Originally posted on Fox Sports Houston  |  Last updated 12/21/11
The directive was clear and, given the talents of Rockets guard Goran Dragic and swingman Terrence Williams, made sense circumstantially. Rockets coach Kevin McHale wanted the second unit to push the pace last Saturday night against the Spurs. The compressed training camp schedule left him little time to marry his newly implemented offensive scheme with the available pieces set to serve as his reserves, thus McHale instructed Dragic and Williams to run and attack the basket. They willingly obliged. "Coach was saying he wants us to run a little bit more, to put the pressure on the defense, especially in transition," Dragic said. "We did a good job of that in the first game. But every game you cannot play like that. Hopefully we're getting better on sets; we're practicing that in every practice and probably going to see more of this kind of game." The cohesion offered by the starters against the Spurs came as little surprise, even with a new coaching staff and unfamiliar offense. Shooting guard Kevin Martin and power forward Luis Scola started every game in which they played last season. Point guard Kyle Lowry came off the bench in just four of his 75 games. Small forward Chase Budinger became entrenched as a starter after Shane Battier was traded to Memphis at the deadline. Center Jordan Hill was the lone newcomer to the lineup, but he previously worked alongside Lowry and Budinger on the Rockets' second unit so his envelopment was relatively seamless. The six reserves that logged at least 12 minutes apiece were relative strangers. Forward Marcus Morris is a rookie. Point guard Jonny Flynn was acquired on draft night and, like Morris, made his Rockets debut. Center Hasheem Thabeet played sparingly after being swapped for Battier. Williams decayed on bench under former coach Rick Adelman. Guard Courtney Lee and Dragic are the lone holdovers accustomed to their roles. Throwing them in with the others, with the entire group pressed to learn the offense in a hastened fashion, left McHale with tempered expectations regarding how well the reserves would perform. "I didn't anticipate great execution with that group," McHale said. "The one thing that is legitimate (relative to myriad complaints over the compressed 66-game regular-season schedule) is the more time you spend together, the better you run your sets. For everybody it's going to be a condensed time from what would be considered a normal training camp. "There'll be breakdowns because you haven't had enough repetitions." The performance standards for the starters and reserves are different. McHale expects efficiency from the Lowry-led group. He has praised Scola and Martin for their wisdom and work ethic, and Hill should benefit more than anyone from McHale offering instruction. What McHale sought from the backups was offensive energy, defensive intensity and rebounding. By and large, that is exactly what he got. Williams validated statements touting his rebounding prowess by grabbing nine boards. Dragic was a blur in transition, scoring 11 points, dishing out four assists and recording two steals. Lee didn't deliver a noteworthy performance, but he is a known commodity. Morris, Flynn and Thabeet must develop, particularly in advance of second-year forward Patrick Patterson (ankle) returning to the playing rotation. The Rockets' reserves have a ways to go in leaning the offense and how to effectively blend their individual talents. Until roles are established and clearly defined, the second unit might not play as efficiently as the starters, and they'll be apt to rely on their natural ability in the interim. "Nobody knows who's going to play yet," said Dragic, who averaged 7.7 points, 2.5 assists and 2.5 rebounds in 22 games with the Rockets last season. "But everybody here knows how to play basketball. We just need some time to know everybody, and I think we're going to be fine." Follow me on Twitter at moisekapenda
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