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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Skip to My Lou

The Rockets were so dissatisfied with their point guard position this offseason, it seemed they were very close to bringing guys in off the street for tryouts. Rafer Alston was the most unpopular incumbent this side of George Dubya Bush.

Mike James, Steve Francis, rookie Aaron Brooks, Luther Head, and John Lucas III were all considered candidates to take over the spot.

A few months later, the Rockets are riding the second-longest winning streak in NBA history even after losing Yao Ming for the season, and Rafer Alston has been a major factor – even before his 31-point explosion against the Lakers on Sunday. No less an authority than former Houston coach and ABC analyst Jeff Van Gundy has called Alston the key to the Rockets' winning streak and one of the top point guards in the league this season.

While we're not quite ready to group Skip to My Lou in the same league with Nashie, Chris Paul, Deron Williams and Jason Kidd, Alston has been remarkably efficient of late. In eight games this March, he's averaging nearly 19 points on over 42 percent shooting from the field and from three -- with five assists, and just under four boards. He's also been an adept thief, with 1.6 steals per game.

Meanwhile – all those other guys who were supposed to take his job have faded into the background. Brooks has played in just four of eight games in March, and averaged under 10 minutes when he's gotten in. Mike James is gone, as is John Lucas. Francis is out for the year with a torn quad.

Of that list of backcourt players that at times resembled an American Idol audition, only Luther Head plays a significant role for the team today. He and Bobby Jackson – who arrived in the trade that sent James to New Orleans – are valuable 10-15 minute/night bench players for Houston; neither is considered a serious challenger for Alston's job.

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