With an average age of under 24 years, the Houston Rockets have the youngest team in the NBA. And yet, they are 21-17 as of January 15 and in seventh in the Western Conference. Youth is yielding results and the promise of upside.
The mere mention of the word upside brings about visions of things being good and the anticipation of them being even better in the future.
How good could things get for the up-and-coming Rockets?
The current roster consists of just one player (the "old-timer," 30-year old Carlos Delfino) over the age of 26.
For the young pups, some have room for modest gains in the coming years. Others have reason to believe there is room for significant improvements as they round into their primes.
***all stats current as of January 15, 2013
The 15th man currently listed on the Houston roster is Royce White. Due to his current situation with team management, he will be left as incomplete for the purpose of this exercise.
But, the other benchwarmers all have limited upside.
Patrick Beverley has been on the roster for four games and has yet to take the floor. James Anderson has a perimeter shot, but has yet to find his way. Cole Aldrich is the only other true center on the roster, but seems destined to be nothing more than a limited bench player.
Douglas, 26, is one of the elder statesman on the roster after Delfino.
The scouting report on Douglas is a smallish point guard who can shoot a little and defend a little. There are limits to those skills, though.
His career shooting percentage is just over 40 percent, although he has averaged right around nine points per game in his career.
He has some experience starting for the New York Knicks in the past. But, he is best suited in a backup role.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: backup point guard
In his first year in the league, the 22-year old has averaged just over three minutes a game and has appeared in 12 games for the Rockets. Not much to go on.
Motiejunas also has tallied four games in the NBA D-League this season for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and has fared much better. With averages of 23.5 points and 10.8 rebounds, there is a glimmer of hope that there may be something waiting to come out at the next level.
He is a typical Euro forward. At 7'0", Motiejunas can step out and display a smooth shooting stroke and can use his height to enhance his ability to pass over defenses.
He is young and is a mobile big player. With the way the NBA game is headed, there could be a consistent roster spot with Motiejunas' name on it.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: a poor, poor man's Andrea Bargnani
Following a 20-point effort against the Boston Celtics in December, it seemed Greg Smith was attracting a cult following. Fans were clamoring for more playing time for the 22-year-old out of Fresno State.
He averaged nearly eight points and 16 minutes per game in the final month of 2012. But in January, his playing time has dipped to 12 minutes and he is averaging just over three points a game in 2013.
Smith is a hard worker and an energetic forward off the bench. It is a role he fulfills well. But it seems unlikely he shakes off that role to take on a more prominent one.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: rotation piece
Patrick Patterson has turned himself into a pretty decent player. At 12 points and almost five rebounds a game, Patterson's numbers are worthy of a starting role for Houston as a power forward who could be used in the screen-and-roll, knock down an outside shot and bang down low.
However, a foot injury cost Patterson seven games and the play of Marcus Morris in his absence cost Patterson his starting role.
In January, Patterson has seen his scoring numbers and playing time decrease.
The truth is, Patterson has become a solid regular, maybe even exceeding expectations set for him out of Kentucky.
That's the plus side.
On the other hand, Patterson seems like he may be tapped out. It is difficult to imagine him making any big leaps and bounds to a next level.
He is average in height and in weight. He is good at several things, great at none.
Patterson is no longer a starter on a playoff team. On a championship team, he would be asked to do even less.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: current Patrick Patterson
The man who has secured Patrick Patterson's old starting job at power forward.
Morris, 23, has not found much success in the New Year, managing a double-digit scoring output in just one of eight games.
His game is very similar to Patterson's. An athletic power forward, Morris has a little better shooting stroke but is a little less physical in the paint than Patterson.
Where Morris gains an edge over his power forward counterpart is his maturation.
Patterson started out his career by averaging 6.3 points per game in his rookie season and bumped it up to 7.7 points last season and 11.9 this season.
Morris has had a steeper learning curve to this point, going from 2.4 points per game in 2011-12 to 8.8 points per game so far in 2012-13. His minutes have more than tripled and being rewarded the starting gig shows Kevin McHale has placed more trust in his hands.
This trend follows his career path at Kansas University, where he barely played in his first two seasons and then became one of the nation's best forwards.
An edge in versatility puts Morris ahead of Patterson in terms of upside.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Many scouting reports compare him to Al Harrington.
Another first round draft pick for the Rockets, the 21-year old Jones has not played for the Rockets since December 19.
But while toiling in the NBA D-League, Jones has racked up averages of 19.2 points and 11 rebounds.
Jones is a good combination of size and athleticism. Tack on that he is left-handed and he can provide enough of a different look to be effective.
With the up-tempo style the Rockets have implemented, Jones could be another running mate filling the wings on the break opposite Chandler Parsons.
