Wednesday, September 17, 2008

TBR # 2 Luther Head (AKA Alston 2k8)

There is nothing more pleasing to me than Rafer knocking all of the haters off his back last year. Unfortunately Rockets fans’ negativity is like an itch that travels to different spots in your body. Once you have satisfied one itch it will itch somewhere else.

In 05/06 the Rockets drafted Luther Head with the 24th overall pick from Illinois. I am not much of a college basketball follower, given I am a Houston loyalist, but Luther made a name for himself playing alongside Deron Williams all the way to the Final Four. Still in need for athletic and young guard play, the Rockets were really impressed with Head, mainly his shooting ability and quickness.

When T-Mac and Yao went down in 05/06, and Alston took over the lead PG role, Luther was inserted as a starter for 27 games at the SG position. For a team that was in the playoffs the previous year, this speaks volumes about our injury situation and Jeff Van Gundy's intentions to rebuild our supporting cast around his superstars.

Watching Luther that season was a treat. He was completely unfazed by the situation. He truly was a breath of fresh air. He ran around with the energy found in a college basketball system and played every play like it was an elimination game. It is the first time I saw this kind of talent and energy on a Houston Rockets team, maybe dating back to Vernon Maxwell. As previously mentioned in my Alston testament, the Rockets’ record that season was very misleading. We lost many close games that year that we should have been blown out of. Rafer and Luther were the most impressive on the floor.

The following year the team was healthier, and Luther's minutes went down. He still was a major contributor off the bench and found his role as our #1 backup for T-Mac. He shot a stunning 44.1% from the 3 point line! This was by far our best shooter on our team. He still is, with small competition from newly acquired Brent Barry.

In the playoffs we ran into Utah that year. It is true that he went into a slump, but watching every game that year it was easy to understand why. Somehow the referees allowed Yao to be guarded solely by Mehmet Okur’s pushing and pulling, while Yao would get punished for turning his body. This single coverage allowed Utah to man up with Luther, and every single shot was a contested one. Jeff Van Gundy didn't adjust, and Luther's role became an impossible one. JVG just kept pounding it in to Yao. Our whole game plan is for his shooting to relieve Yao of his double teams, yet there weren't any double teams for most of that series. Either you blame Yao for not taking control and demanding the double or the referees for pre-determining the series. As news and comments keep coming, I am a strong believer in the latter. No matter the reason, this series gave Luther his "choke" title that is FAR from deserved.

Last season was Luther's worst in terms of shooting. He was off at the beginning, and it was a real slump. Once again Yao went out and his role had to adapt to something he wasn't. At times he was the PG, which really isn't his position. It's not like he ever had to worry about that at Illinois (I think D. Williams had it covered).

My favorite thing about Luther, and in my Addict opinion his most important asset to our team, will be hitting big time three pointers late in games. You can just go ahead and translate that into being "clutch". He has been absolutely amazing in the 4th and it’s no fluke. He has hit at least 3 game winners in his short career and probably close to 10 stake-in-the-heart three-pointers. If you watch his interviews and see his work ethic, it’s not surprising at all. He has a very soft-spoken, cold-faced and hard-working persona. He loves the game of basketball in a way that JVG couldn't resist. He never seems to lose his cool no matter how bad he is struggling, or how intense the game situation is.

My final point involves last year's playoff series against the Jazz, where he did not make a shot. Now, Houstonians are asking for his head (no pun intended). Once again, we did not have Yao and even Alston at times. Luther was forced to dribble and run around more than he should. On another note, he was being refereed very unfairly. I have never seen Luther so upset, than I did in Game 4 of that series while he was on the bench. It wasn't a mad at himself act, it was a complete hatred for the referee's calls. In my opinion, referees target young players like Luther, and they know people will be quick to blame him without much investigation. Believe me, if Yao was not our main guy, and we didn't have the type of superstar talent we have, then Luther would not be the championship piece that we need. But we rest our whole future on Yao and T-Mac and Luther fits PERFECTLY in that plan. When Yao goes down, Luther does too. When Yao is here, Luther is a valuable 8th man this season.

Everyone thinks he needs to be traded. Radio broadcasters joke that we can't even "give" him away. This is how they justify the fact that Daryl Morey loves Luther. These are the same people that thought Steve would steal Rafer's job after being bought out for 30 million. Here is my prediction: Luther will hit some of the biggest shots of any Rocket this season, playoffs included. I just wish people would stop talking so badly about these players, including T-Mac.
It will really be shame if the Rockets win a championship despite Houston instead of for Houston.
Submitted by Earnie Banks

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