Initial Report Card Grades for Every Houston Rockets Player
The Houston Rockets have proved early on that they are just as good as advertised. After three games, the team is undefeated and seemed to have handled the pressure of being the NBA's newest "it" team nicely.
The biggest difference from last year to this year can be found on the defensive end. They are sixth in points allowed, giving up an average of 93.7 a night. They also lead the league in turnover margin with a -plus-7.7. The team's 5.7 blocks per game puts them in a five-way tie for 10th in the NBA.
Granted, it's still very early in the season and all of these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, but Houston has looked like a complete team. They also showed amazing resilience in coming back from a 19-point deficit to steal a win from Utah on Nov. 2.
With the first week of the 2013-14 season almost in the books, let's take a look at the initial grades for every member of the 3-0 Rockets.
Due to a limited amount of playing time, some players had too small of a sample size to register a fair grade. Here are a handful of Rockets that ended up with an "Incomplete" for the first week of the season.
PG Patrick Beverley
Patrick Beverley seemed to have finally seized the point guard job away from Jeremy Lin as coach Kevin McHale opted to give the Arkansas product the starting nod for the season opener against Charlotte.
Unfortunately, Beverley was injured in the second quarter and could miss 10-14 days with a torn muscle in his midsection, per Rockets.com's Jason Friedman. With the recent play of Lin, Beverley faces an uphill battle to get his job back once he's healthy.
PF Donatas Motiejunas
Once considered a promising prospect from overseas, D-Mo seems to be lost in a crowded frontcourt. With Dwight Howard and Omer Asik dominating most of the minutes, Motiejunas has had to fight Terrence Jones and Greg Smith for the remaining minutes.
So far, he's made one appearance which lasted all of four minutes. To his credit, the Euro sensation managed to notch one point, one rebound and one assist in his minimal playing time.
PF Greg Smith
Like Motiejunas, Smith is a victim of being on a team filled with talented big men. Once considered the chief backup at center, he hasn't been able to fare much better than D-Mo when it comes to playing time.
He's also managed just one four-minute appearance this season and didn't register much of a blip on the stat sheet. In his defense, Smith battled a hip injury all through the preseason and may not be at 100 percent.
SF Ronnie Brewer
One of a slew of low-key free-agent acquisitions Houston made this summer, Ronnie Brewer's contributions to the team so far have come from the end of the bench. His seven minutes per game seems like a lifetime compared to the other members of this list, but he didn't do much to earn an increase.
PF Terrence Jones
Terrence Jones spent the summer working on his outside shooting in an attempt to earn some playing time as the perfect complement to Dwight Howard.
Instead, the former Kentucky Wildcat was hindered by a shoulder injury throughout training camp and has seen Omer Asik assume the role of D12's sidekick. Jones has registered just enough playing time to be worthy of a grade, but he hasn't done much when he's on the floor.
He's averaging 3.5 points on just over five minutes per game. He's attempted just two shots all season and has converted half of them. On defense, he seems a bit lost when guarding opposing 4s.
It's too early to close the book on Jones making an impact this season. He's an athletic big with a sneaky jumper that can also get his hands on a few shots. Once his shoulder heals fully, he should be ready to live up to his vast potential.
PG Aaron Brooks
With Patrick Beverley sidelined, Aaron Brooks has been moved up to fill the void as Jeremy Lin's backup. The diminutive Brooks is averaging 18.3 minutes a night through three games this season.
When he's on the court, he's lived up to his reputation for being an offensive spark plug. He shot 3-of-8 from the field (including 2-for-5 from behind the arc) against Dallas on Nov. 1, finishing with 13 points in 23 minutes.
Brooks will almost certainly see his role reduced back to emergency point guard status once Beverley returns. For now though, he's a proven veteran and a capable backup floor general that provides scoring for a team that could always use some scoring off the bench.
SG Francisco Garcia
An accomplished scorer with an outstanding shooting touch, Francisco Garcia has been a valuable asset on Houston's second unit. He's averaging 13 points in 27 minutes per contest in three games this season. He made an immediate impact by scoring 19 points in the season opener against Charlotte.
Garcia has lived up to his reputation as a deadly marksman from behind the arc. He's hoisting up a little over six three-point attempts a night and converting 50 percent of them. He even flashed some defensive prowess by blocking three shots in a win over Dallas.
Garcia has been the brightest spot on a solid bench so far. With his ability to light it up from outside, he can keep the offensive momentum going when guys like Chandler Parsons and James Harden need a breather.
SF Omri Casspi
After doing enough in the preseason (roughly 13 points per game on 55 percent shooting) to factor into the Rockets' power forward equation, Omri Casspi has been slowed by a sprained left ankle. The injury kept him out of the team's 104-93 comeback win over the Utah Jazz on Nov. 2.
When healthy, he should see some minutes at various positions. After playing small forward for most of his career, Casspi will more than likely assume Carlos Delfino's old role as a small-ball power forward. The Pride of Israel's ability to light it up from the outside will give Dwight Howard and/or Omer Asik some space down low.
Besides the ankle issue, the only other concern is whether Casspi can guard NBA power forwards. Stronger forwards will be able to muscle him around while quicker guys shouldn't have much trouble getting by him.
At the very least, Casspi's best effort on D might be to funnel his man into Howard or Asik so they can contest the shot. Right now, the Rockets just need him to be healthy so that he can add another dimension to this loaded offense.
