What to Watch for in Houston Rockets Training Camp

Jake Lapin@lapin_62094Correspondent ISeptember 30, 2013

Will Jeremy Lin discover his role this season with the Houston Rockets?
Will Jeremy Lin discover his role this season with the Houston Rockets?Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Training camp is underway in Houston, and there are a lot of developing stories to keep an eye on as the Rockets prepare for the upcoming season.

The Rockets will be playing a few games overseas this preseason against the Indiana Pacers in the Philippines and Taiwan. The teams going abroad have a head start to their season, and are already off and running.

With new additions left and right, including superstar center Dwight Howard, there are all sorts of questions and concerns floating around the locker room. People believe that the Rockets are legitimate contenders this season, but there is still a lot left to be figured out.

Will Dwight and Omer Asik get along? What will Jeremy Lin's role be with this team? Which new guys will make the cut and which ones will just miss out?

Here's what Rockets fans everywhere should watch for as training camp continues.

The Centerpieces

Will Asik and Howard be able to play together?
Will Asik and Howard be able to play together?Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

First things first, Houston fans welcome Dwight Howard. Howard is arguably the best center on the planet. After winning the Dwight sweepstakes over the summer, Howard and Harden create one of the best superstar duos in the league.

Howard was unquestionably a terrific pickup for Houston, but the center position was not the biggest need for the Rockets heading into the offseason.

Omer Asik, the previous starting center, had a solid season last year, averaging 10.1 points and 11.7 rebounds per game. Asik was reportedly upset by the Howard signing, understandably not wanting to return to his days in Chicago on the bench behind Joakim Noah.

At media day, as reported by Matt Moore at CBS Sports, Asik refused to comment on his trade request, stating, "I'm a basketball player. I'll do what the coaches ask me."

For now, the situation seems fairly harmless, but you never know if things might change. It's still possible that Asik could be with another team by the trade deadline in February. The Rockets coaching staff has the tough assignment of figuring out the best way to utilize each player while also keeping them happy.

GM Daryl Morey has brought up the possibility of moving Howard to power forward and playing the big men together. This lineup raises a lot of tactical questions, which is why the Rockets will have to experiment with it in camp.

Linsanity Part Two?

Lin needs to improve his three-point shot if he wants to play alongside James Harden.
Lin needs to improve his three-point shot if he wants to play alongside James Harden.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After an incredible and brief run with the Knicks, Lin had an average season with the Rockets last year, posting 13.4 points and 6.1 assists per game.

His past two seasons have been very different, but they do have one glaring similarity: He was a no-show in the playoffs.

After missing the Knicks playoff run two seasons ago with a knee problem, Lin struggled mightily this past year in Houston, suffering from a chest injury. Lin missed two of the games against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and only averaged four points and two assists in the other four games.

Fans were not thrilled with Lin's playoff performance, but now it's a new year with new players and new hope. The Rockets were not expected to beat the one-seeded Thunder, but this season—with Dwight Howard—Houston has championship aspirations.

With Harden and Howard now running the show, Lin has a unique opportunity. Now that he is out of the spotlight, Lin can focus on improving his all-around game.

According to Jason Friedman over at Rockets.com, Lin has been working hard all summer long at perfecting his skills, especially the three-pointer. Lin, who is used to being a primary ball-handler, had to take the backseat to Harden who got the majority of Houston's touches running the pick-and-roll.

Lin is better with the ball in his hands, and he is not a very good spot-up shooter from deep. Lin, only a 33.2 percent three-point shooter for his career, must improve his long-range shot if he wants to be in the game during crunch time.

The Rockets launched a league-high 28.9 threes a game last year. If Harden remains the primary ball-handler, which he most likely will, then Lin will have to be able to consistently hit the spot-up threes.

Another option would be to have Lin play the majority of his minutes with the second unit. Whether he starts or not, Lin could play with Omer Asik and the rest of the second stringers and let Patrick Beverley, a better defender and off-ball player, play alongside Harden in the first unit.

This way, Lin gets to run the pick-and-roll with a formidable center like he used to back in New York. With Lin getting all of the touches while Harden is on the bench, he will be much more efficient for the Rockets. During camp, Coach Kevin McHale will have to figure out the ideal rotation to best utilize Lin's, and everyone else's, talents.

Power Forward Slot Up for Grabs

Can Terrence Jones snag the starting power forward spot?
Can Terrence Jones snag the starting power forward spot?Fernando Medina/Getty Images

In the Rockets starting lineup, all five spots are set except for power forward. There isn't a guy who stands out among the rest coming into training camp.

There are three options: Greg Smith, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas. Each of these guys has a legitimate case to be the starter, but only one of them can win the job in camp.

Of the three of them, Motiejunas had the most starts at the 4 last year. In those games, D-Mo averaged 9.3 points and 3.4 rebounds, but he got bullied around on the defensive end.

Greg Smith finished the regular season as the starter, taking over for Motiejunas. Smith put up 8.8 points and 5.6 boards in his 10 starts, fitting nicely alongside Omer Asik.

Last, but not least, Terrence Jones has a chance to win the starting job. Last year during his rookie season, Jones got off to a slow start but finished strong. After the All-Star break, Jones averaged 8.8 points and 5.9 rebounds. He also had a great showing during the NBA summer league in Orlando.

Coach McHale will have to pick a starter before the season starts. Any one of these three guys can win the job, and training camp is where each will plead his case.

The Roster Bubble

With a large handful of offseason acquisitions, the Rockets roster is very deep, perhaps too deep. At training camp, the Rockets have 19 players under contract. Only 12 players can make the team once the regular season begins.

There are some guys who will clearly make the team, and others who most likely will not. However, there are a few guys who will have to compete in camp to earn a spot on the team because they are right on the bubble.

New guys, like Reggie Williams and Omri Casspi, will have to prove their worth in camp to get minutes on the court. Other players, like Aaron Brooks and Marcus Camby, should be worried about getting a spot on the team. Some of the young guns, like Isaiah Canaan and Robert Covington, will end up in the D-League and have to patiently await their turn.

It is unclear who will make the 12-man roster once the season begins, but training camp and preseason will give us a better idea of which players deserve a spot.


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