There are a lot of questions to be answered with the Houston Rockets’ 2013-2014 roster, but one thing is already clear: They’re not lacking for talent.
Questions about whether James Harden or Dwight Howard is their “main man” are questions most teams yearn to have. And their glut of differently skilled big men—Howard, Omer Asik and the up-and-coming Donatas Motiejunas—is almost as enviable.
They've got confusion at point guard, too. How will Jeremy Lin perform in his second full season? Was Patrick Beverly’s 2013 playoff brilliance a fluke? What to do with Aaron Brooks, still a talented scorer in this league?
Let’s do a good old fashioned power ranking of what the Rockets have and break down these—and other—questions.
#16, #15 – Isaiah Canaan, Robert Covington
Neither Canaan (a former Murray State standout) nor Covington (a power forward fresh out of Tennessee State) have played a regular season NBA game before. That’s not going to change this season, unless the Rockets lose quite a few bodies to injuries, and either of these camp invites get called up for a prized opportunity.
#14 – Reggie Williams
Williams is an overlooked NBA scorer who might crack the rotation later on, if Ronnie Brewer isn't playing too well. He's done good work in basketball hell; with the Bobcats, most recently, and with a dismal Warriors club previously. His downside, on this team, is that scorers are not in short supply.
#13 – Greg Smith
Greg Smith, simply put, is a serviceable reserve big on a team that doesn't much need one. His value to the team will be mostly as a body to take up minutes during the dog days of the season, so to preserve Dwight Howard and Omer Asik for more crucial stretches.
#12 – Donatas Motiejunas
Motiejunas is a tantalizing talent. But like fellow second-year Terrence Jones, he's unlikely to find the real game time in which to develop his unique skill set. Some believe GM Daryl Morey is high on D-Mo, though, and that he's looking to shape him, long-term, into a shooter; a “stretch” 7-footer.
#11 – Terrence Jones
Jones had a very promising rookie season—boasting a shockingly high 17.11 player efficiency rating, for a 21-year-old—but will a developing player like him be able to find the minutes on a team that’s trying to win a title right now? This seems unlikely. What's more probable is that his tremendous upside could be used as golden bait in a midseason trade, if the Rockets come to that point.
In his first stint with the Rockets, Aaron Brooks once averaged 19.6 points per game.
Brooks will probably never return to such productivity, as his run in China during the 2011 Lockout cost him a lot of NBA attention, and he hasn't been able to regain substantial minutes in the league since. It hasn't helped him much that there's been an unprecedented renaissance at the point guard position, either.
But if the right amount of experimentation, injury problems or both occur, Brooks might still be able to prove himself as a potent weapon.
Brooks might also be valuable to another team—one without two quality point guards in front of him—and could be used as an asset in a midseason trade, if the Rockets make one.
If Omri Casspi’s preseason performance is any indication, the first ever Israeli player in the NBA has re-landed.
Casspi averaged just 4.0 points per game in his last season with Cleveland, but with Houston he seems to have rediscovered some of the touch he had in his rookie season with Sacramento, where he averaged 10.3 per game, on 45% shooting.
Casspi has scored 20 and 17 points in the Rockets’ two exhibition games with his stellar shooting.
Most importantly? He might be the only traditional power forward on the roster and could see significant time in that role, if the offensive spacing is called for. Casspi could be a difference-maker for the Rockets as they try to execute more half-court sets this year.
An instrumental wingman for two seasons in Chicago, Ronnie Brewer has since found himself near the verge of NBA existence.
But he’s a much greater fit as a late off-season pickup for Houston than he was for either New York or the Thunder—both teams mis-utilized his talents.
Brewer’s perimeter offense is shaky, but he is deft with the ball on the baselines and is an elite defender at multiple positions. He’s also terrific at all things in transition—a mode the Rockets executed as well as anyone except for the Heat and Nuggets, last season.
More than anything, Brewer will be called upon to defend the likes of Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, Jamal Crawford and the rest of the West’s scariest offensive players. No one on this Houston roster is better fit for such tasks.
Patrick Beverley wasn't even in the NBA for much of last season. Then he took us all by storm in the playoffs.
Starting in place of the injured Jeremy Lin, Beverley was a tenacious presence who looked like anything but a guy who’d played only 41 NBA games before. He played the role of mental assassin, getting into OKC’s head with ease, as if he’d been through several postseasons already.
Whether Beverley can develop further in his first full NBA season is a big question mark for the 25-year-old. Certain fans proclaimed that he was a better fit at point guard for the Rockets than Lin is, but it will take a lot more proof to see if that’s the case.
The thing Beverley—like most of the rest of the league’s bench players—can do to most improve his value to Houston? Increase his shooting from beyond the arc. Shooters are more important than ever to NBA basketball. This could be especially true for the Rockets, who are probably going to instill offensive sets that hearken to Dwight Howard’s very best inside-out days in Orlando.
