The Houston Rockets easily dispatched the New York Knicks 97-84 Saturday night behind stellar play from the bench players. At times in 2011-12, perhaps due to Coach Kevin McHale’s shortened rotation, the bench has made little to no impact on games. But with top scorer Kevin Martin’s absence due to plantar faciitis in consecutive contests, the Rockets have required more offensive production from the pine dwellers.
Most of them have risen to the occasion in stunning fashion. The seeming rejuvenation of former Arizona Wildcats teammates Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill, in particular, have sparked the Rockets to a pair of victories over the Washington Wizards Wednesday evening and the Knicks last night. In addition to Martin’s injury, the rise in bench quality also arrives when budding All-Star candidate Kyle Lowry has made only four of his last 30+ shots, so the timing is perfect. The bench outscored the starters 61-36 last night and was largely responsible for the victory. Since Houston doesn’t wow opponents with an imposing, star-studded starting five, it’s paramount for the bench to overwhelm the opposing team’s second unit. And if it continues to do so, then less scoring pressure will be placed on Lowry and Martin will become expendable trade bait, making room for Courtney Lee to assume the starting two-guard role. Here is a brief look at some of Houston’s most valuable bench contributors recently, and what to expect going forward:
1) Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. These two deserve to be lumped together because of their shared past and meteoric rise in recent games when it looked as if they might disappear into NBA oblivion. After three games with the dreaded DNP label stamped next to his name, Budinger returned to score 21 points in the victory over Washington and 19 versus New York. He has re-discovered his three-point shooting stroke, shooting 60 percent from downtown in the two previous contests, and made the loss of Martin’s offense easier to cope with. The Rockets currently possess a dearth of three-point shooting on their roster, so if Budinger continues to stroke at a proficient rate, he will continue to play heavy minutes in relief of defensive stopper Chandler Parsons.
As for Hill, Rockets brass announced this past week that they would not be picking up the option on Hill’s contract after 2012, thus expressing their desire not to keep him unless he proves otherwise for the season’s duration. The third-year big has apparently used the slight as motivation, scoring a combined 24 points and 21 rebounds in the past two contests. The dreadlocked center has an awkward athleticism about him, but he also possesses a great rebounding instinct and soft touch around the hoop. Consistency is the word for him, and perhaps the pursuit of a new contract is the key to achieving it.
2) Goran Dragic. The baby-faced Yugoslavian is likely capable of manning a starting role on some teams, and although the former Phoenix Suns playoff standout can be a turnover machine, he can also be a spark of scoring prowess for the second-squad players. Dragic has scored in double figures for three of the last five games, including 16 points last night, well above his season average of eight per contest. He is capable of prodding Houston forward for stretches and making “turning point” plays with his offensive acumen, such as a floater with the shot clock expiring the beat San Antonio last Saturday. Few players with his offensive repertoire exist on NBA benches.
3) Patrick Patterson. Finally, the athletic young Patterson not only made rookie lottery selection Marcus Morris expendable, but fills in with admirable versatility for both power forward and center spots. He is more spry and a better defender than Scola, and he can step out and hit the 15-footer with consistent accuracy on the pick-and-pop. And with Hill returning to the rotation, Patterson doesn’t have to play undersized and out of position at center as much anymore.