Reggie Williams and Francisco Garcia will both see minutes behind Harden, but Garcia's ability to play small forward and back up Chandler Parsons could result in fewer minutes for him at shooting guard. McHale's bench is extremely versatile, so there is plenty of experimenting to be done with the team's rotation.
Williams was brought in during the offseason after spending his last two seasons with the Charlotte Bobcats. The fifth-year player will be looking to stay healthy and get back to the reserve he was during the earlier seasons of his career.
Garcia, a fan favorite and playoff hero, was re-signed by general manager Daryl Morey this offseason. Morey presumably chose Garcia over Carlos Delfino, so that should speak to the type of confidence the organization has in him. This will be his first full season in Houston, and expect him to have an impact as a mentor to the team's young guys.
McHale has the luxury of focusing on other areas of the team because of the talent at shooting guard, although he will have to pay attention to the competition between Williams and Garcia. The guard with the hot hand will be the one playing the most minutes. However, the one who puts together the most consistent performance in training camp will get the upper hand come the first game.
We might as well start with the obvious and work our way down.
Harden is probably the most important player on the Rockets this season. Even after acquiring Dwight Howard, the Rockets need Harden to adapt to a more controlled style of play that doesn't involve iso after iso.
Now that Howard is in the fold, the offense will likely have a set number of plays that either run through or incorporate him into the gameplan. With that being the case, Harden won't be able to hold the ball for a majority of the shot clock and look for openings in the defense. He'll have to work the passing lanes to feed Howard the ball and get open on the perimeter should Howard dish it back out.
Granted, he was stellar as a first-year starter in 2012-13. He dropped 25.9 points per game on 43.8 percent shooting, but played a ton of minutes (38.3 per). Having more depth in Williams and Garcia should decrease his workload, as should the team's ability to rely on Howard from time to time.
I expect Harden to play around 32 minutes per game in 2013-14, but that doesn't mean a drop-off in production. He'll probably shoot a higher percentage with more set plays on the offense. Harden could reasonably score near 25 points per with a shooting percentage in the 46 to 48 percent range.
Production at that level would represent quite the improvement for Harden. Even though he was great last season, showing signs of maturity in the future could be a sign that the Rockets were right to trust him as team leader.
In order to make the most out of his relatively small role with the Rockets this season, Williams will have to channel his inner-self from 2010-11.
That year, his first healthy season in the NBA, Williams averaged 9.2 points and 2.7 rebounds per game while shooting 46.9 percent from the field. He was also proficient from deep, shooting 42.3 percent.
Health has always been the biggest issue for Williams throughout his career. In his four NBA seasons, he has played in 24, 80, 33 and 40 games, respectively. The Bobcats' confidence in him dropped so much prior to last season that he played just 9.5 minutes per game with them during the year. Compare that to the 22.6 minutes he averaged a year earlier, and it's clear that something was wrong.
Williams will probably play a similar role in Houston. It's hard to foresee him averaging more than 10 minutes per game, especially if his health is an issue. The best way to keep him fresh and productive might just be to limit his minutes.
Williams should benefit from playing on a team featuring a strong center offensively. His shooting ability will make him a threat when on the court with Howard, as he could be given open looks when Howard draws the double-team. It'll be up to Williams to knock down the shots, and his career mark of 37.1 percent suggests he'll be able to do it with some regularity.
In around eight or nine minutes per game, expect Williams to knock down a three or two and grab a few boards. If McHale can get five points and two boards per game from the fifth-year player, then his offseason signing should be considered a success.
While a majority of Garcia's minutes should come behind Parsons at small forward, expect him to find some time at shooting guard as well. He's played both throughout his career, and his versatility is something that McHale should value heading into the season.
Garcia is entering his ninth year in the NBA, and his three-point is still as good as ever. He shot 37.4 percent from deep last season, his best since the 39.0 mark he put up in 2009-10. Expect more of the same from him this season, especially in an offense that caters to perimeter shooters.
Similarly to Williams, Garcia will benefit from having Howard in the paint. When Howard draws double-teams, Garcia will be in the corner waiting to be fed the ball. A veteran shooter like him will capitalize on those opportunities.
Combined between both positions, Garcia could play around 15 minutes per game. That's probably the high-water mark while playing behind stars like Parsons and Harden, but it could definitely happen if options like Williams and Omri Casspi don't exactly pan out.
If Garcia gets that type of playing time, then a scoring average of 10 or 11 points per should be well within his reach. Having Howard down low should also boost his assist totals. He dished out 2.1 per game last season, but that might jump up near 3.0 with Howard in the fold.
Garcia will be a key player for Houston this season. He'll most likely be the first perimeter player off the bench, and McHale will rely on him heavily in clutch situations.