The Rockets’ bench is loaded with talent, but none of its members have more clear value to the team’s mission than Garcia does.
Marginalized with the floundering Kings for years, Garcia exploded for Houston in the 2013 playoffs, shooting .459 from beyond the arc. He gave the Thunder fits.
If Garcia can keep anywhere near as hot of a hand, this season, he’ll easily qualify as the best shooter off of the Rockets’ bench.
Garcia may not be the best all-around player among Houston's reserves. But he’s a veteran who’s aware of his role, and he's very good at it. He’s exactly the kind of player Houston needs to win postseason games.
Omer Asik is a hugely valuable NBA player—it just remains to be seen if he’ll continue to be of value to these Rockets.
As soon as Houston made media splashes in signing Dwight Howard, Asik requested a trade. He didn't get one then, but he may get one later.
The Turkish center is one of the more effective defenders in the league, but is he as good at what he does as Howard? No. And the role the two play is almost entirely similar.
If Asik manages to be as essential to the squad as he was last season, it will be because he learns to play differently.
The Howard-Asik simultaneous tandem is terrifying in theory. But in reality? It’s more likely to be a spacing mess, and one that can only be solved by bringing a truer power forward into lineups featuring Howard.
Either Asik is traded, or Houston pulls off a startling basketball miracle. If they can make two natural centers work together, and make traditional position distinctions all the fuzzier for it, then Asik is of enormous importance to them.
Jeremy Lin’s role in Houston is perhaps the most enigmatic of anyone’s on the roster.
The one-time cultural sensation is still a brilliant slasher, and hot-handed shooter, at times. He can still be one of the most exciting players in all of basketball; sometimes.
Lin’s 2012-2013 campaign saw a slew of growing pains and injury problems, and many are wondering what the point guard’s current NBA value is.
Just how important Lin is to the team hinges primarily on how they’re able to integrate his abilities, and how capable he is of adapting to a new role. Jeremy Lin is, by nature, a point guard, but Houston plays most of its offensive sets with the ball in James Harden’s hands—and for good reason.
The more Lin can learn to score and distribute without being the central ball-handler, the more useful he’ll be to the Rockets. His preseason showings have showed that he’s at least aware of this needed transformation. Now we’ll see if he’s up to the challenge.
It’s been said that Chandler Parsons has the most favorable contract in all of the NBA.
He’s a 49% shooter with deep range and the ability to slash, making less than $1 million dollars this season and the next. In other words, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
Parsons was Houston’s secondary perimeter option last season, and that’s likely to remain true in 2013-2014. The Rockets couldn't be happier with him.
Perhaps most impressive, though, was Parsons’ inspired play against the Thunder in the 2013 playoffs. His per-game scoring bumped from 15.5 to 18.2. His three-point average actually improved with more takes and more pressure, too; from .385 to .400.
Such shooting will be crucial for the team as it looks to hunker down into more half-court sets, which will require more traditional spacing.
It’s bad enough having to guard James Harden. But when the defense has to respect Parsons’ versatility, too? That’s deadly.
As good as Houston's offense was last year, their defense was almost as bad. The Rockets gave up 102.5 points per game, making them third worst in the league in that category.
Enter Dwight Howard, the unquestioned top lane-stopper in the league, for at least half of his career.
Howard’s got a lot of doubts to quash in his time with the Rockets, but if he’s anything close to what he can be, he’ll be an irreplaceable linchpin on a legitimate title contender. He’ll be the difference between a league-worst defense and what could be—at least on certain plays—an impenetrable front.
Howard’s value in Houston is a sure thing, but whether he can be the most important player on the team depends much on how the team alters its system, this year. The 2012-2013 version of the Rockets ran the ball every chance they got, inherently devaluing their defensive play.
But if the Rockets develop a more half-court-oriented approach—a likely development, as such a style is essentially mandatory for postseason success—then Howard’s presence will be a major factor not just for his team, but for the whole league. He’ll be one of the largest, most looming totems in the championship picture.
By midseason, the issue of who the NBA considers Houston’s “go-to guy” might be a bit of a toss-up.
But for now, this is still James Harden’s team. When the Rockets returned to basketball prominence last season, it was largely on the back of Harden’s breakout season. He made the All-Star team, becoming a near MVP candidate and one of the league’s undisputed best scorers.
He also carried over a lot of the savvy and swagger he had accumulated in Oklahoma City, granting an almost immediate seriousness to a stumbling Houston franchise, which hadn't made the playoffs in three years. Before Harden arrived, the direction of the franchise was gloomy, perhaps even in peril. The Beard changed all of that.
And when tight games get down to the wire, is there really any doubt whose hands Houston fans will want the ball in? Harden’s unflappable cool and unmatched creativity in the lane were the engine of Houston’s thriving offense (second in the league in points per game, at 106.0).
Until there’s on-the-court proof that Dwight Howard, or anyone else, is more valuable to this team, the top ranking goes to Harden.