Predicting Where the Houston Rockets Can Go from Here
The Houston Rockets are indeed a team in transition.
Last year's team, who came so close to sneaking into the postseason, is gone.
Only Greg Smith, Chandler Parsons, Marcus Morris, and Patrick Patterson remain from that roster, and head coach Kevin McHale was tasked this season with managing the 11 new faces that GM Daryl Morey brought in.
The newcomers were headlined by former Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin, who chose Houston's offer over potentially returning to the big apple, and James Harden, reigning Sixth Man of the Year on an Oklahoma City team who won the West last year.
Despite the new talent coming in, expectations were and remain low for the Rockets this season.
After all, the team's experiment to clear cap room in the attempt to trade for a big name like Dwight Howard in the offseason was a failure.
They did manage to get out of it some solid role players like Carlos Delfino and Omer Asik, to go along with the developing Parsons, Morris and Patterson.
The Lin experiment has been up and down so far. Lin has shown flashes of the brilliance he displayed during his breakout two-week portion for the Knicks last year. However, he still struggles to create his own shot with consistency.
Shooting at just 34 percent, and scoring under 11 PPG, Linsanity has died down, and is nearly almost completely extinct.
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Houston took a chance on Lin, and it's still yet to be determined if it will pay off. They are dropping over $8 million for Lin to perform right now, so the expectations for immediate impact will assuredly be there all season long.
However, it is important to note that despite his meteoric rise to superstardom, Lin still has a lot of room to grow as an NBA talent.
Lin's weaknesses show forth more and more as he is asked to be the team's permanent lead guard, but it doesn't mean he doesn't still have time to improve upon them and turn into one of the best point guards in the NBA.
Lin may actually benefit from a change in scenery going from New York to Houston. Although the Rockets are without a doubt a team of interest for NBA fans this year, they simply don't get the media coverage that the Knicks do on a nightly basis.
Lin may go through some growing pains this year, and it will take another season or two to find out if the investment in him paid off.
The deal to trade for Harden right before the season began was a questionable one to some experts.
Harden had never been relied upon at the NBA level before to be a team's No. 1 option offensively, and after his disappointing performance in the finals last season, many were wondering if giving up a promising player in Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks, and the team's best perimeter scorer in Kevin Martin was worth it.
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However, Harden has proven all of the doubters wrong so far this year.
After exploding out of the gates for 37 and 45 in his first two games, Harden has maintained his high scoring level and is tied for fourth in the NBA in scoring at 24.2 as of November 21st.
Harden has been keeping Houston relevant so far this year, but the team is still finding themselves falling behind like many expected they would.
At 5-7, there is still plenty of season ahead for the Rockets, but just how good can the team be this season, and beyond into the future?
After failing early in the offseason, credit has to be given to Morey and the Rockets front office for sticking with their plans to acquire a potential superstar, and eventually making the deal that brought Harden to Texas.
Harden may not have been the team's first choice, but clearly he is capable of being a dynamic scorer at the NBA level, and will continue to be one for years to come.
At age 23, the sky is the limit for Harden as he continues to develop his perimeter jump shot and learns how to get his teammates involved more consistently. Harden is also battle tested, having gone through the rigors of the postseason in Oklahoma City for three years.
When and if Houston does make the playoffs, they know they will have someone to lead the way. The rest of the roster, though, is the big issue right now for the Rockets.
The Rockets have a solid core group of young players that have an opportunity to develop into a high-powered unit if they stay together.
Along with Harden and Lin, Patterson, Asik, Morris, and Parsons are significant contributors who are all still young in their NBA careers.
Asik is managing to average a double-double despite a significant lack of offensive focus, Parsons is the team's second leading scorer and turning quickly into one of the best players from the 2011 NBA draft, and Patterson and Morris are combo forwards with excellent scoring ability.
Houston must focus on securing these six (or perhaps only one of the Patterson-Morris duo) for the long-term. None of those players are older than 26 and have the potential to become a top team in the Western Conference if given the opportunity to grow together and stick with it.
In fact, only one player (Toney Douglas) is above 30 on the Houston roster, so this is a team that is youthful across the board.
The team has gotten a mixed bag out of their young players, however.
As I mentioned, Parsons, Morris and Patterson have all developed well. Terrence Jones has been okay, but not great for the Rockets so far this season in limited action. Still, Jones has plenty of time to hone his skills at the NBA level.
The Royce White situation has been a black eye on the team all year long. Fans and experts alike are divided on which side (if any) is at fault for how things are transpiring between White and the Rockets organization. Either way, however, what seems sure is that White will not be a significant member of the Rockets this season, and possibly not ever.
Donatas Motiejunas played only one game with Houston before being reassigned to Rio Grande Valley, so the jury is still out on his potential productivity as well.
Overall, this is a Rockets team with a lot of potential, but also a lot of question marks moving forward.
If the Rockets can keep their core together and get more out of their young players, they could be a team to watch for years to come.
However, if the Rockets want to be contenders in the ultra-deep Western Conference this season, they will need to find that one more added boost to put them over the top.
The Rockets will be focused in the offseason on bringing in that one more All-Star caliber player that would make them instant contenders. They also will look to improve this year before the trade deadline.
A key area to focus on would be to bring in a more solid No. 2 point guard behind Lin, and also a more offensively minded big man to compliment Asik.
There is talent there for the Rockets, and there is no doubt they are heading in the right direction. Still, in order for the young Houston team to reach its potential, the players will need to continue to improve as individuals as well as a team going forward in this season and beyond.
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