He gets bonus points for being the steadying force on last year's national champion Kentucky team. He may not be the flashiest player, but, his skill, intensity and workmanlike approach will serve him well in the league.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Jeff Green
Becoming a starter for the first time in 2012-13, Omer Asik has turned him into a consistent double-double threat.
With 15 double-doubles on the season, Asik actually has a better chance on a night-in, night-out basis to accumulate 10 or more rebounds than he does points.
The gamble Daryl Morey took in the offseason to sign Asik to a lucrative free agent contract has paid off. The Turkish center has been rated as one of the top rebounders and low-post defenders in the NBA.
He already is one of the better centers in the league.
And yet, look at all the things that could still use some improvement in his game:
2. any semblance of a jump shot
3. free throw shooting
4. foul rate
It seems unlikely Asik ever becomes a prolific scorer in the post. But it stands to reason he could inflate his 10-point average to somewhere in the range of 15 points per game at its peak.
A 15-point, 12-rebound, two-block center would be a boon for any NBA roster.
Ah, yes. Jeremy Lin.
Diehard Lin fans will say he belongs at No. 1 on this list. Haters will proclaim he is lucky to be on the list at all.
Is he as good as his 25-game starting gig in 2012 with the Knicks where he averaged 18 points and nearly eight assists?
Is he bottoming out at his current levels of 12 points and six assists per game?
Lin is show-stopping good on occasions and hair-pulling frenetic other times. His unique skill set separates him from most other point guards.
His combination of speed, ball-handling and passing ability are similar to Steve Nash. But with Nash having accumulated far more accolades (two MVPs, for starters), the current Lakers point guard is several rungs higher on the career ladder.
But, Lin has not yet finished the script for the rest of his career. He has a total of 102 NBA games under his belt, a little over a full season. Give the guy some time.
His turnovers could be curbed. His shot selection could be more prudent. And to be more like Nash, he will most definitely have to become more of an efficient shooter.
There is no need to crown him as anything more than a promising player at this point in his maturation. Time will tell.
But coming short of Nash does not equal a failed career. Many quality players (even All-Star quality) have failed to equal Nash.
If the 2012-13 season is the basement line for Lin and Nash's peak years are the ceiling, there is plenty of wiggle room for Lin's path to follow.
Rockets fans should be excited about his potential. There is plenty of it.
If all breaks well, he could achieve similar stats to Nash, most likely without the individual awards, though.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: a poor man's Steve Nash.
As the 38th overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Chandler Parsons has already exceeded expectations. At the time he was drafted, comparisons had him labeled as the next Luke Walton.
Whoops. It would appear the pundits were a bit off.
Parsons is a complete player at just 24 years old. He can score, dribble, rebound, pass and defend.
From Year 1 to Year 2, he has upped his scoring average almost a full five points. He has become the perfect complement to the Jeremy Lin-James Harden back court. He is good enough to be a good No. 3 option on a playoff roster and yet unselfish enough to not need to be the go-to guy.
Remember how Terrence Jones was referenced as the steadying force on last year's Kentucky Wildcats team?
Parsons is precisely that guy for the Houston Rockets.
He has above-average athleticism. But, overall, he is a consistent producer with a good chance of consistently producing at higher levels as his career progresses.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Luol Deng
Who would have thought that someone who is currently 4th in the NBA in scoring and a Top 10 player overall would have the chance to have the most upside on his current team?
Enter James Harden, the newest NBA superstar.
Harden was shipped out of Oklahoma City and onto the scene in Houston just before the season tip-off. And, with the way he has played, it is accurate to say he was shot out of a rocket and has not slowed down.
Going from 6th man to leading man has fit Harden well.
With the Thunder, he always had a knack for getting to the foul line and filling the stat sheet. He steadily improved his scoring each year as he got more and more comfortable behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
Now with nobody ahead of him in the pecking order in Houston, Harden has thrived. He has gone from nearly 17 points a game last season to 26.5 points per game in his current campaign. His PER of 23.35 puts him 9th in the league.
So, how does he have so much room for upside potential in the coming years?
The beauty of this is that he has only been doing this for three months and he is ALREADY this good.
Just imagine the possibilities once he has been doing this for a year, two years, five years.
His consistency is already off the charts. He recently set a new Houston Rockets record for high-scoring longevity.
But being The Man is more than just stats. It is an attitude. It is a swagger. It is a mentality that you are going to be the best player on the floor EVERY night, no matter the opponent.
That only comes with time.
He has the makeup to morph into that and evolve his already high standing within the league. He has given nobody any reason to doubt he will fulfill that role in the future.
BEST CASE SCENARIO: Dwyane Wade in his prime