In Houston, 1 + 4 = ?

Rafer Alston talks to Jason Friedman of Rockets.com about his improving health, movies, and how Ron Artest changes things for the Rockets.

Alston talked a bit about how he might change his game to account for the arrival of fellow Queens native Artest.

What he said is, essentially, basketball common sense. And he's probably right.

But it sure got me thinking about the kinds of analysis a GM has to do before making this kind of move.

First, let's hear what Alston said:

  • "Maybe now I can be more aggressive defending the ball knowing I've got so much help with Yao back there and Shane and Ron who love to defend, too. So maybe I can be aggressive and get my hands on balls and get more steals, and try to get us more possessions out there."

  • "I think last year I had to take on more of a scoring role, especially when Yao went down. Even when Yao was in the lineup, we needed guys to lend a helping hand with the scoring."

The knee-jerk analysis of most player transactions is to look at the remaining players and then add the new player. By the analysis, the Rockets right now are longtime stars like Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, plus the big-shot Artest.

How could they not be better?

But listening to Alston, it made it clear to me that whether his speculation is accurate or not, adding a player like Artest changes a lot of things that happen on the floor, and who knows if those things make the team more effective.

For instance, Artest has the reputation as a great defender. Alston is just throwing out a couple of random ideas. But just for fun, consider these things happen. What if he does gamble for steals more often, knowing super-defender Artest is back there?

In recent years, Artest has often been, for stretches, a low-energy defender. And gambling for steals on the perimeter is, very often, bad for a defense. You're testing the other four defenders, that's for sure. Most coaches want most of their players to stay home. Because if you gamble and miss, you have an NBA guard with the ball, headed to the hoop with a head of steam and a five-on-four. Advantage: offense.

You could see how that could hurt the Rockets.

And on offense, Alston is not a great finisher at the rim, so if he stops trying to drive and instead those possessions go to Artest, maybe that helps. But he's a very good spot-up shooter, and looking to pass more in a way that keeps him from open shots would probably hurt the Rockets.

That's just looking at two mini-things Alston speculated about. Could be good, could be bad.

Of course every Rocket -- Yao Ming, Luis Scola, Shane Battier, etc. -- could be affected by this. Does Battier still get to guard the other team's best perimeter player (he's amazing at it) or does Artest want that assignment? What happens if Yao and Artest both like to post up on the same side? Does Luis Scola play just as hard when he is touching the ball a lot less, as could happen?

Don't even get me started on Carl Landry, who is one of the most efficient players in the NBA. Artest's presence could not only alter Landry's game in some fashion, but literally keep him on the bench for long stretches, which would certainly affect the math of this team's offensive and defensive efficacy.

Then there are chemistry issues. What if players start breaking plays to call their own numbers as Artest is said to have done in Sacramento?

Most basketball experts assume the Rockets just got a lot stronger. And on paper they did. But when you're adding a major rotation player, the math is not always as straightforward as it may appear, which is why I'd like to see this team play a few dozen games before pretending to know how it's going to work out.