Unsung Heroes of Houston Rockets' Surprise Season
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The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Even when two of the parts happen to be James Harden and Jeremy Lin.
One of my late father's many recurring jokes came anytime he heard a Simon and Garfunkel song. He would say, "Ah, that Garfunkel...he was the talented one."
Ridiculous, of course. Paul Simon was, is and always will be the genius of that group. And yet, there may have never been a more beautiful lead vocal in a pop song than Garfunkel's in "Bridge Over Troubled Waters." I've heard Simon sing the lead, and it pales in comparison.
Point is, guys like Garfunkel, John Oates, Dave Stewart and Andrew Ridgeley (OK, OK, maybe not Ridgeley) are like the rest of the Houston Rockets: very little spotlight, major contribution to the team's success.
Speaking of lead vocals, let's sing the praises of these comparatively unsung heroes.
In his second season, this small forward has come up big for the Rockets, providing consistent scoring, a serious threat from the perimeter, nearly 10 rebounds per game, boundless energy and a great attitude to boot.
Parsons has drawn praise from no less an expert than Kobe Bryant, who said, "I love (Parsons)...he can shoot from the outside, he can handle the ball, he rose to the challenge defensively. I think he has a really bright future and I don't say that a lot about a lot of people."
Luckily for Houston, Bryant didn't say that before the 2011 draft.
Parsons went 38th overall despite playing four years at Florida under Billy Donovan and winning SEC Player Of The Year for his senior campaign. Parsons quickly played his way into the rotation, and this year he has played his way into the conversation of premier NBA small forwards.
Parsons is clutch, shooting .468 from three-point range in the fourth quarter. He's also unselfish and a skilled passer, ranking eighth among small forwards in assists per game. If you look at assists per turnover, Parsons rises to fifth at his position. And he's got a great attitude and sense of humor. To wit: his secret handshakes with Jeremy Lin and this kiss of Harden's mohawk.
Bottom line: Parsons—already ranked by some among the league's top 10 at the 3—is a bargain at $888,250.
A lot of general managers are kicking themselves for missing out on this guy. The Rockets are truly fortunate to have him.
Another second-round pick, Asik developed a reputation for his defense while he was with the Chicago Bulls but got limited playing time, averaging just 13.3 minutes per game.
GM Daryl Morey had to be relying on Asik's per-36-minutes stats when he signed the big man to what was considered a gamble at the time: a three-year, $25 million contract.
Asik's per-36 line with the Bulls: eight points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.2 blocks and 0.9 steals. Some experts called the gamble crazy.
So far, Asik has exceeded all expectations in Houston, boasting a per-36-minute stat line of 12.5 points, 13.4 rebounds, 1.3 blocks and 0.7 steals.
The moral of the story: Don't play cards with Morey.
Asik came in with a limited offensive game, but he scores too, perhaps not with grace but with gusto—and with more frequency than anyone thought he would. His contributions have not gone unnoticed by his teammates.
"Having [Asik] on the floor is a game changer," said Lin. “He’s an incredible help and individual defender. He’s getting to play heavy minutes now and showing what he can do.
Though Toney Douglas' shooting was horrendous last year, former Knicks coach Mike D'Antoni stuck by him, playing Douglas often for 20-plus minutes a night. Douglas finished last year averaging 17.3 minutes despite shooting .324 overall and .231 from three-point land.
Morey must have trusted D'Antoni's judgment when he made sure Douglas was a part of the Marcus Camby trade.
Lo and behold, the player whom many (including me) had given up for dead has instead made like Stella and gotten his groove back in Houston. He is averaging 20 minutes and shooting .401 overall, including a career-best .403 from long distance.
Douglas is money in the bank at the free-throw line, ranking fourth in the league at .907. And he's hit some amazing shots, including a half-court buzzer-beater and this circus shot where he channels Larry Bird at the third-quarter buzzer.
If he's not in the game, you can usually find Douglas heartily cheering his teammates on—although Sunday he'll probably be cheering in Atlanta, as his wide-receiver brother Harry and the Atlanta Falcons play in the NFC Championship game.
Whether or not his brother makes the Super Bowl, Douglas is a super sub for Houston.
I was a big fan of Delfino back in his Detroit Pistons days, where his creative offense often went unappreciated in his rookie season by coach Larry Brown. Flip Saunders used him more frequently, but it was in Toronto and Milwaukee that Delfino finally was allowed to prove his worth.
Delfino is a flashy scorer, which on other teams has sometimes been to his detriment. But on the Rockets, who score like Joey Chestnut eats hot dogs, Delfino fits in perfectly...and he plays solid defense, something sorely needed in Houston.
He's also clutch, shooting .469 overall in the fourth quarter—including .417 from downtown.
Kelvin Sampson, for whom I have very publicly stated I have little respect as a coach and as a man, nonetheless played a prominent role in signing Delfino, reaching out to the Argentinian guard this offseason and selling him on the Rockets.
Given Delfino's impressive stat line—he is second on the team in 82games.com's simple rating and boasts net points of +247 compared to Harden's +140—recruiting Delfino may be Sampson's sole positive contribution to this team.
Delfino also provides an additional benefit for fans: When he's on the court, it's easier to convince your female significant other to watch basketball with you. Try it sometime...
Smith was never on my radar in college, and that apparently held true for most NBA general managers as well. Smith went undrafted, and after just a few preseason games last year, he was waived by the Rockets.
But tearing up the D-League—Smith was a 2012 D-League All-Star—proved an effective way to get Houston's attention again. After rejoining the team in February of last season, Smith has emerged as a force this year.
Smith is averaging nearly 14 minutes per game, posting the NBA's second-highest field-goal percentage and ranking 10th among centers in player efficiency rating. He's also working hard on defense, a big reason why 82games.com has Smith as the Rockets' fourth-highest player in simple rating.
They may get little ink and less ESPN highlight time, but Parsons, Asik, Douglas, Delfino and Smith are a large part of what's got the Houston Rockets on the short list of Western Conference playoff contenders.
If your knowledge of the Rockets extended no further than the backcourt tandem of Harden and Lin, maybe now you're singing a different tune.
And despite their current four-game losing streak, the song remains the same in Houston: This team is a comer—due in no small part to the contributions of these five men.
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