PG Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin doesn't just deserve credit for his stellar play early in the season. He should also get a tip of the cap for the class he's shown in handling the timeshare at point guard between him and Patrick Beverley.
After Beverley got the starting nod on opening day, Lin didn't sulk or let the slight affect his performance. Instead, he waited patiently for his time to come. As it has his entire career, fate intervened and opened the door for Lin to reemerge in the form of an injury to Beverley.
Lin's 16.7 points per game puts him second only to James Harden on the list of Houston's top scorers. He's also shooting 55 percent from the field and knocking down 40 percent of his attempts from behind the arc. He's also improved defensively and has come up with the occasional steal.
Linsanity isn't without his flaws though. He's notched 11 turnovers in three games and, for a guy known for his ability to make plays, is averaging just 3.3 assists per game. These are areas that need to improve going forward.
After battling with Beverley all summer to retain his starting job, the gig is now Lin's to lose. With Beverley out for nearly two weeks with a chest injury and Lin playing at a high level, it would take an epic collapse to put the Harvard product back on the bench.
C Omer Asik
Like Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik deserves kudos for the professionalism he has shown in what has to be a frustrating situation. Coming off a career year in his first season in Houston, Asik has seen all the attention as the Rockets' star big man go to new addition Dwight Howard.
The Rockets' game plan all along was to play their two prized centers together to form a stone wall in the paint and get an upper hand on the glass. An injury to Asik early on prevented the duo from being as cohesive as the team would like. It wasn't until midway into the preseason that the two managed to start together.
Now, due to injuries and the ineffectiveness of others, Asik and Howard start together out of necessity. The results so far have been excellent. The two have dominated the boards and opposing teams seem to really struggle to score in the paint when the duo are on the court together.
Asik hasn't done much on the offensive end, averaging just 4.7 points per game. However, he has owned the glass to the tune of 11.7 rebounds a night. As he and Howard develop chemistry, the tandem will only become stronger.
For now, the Turkish tower deserves his credit for not becoming a distraction and letting his fine play do the talking.
SF Chandler Parsons
Chandler Parsons started off slow in the first two games on the season. He missed all of his three-point attempts and managed just 19 combined points in both games.
In the team's most recent game against Utah, however, Parsons showed why he is such a dangerous third option. He finally found his shooting touch and nailed two of his four attempts from behind the arc. He finished the game with a team-high 24 points.
That doesn't tell the whole story though. Parsons also grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out six assists. He also blocked a shot for good measure. Hopefully, this is a sign that the Florida product is back on track.
Parsons will need to shoot better from behind the arc. Right now, he's converting just under 17 percent of his attempts from the three-point line. With Dwight Howard and James Harden drawing most of the defensive attention, Parsons will get a ton of chances to make opponents pay.
Even with the slow shooting start, Parsons is averaging 14.3 points per game and shooting 45.5 percent from the field. He's also bringing down eight rebounds per game. Those numbers will only improve as he becomes more comfortable in his new role as the third wheel.
C Dwight Howard
To paraphrase Denny Green, Dwight Howard has been what we thought he was.
He's currently averaging a double-double with 15 points and a league-leading 17 rebounds per game. He's also doing his part on the defensive end with a contribution of 1.7 blocks per contest. Howard hasn't been the offensive machine he was during his Orlando days, but he's been a solid option down low.
Howard's scoring should increase as he develops better chemistry with his new teammates and gets adjusted to the team's scheme. One thing that will improve his output is increased effectiveness at the free-throw line.
D12 made the Utah Jazz pay for constantly fouling him by going 7-for-10 from the charity stripe in a comeback win on Nov. 2. If he can become a better shooter at the line, teams will have to come up with a new plan for stopping him in the paint.
Another important factor in how Howard has played so far has been health. He's looked happier and healthier than in previous seasons. His pairing with Omer Asik will give Houston a nightly advantage on the boards (at one point this season, Howard and Asik held the top two spots in rebounds per game) and will make life miserable for opposing offenses in the paint.
It will take some time before we see the Howard of old, but this newer version seems to be doing just fine.
SG James Harden
Warn the town. "The Beard" is loose.
James Harden has picked up right where he left off last season. He's the league's fourth-leading scorer with 26 points per game and continues to find ways to get to the free-throw line. His 25 free-throw attempts is one behind Dwight Howard for the team lead and is good for eighth among all NBA players.
The biggest change in Harden's game has been on defense. He spent the summer working on his conditioning so that he can become a more complete guard. It has really showed this season. He's averaging nearly 2.7 steals per game, which is tied for sixth-best in the league.
Harden is also shooting 52 percent from the field, including 35 percent from three-point range and 84 percent from the free-throw line. He's also the team's leading assist man with an average of 4.3 dimes a night.
The lone knock on Harden's impressive start has been carelessness with the basketball. Only four players (Stephen Curry, Derrick Rose, Josh Smith, Eric Bledsoe) are averaging worse than Harden's 4.7 turnovers a game.
After leading the league in turnovers last season, this is an area that Harden must get under control. With as much as he dominates the basketball, he needs to be smarter with his decisions. Other than that, he has been a fringe MVP contender.
He has carried the team on the offensive end and is making his case as the league's best all-around 2-guard with his play on the defensive end.