The Houston Rockets have done well to start the year, and hopefully can finish strong in 2014.
As 2013 comes to a close, the Houston Rockets are amidst a crowded Western Conference near the top of the pack. The superstar duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard is off to a solid start to the season, while other role players are stepping up big as well.
It seems the only thing standing in the way of Houston and the playoffs is the injury bug. Harden, Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and others have been battling injuries all season long. When, or if, this team gets healthy we can then evaluate how far the Rockets can really go.
As we welcome in the New Year, let's take a look at the grades for each Houston role player from the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
All stats are acquired from ESPN unless otherwise cited, and are accurate as of December 30, 2013.
Omer Asik has been a huge disappointment this season for Houston.
2013 has been a wild ride for Turkish center Omer Asik. After a strong year with the Rockets in his first season as a starter, he has only played in about half of the team's games this season.
Immediately after the Rockets signed Dwight Howard, Asik requested a trade, and rumors have been swirling around the Houston locker room ever since. Asik is unhappy with his role coming off the bench behind Howard. Coach Kevin McHale tried putting the two big men together in the starting lineup, but the experiment failed miserably. General manager Daryl Morey held a bidding auction for his disgruntled big man, but to no avail.
To make matters worse, Asik has been dealing with a nagging knee injury for a while now. There is no set timetable for his return as he can't seem to shake it off and get back on the court.
In the minutes that Asik has played, he has put up less-than-impressive numbers. Hopefully he can get healthy and change his attitude. That way, the Rockets can have elite rim protection for 48 minutes every night.
Francisco Garcia has been less-than-impressive for the Rockets so far.
After a strong performance in last season's playoffs against Oklahoma City, the Rockets brought back Garcia for his three-point shooting and veteran leadership. However, though his presence in the locker room is still appreciated, Garcia has not been performing all that well on the court.
He is shooting just over 34 percent from deep, which isn't nearly good enough for a three-point specialist. He'll need to get that percentage up into the forties come playoff time. Additionally, his overall field-goal percentage is a miserable 38.9 percent.
Garcia is a shooter, and when the shots aren't falling, his game becomes dispensable for the Rockets. Houston should try and pick up another long-range shooter either through trade or via free agency because Garcia's inconsistency may come back to haunt them.
When shooters are struggling, the best thing they can do is keep shooting. In the meantime, however, Morey should look for a replacement that can connect from behind the arc on a more consistent basis.
After a hot start, Casspi has cooled off a little bit in Houston.
Fans weren't expecting much after Casspi signed a deal with Houston over the summer, but his explosive preseason surprised everyone. Casspi has become a key player in the Rockets' rotation and is heavily depended on for second-unit scoring.
Casspi rose to the challenge early on this season, averaging nearly 10 points a game in November. His numbers have since dropped, but we know he is capable of scoring in bunches.
His three-point percentage is decent for a big guy at 34.4 percent, and he is an agile slasher with finishing ability. Casspi's height and athleticism fit him right in as a stretch four next to Howard in the Rockets' offensive system.
Casspi's first few years in the league were disappointing, but he has revitalized his career in Houston. No one thought he would have an impact, but he has been one of the most reliable bench players for the Rockets all season long. His primary flaws are that he can be a bit erratic and make poor decisions at times, and his defense isn't all that great.
Aaron Brooks has filled in nicely for all of the injured guards on Houston's roster.
With injuries to James Harden, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley throughout the season, Brooks' name has been called on many times—and he has delivered.
At only six feet tall, Brooks is a speedy, slashing guard with a beautiful three-point stroke and an uncanny ability to finish at the rim. Brooks is connecting on 42.2 percent of his threes, by far the best on a team that shoots more threes than anyone else in the league.
The Rockets are awfully deep at the point guard position if a guy like Brooks is third on the depth chart. Brooks is a very capable point guard in the NBA and is better than a typical third-stringer, but the Rockets were smart to hold on to him because they've truly needed him this year.
Brooks is a fan favorite, leading back to his glory days back when Yao Ming used to play for Houston. Those days may be over now but his new role is still equally important.
The Rockets have been much better now that Terrence Jones is in the starting lineup.
Once Jones stepped in as the starting power, the Rockets took off—and so did Jones' numbers. He is averaging over 11 points a game in the starting lineup, along with 7.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.
Jones as the stretch four is a much better fit in the starting lineup compared to Asik. He is much more athletic and a better shooter, which creates much better spacing on offense. His three-point shooting could improve, currently at 32.0 percent, but he's gotten the job done. He also can attack the basket better than most 6'9" players.
