With two more victories in Week 3 of the preseason, the Houston Rockets are looking sharp and ready for the regular season to begin.
Houston picked up a 100-95 win over the Dallas Mavericks on October 21 and then followed that up a few nights later with a 109-92 win against the San Antonio Spurs. The Rockets have scored at least 100 points in each game this preseason, and head coach Kevin McHale should be pleased with his players' performances early on this season.
Many players stepped up this week, and with the regular season looming, McHale should finally begin to trim down his roster and get into a regular rotation. His team isn't making that easy, though, as there have been several unexpected performers.
On the other hand, a few players have either been underperforming or buried on the depth chart. These guys have the potential to help the Rockets, but McHale has seldom played them during the preseason.
Here are the Houston Rockets' winners and losers for Week 3 of the preseason.
Omer Asik earns the title of "winner" for this week because he started both games alongside Dwight Howard. He only scored five points in 49 minutes of play, but he did bring down 15 rebounds—six of which were offensive.
The real story here isn't his production. The fact that he's back, healthy and in the starting lineup next to Howard is important to note. McHale will likely be experimenting with Asik in the lineup—at either power forward or center—throughout the early weeks of the season.
While his point totals weren't good this week, it's important to keep in mind that Howard did most of the work down low. Asik also isn't the most skilled offensive player near the basket, so the Rockets made the right choice in going to Howard when looking to score.
Asik played significant minutes this week and should be in good shape for the season opener.
Again, Greg Smith is a loser.
He averaged just 8.5 minutes to go along with three points and two rebounds per game this week. McHale has given him hardly any playing time at all, and his definitive role on the team remains to be seen.
The injury to Marcus Camby seemingly opened up a door or two for the young big man, but the coach is still using him sparingly off the bench. The emergence of Omri Casspi as a viable option at power forward seems to have also limited Smith's chances to get in games.
Casspi has been stellar, whereas Smith doesn't provide anything close to the offensive game of Casspi. The newcomer has even outrebounded Smith.
Smith's role on the team is in serious question. After playing decent minutes last season, he'll almost definitely see that number go way down.
Dwight Howard silenced his doubters this week by showing he can perform with Asik in the starting lineup. Howard not only performed well—he performed exceptionally well.
He averaged 29.5 minutes, 15 points, 16.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per contest. He even tallied three steals. If McHale can get those numbers from him on a nightly basis, then general manager Daryl Morey's massive investment in Howard will have been worth it.
By proving he can play alongside Asik, Howard has now shown that he can play with anybody on the team. He has clicked with James Harden, played pretty well with Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons and can now say he will produce next to Asik.
Perhaps the biggest winner in this situation is Houston, but Howard gets the nod as a winner here too. A little extra confidence never hurt anybody.
Ronnie Brewer, like Greg Smith, has hardly seen any playing time in the preseason. He played in just six minutes per game this week, and the sad reality is that McHale is severely underutilizing him.
Brewer plays great defense on the perimeter—in large part because of his great length—and is the ultimate competitor to have coming off the bench for 10-15 minutes per night. He doesn't provide much in the way of scoring, but Houston can sacrifice one roster spot on a guy who plays great defense.
McHale hasn't become a believer yet, but there is still time. It'll take a week or two into the regular season to iron out the full rotations, and a productive performance from Brewer in that time will open his coach's eyes.
At that point, maybe he'll finally receive the time he deserves. For now, he's a big-time loser, given how little he's seen the court.
James Harden has been a team leader, and he gets the nod as a winner because of the unselfish basketball he played this week. Rather than playing iso-ball like fans got so accustomed to last season, he has looked like a player willing to dish early on in the shot clock to set up plays for his teammates.
He recorded a team-high 11 assists and a team-high 22 points against the Spurs. While the assists mark will go down during the season, the potential to put up high marks in that category on a nightly basis exists.
With so many weapons around him, opposing defenses will have to pick their poison. All Harden needs to do is find the player being covered the softest and rely on the teammate to hit an open jumper. Or, in Howard's case, rely on him to power near the rim and convert the high-percentage shot.
Harden has shown his ability to play effectively with talent this preseason, and that should bring huge smiles to the faces of Rockets fans.
Reggie Williams played six minutes against the Mavericks and then didn't see the court against the Spurs. His role on the team is in question.
He is a health risk whenever he steps on the floor, but that doesn't mean McHale shouldn't put him on the court. He's skilled when healthy, and the Rockets could use his shooting from deep and hustle-style of play.
All he did in his six-minute stint against the Mavericks was turn the ball over once and record a personal foul. That's it. He was 0-of-1 from the field (his shot came from deep) and didn't post any other stat. He's playing with no confidence right now because of his lack of minutes, and it shows in his game.
McHale needs to find minutes for Williams. Houston has a ton of players vying for few spots at point guard, shooting guard and small forward, but when healthy, Williams has the talent to make an impact.
Given the fact that he hasn't been able to show it at all this preseason, he's a loser for Week 3.