth in the league in offensive efficiency (points per 100 possessions). Their defense is not so good (21st) but that just leads to more watchable, high scoring games. Luis Scola and Kevin Martin can fill it up on any given night, and Shane Battier is underrated on offense.

Make no mistake this is not a good team — they are 11-15 now but as John Hollinger points out have had to do it against a pretty tough schedule. They will probably finish around .500 and flirt with the eighth seed in the West.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey has some big picture decisions to make — with Yao essentially done as a Rocket and a guy you build around, the long-term direction of the team is in question. Build through the draft and with young players essentially blowing this team up, or get a star that can lead this quality group of role players. A long-term direction needs to be chosen.

But for now, the Rockets remain a decent and entertaining team to watch. Which is a step ahead of half of the league.

Carmelo Anthony says he can play at high level 4-5 more years

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp

Carmelo Anthony can flat-out score the rock — that has never been the question. Even hurting last season for many of the 40 games he played, he averaged 24.2 points a game, had a true shooting percentage of 53.1 percent (right near the league average) while having the entire weight of the Knicks offense on his shoulders (32.2 usage rate, fifth highest in the NBA). When people (or players) talk about him being overrated, the discussion turns to defense or if he makes his teammates better. But there should be no doubt Anthony is an elite scorer.

He thinks he will be for a while longer — like another five years. Via Ian Begley of ESPN:

In fact, the 31-year-old Knicks star is confident that he can play at a high level for the next “four or five years.”

“Without a doubt. Without a doubt,” Anthony said after the Knicks’ final training camp practice on Saturday.

The Knicks better hope that’s true, they already made that bet with that massive five-year contract they gave him last summer.

Anthony’s age combined with him coming off knee surgery have a lot of people — myself included — expecting him to take a step back. Not a big one, but he is coming up at the point in his career where some open shots he used to get are now contested because he’s half-a-step slower, and some of those looks don’t fall as often. His jumper isn’t suddenly going to look like Rajon Rondo‘s, ‘Melo is going to get his points, but he may not be as efficient.

Fortunately, the Knicks have an improved supporting cast around him this season. That should take some offensive load off his shoulders, and maybe the Knicks offense will see better ball movement and start to resemble the triangle. If it’s just more isolation Anthony, it’s not going to be pretty.

Kings pick up option on G Ben McLemore

Ben McLemore, Rodney Hood
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) The Sacramento have picked up the 2016-17 option on guard Ben McLemore‘s contract.

General manager Vlade Divac announced the move Saturday.

McLemore was Sacramento’s first-round pick in 2013. He averaged 12.1 points, 2.9 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season.