There has been a ton of fireworks since free agency has started, but the biggest move in the West has fallen well below the radar. Trevor Ariza leaving the Houston Rockets to sign a one-year deal in Phoenix has opened up a glaring hole on the only team to challenge the Golden State Warriors since Kevin Durant’s arrival. The Rockets won the top seed in the West with their high-octane offense and a switchable defense that gave Warriors fits; they were the closest to the champs but now feel much further behind with Ariza’s move.
Just how important was Ariza to the Rockets? During the regular season he had a defensive rating of 104.3, in the playoffs, he even brought that down to 102.8, and in their three wins in the conference finals, the rating went even lower to 101.2. As a defender, he is able to guard one through five with his length and athleticism, which is what teams need to defend in the new NBA but especially against the Warriors.
Ariza was consistently tasked with the toughest defensive assignment all season and especially in the playoffs. During the series against the Warriors, he started on Durant and definitely gave him fits. With the aforementioned length, he was able to come up with steals if KD was sloppy with his handles. He is strong enough to hold him off in the post and quick enough when Durant tried to blow by him and is one of the few players who can actually contest him on three-point attempts.
The Rockets defensive scheme this past season was based on switching; here he switched onto Steph Curry who somehow always loses his defenders after he gives up the ball. Ariza stayed locked in, as Curry faked like he was going to run the baseline and popped back to the corner. Ariza tried to get his hand on the pass but was able to recover quick enough to deflect Curry’s shot.
In game four, on the final possession, Ariza completely smothered Klay Thompson the entire play forcing him into an incredibly tough fadeaway that sealed the win for the Rockets.
Championship teams are almost always built around star players but time and time again role players have shown their importance. Trevor Ariza was the perfect fit for the Rockets; his ability to defend just about anyone put them closer to the Warriors than any team has been in the past two seasons. Now with the West getting even tougher this summer, Ariza’s departure has them joining the rest of the NBA chasing the Warriors instead of being neck and neck with them.
- Spurs Leverage Shrinking – Trade talks for a star player is always about leverage and every passing day the Spurs are losing leverage in any Kawhi Leonard trade whether to the Los Angeles Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, or a dark horse team. They took another hit when this morning reports that Jimmy Butler is unhappy in Minnesota and might be on the market. Another wing player on the market really tilts the advantage even more in the teams trying to trade for Leonard.
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- 2018 Playoff Videos
- From Bleacher Report: Jimmy Butler ‘Fed Up’ with ‘Nonchalant’ Timberwolves, Karl-Anthony Towns
- All stats from NBA.com/stats
- Photo Credit: David Richard/USA TODAY Sports Images
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