His increased minutes in December have not resulted in better statistics, partly because Jones has cooled off since his hot start to the season. He's come back down to earth but is still doing a fine job as a starter.
Beverley will be missed with his fractured right hand keeping him on the sideline.
The Rockets will be without their starting point guard for about four to six weeks after Beverley fractured his shooting hand against the Detroit Pistons. The loss of Beverley is a tough one for the Rockets for many reasons:
Beverley is Houston's best perimeter defender. He has shut down talented opposing point guards all season long with his nagging, hustle defense.
At 33.3 percent, his three-point shooting hasn't been on par, but it's not really a weakness either. He's not an outstanding scorer but his motor and quickness help set him apart.
It's a good thing that the Rockets have capable backups in Jeremy Lin and Aaron Brooks while Beverley nurses his hand, because they have some difficult shoes to fill.
Jeremy Lin has played well this season, but can't seem to stay healthy.
After losing his starting job to begin the season, Lin has been a huge boost to the Rockets' offense off the bench. The only problem is he can't stay on the court.
Lin has missed a large chunk of games this year due to a knee injury and back spasms. He's had injury problems throughout his roller-coaster career and this season has been more of the same.
It's a shame because Lin's overall game really has improved. He may still turn the ball over too much, but his shooting has been drastically better than in years past. He's up to 38.0 percent from behind the arc and 47.0 percent shooting from the field.
In his first few games back, he has shown signs of greatness, including two huge fourth quarter comebacks against Memphis and New Orleans in which he led the charge. With Beverley out for a while, the Rockets need Lin to play at his best consistently.
Harden hasn't quite been the superstar that he was last year for the Rockets.
It's been a bit of a struggle for James Harden in the final months of 2013. After starting the calendar year by announcing himself to the world as a superstar and scoring machine, the Beard has not been 110 percent as of late.
Harden has been dealing with a nagging foot injury since training camp and recently sprained his ankle badly. He has been in and out of the lineup at times, and clearly the injuries have been slowing him down.
Except for turnover, his numbers are down across the board; although that was expected because he has surrendered some of his touches to Howard. The problem is consistency. Harden has had some monster games this season, but he also has had a handful of stinkers. When he struggles, it's hard for the Rockets to win games. But oddly enough, Houston is 4-2 in games with Harden sidelined.
We all know what Harden is capable of, but we haven't seen that player very often this season. Injuries are mostly at fault for that, so hopefully Harden can get back to himself with a lighter schedule in the near future.
Dwight Howard is starting to show glimpses of his old Orlando self.
Dwight Howard came to Houston for a fresh start, and it has been just that. After a solid November, Howard has been tearing it up in December, averaging 19.4 points, 14.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks a night.
We're starting to see Howard in MVP form, and the Rockets desperately need it. He has been able to take over games, and he is almost automatic down low without the double team. He is top five in field-goal percentage at 58.2 percent with his new and improved post game, thanks to the help of the legendary Hakeem Olajuwon.
Howard is finally at peace with himself, and it's starting to show on the court. His free-throw percentage has been so much better that teams no longer hack him down the stretch.
Dwight continues to improve as he acclimates himself to the Rockets' system and develops chemistry with his teammates. With all of the injury issues in Houston, Dwight has surprisingly not missed a single game.
With a more attractive schedule on the other side of New Year's Eve, Howard should continue to get better and keep dominating in the paint both offensively and defensively.
Chandler Parsons has been doing it all for the Rockets this year.
The class valedictorian of 2013 for the Houston Rockets goes to Chandler Parsons. Parsons is the ultimate stat stuffer, and perhaps the most significant part of the Rockets' system.
In the two games that Parsons missed with back spasms, the Rockets lost two winnable games to Utah and Phoenix. These two games were also some of the worst offensive performances for a team who puts up some of the most points around the league. This is not a coincidence.
The Rockets need Parsons in the lineup to get the ideal spacing to create an offensive flow. His combined 39.4 three-point percentage and terrific slashing ability are a nightmare for opposing defenses. He can shoot, pass and run the pick-and-roll. He can do it all.
Parsons is still on his rookie contract, making less than a million dollars per year. Ultimately, Houston will have to sign him long-term, and for much more. General manager Daryl Morey cannot let a talent like Parsons walk away. Not only are his stats great, but he is the glue guy that keeps the team operating.
It's a rare occasion when a second round draft pick becomes so vital to a franchise. Nevertheless, Morey needs to lock this guy up and keep him in Houston for good.