As usual, there have been a handful of pleasant surprises on GM Daryl Morey's roster for the Houston Rockets.
Morey is the best in the business at carefully crafting his roster to find talent at the best value possible based on efficiency, and this year it's definitely paying off. The Rockets have several players who were once overlooked and are now playing in significant roles. Houston has thrived on finding certain pieces and adding them to a new system that better utilizes their talents.
Players like Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley were all neglected. Now, they are all key contributors to the Rockets' cause. Other players like Dwight Howard and Aaron Brooks have returned to their old selves. Plenty of Rockets have improved this season, and they will hopefully continue to improve as Houston prepares for a deep playoff run.
This season, Chandler Parsons has become a household name right before our very eyes. The athletic swingman is having a career season, and he has become perhaps the most valuable player on Houston's roster.
Still on his inexpensive rookie contract, Parsons is making less than a million dollars a year, which is not even close to his actual value. Without him, the Rockets' offense looks lost. His 38.2 three-point percentage and slashing ability create nightmare matchups for opposing defenses. He creates a flow to an offense that puts up the third-most points per game in the NBA.
Parsons is posting career numbers across the board, averaging 17.2 points, 5.8 boards and 3.6 assists per game. He has come a long way since getting drafted 38th overall by Houston in the 2011 draft, and the scary part is he hasn't reached his ceiling yet.
After not playing much his rookie season, Terrence Jones has started for the majority of this season for the Rockets. Houston gave up on the Dwight Howard-Omer Asik pairing in favor of Jones, and the Rockets have been soaring ever since.
Jones is a great stretch 4 alongside Howard. He can help space the floor with his decent outside jumper and great athleticism to get to the rim. He is also electrifying on the defensive end, averaging a block-and-a-half per game.
He averages 12.9 points and 8.5 boards when he's in the starting lineup. He's been on a recent scoring tear as well, scoring double digits in six of his last seven games, including an explosive 36-point night versus the Milwaukee Bucks.
The 22-year-old sophomore gets better with each game and will be a significant player for Houston for a long time.
Casspi has been the most pleasant surprise of all this season for the Rockets. No one thought much about the signing over the summer, but the NBA's first Israeli has exceeded expectations and is now one of the Rockets' most reliable bench players.
Averaging 8.3 points and 3.9 rebounds a night, Casspi is having one of the best seasons of his career with Houston.
After a solid rookie season in Sacramento, Casspi slipped into obscurity for the next three seasons with the Kings and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He has found a home in Houston in the run-and-gun style offense as a stretch 4.
Drafted in 2009 out of Arkansas, Beverley never got his shot in the NBA until the Rockets picked him up during the middle of last season. He spent a few years playing overseas until Morey finally gave him a chance back in the states, and Beverley took advantage of the opportunity.
Beverley was a reliable backup last season and earned his way into the starting lineup this year. He missed some time with a busted hand, but he has still put up career numbers in his second year in the league.
Bev is averaging 9.8 points and 3.9 rebounds a night, but his best attributes don't appear on the stat sheet. His all-out hustle and lockdown defense on opposing point guards is crucial for the Rockets, who typically don't play much perimeter defense. Beverley has become a formidable point guard in the NBA after Houston gave him a chance.
A couple seasons removed from Linsanity, Jeremy Lin has really developed his game and fits in nicely with his new role off the bench for the Rockets.
His numbers haven't greatly improved, but his efficiency is drastically better. His 46.1 field-goal percentage and 34.5 three-point percentage this season are career bests as he continues to shoot the ball better than ever.
Lin took over for Beverley in the starting five while he nursed his fractured hand, but now that Bev is back, Lin can go back to providing the spark in the second unit like he has all season long.
Brooks is a special case. He has seen better days, back when he used to start for the Rockets a few years ago alongside Yao Ming. Morey knew AB was a reliable point guard, so he jumped at the chance to sign him after he was waived by Sacramento last season.
Even though he has not seen the floor a whole lot this year, Brooks has proven that he can be trusted when the Rockets need him to step up. With injuries to Beverley, Jeremy Lin and James Harden this year, Brooks has had to deliver in many games this season, and he has done just that.
He is shooting a fantastic 40.7 percent from deep, by far the best on the Rockets' roster full of shooters. His three-point shot and quickness off the bench have been a big boost for Houston all season long, and he has returned to a level of respectability in the NBA after a couple of seasons of irrelevance.
This one is also a bit of a stretch, but it makes sense.
After a nightmarish year in Los Angeles with Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, Dwight is finally starting to play like himself again in a much more positive Houston atmosphere. His 18.3 points and 12.6 rebounds per game are among the league's best for big men, and his defense down low has been as good as ever.
Howard had a bit of a rocky start to the season, but he has found his groove and is playing at an All-Star level once again. His play has been somewhat reminiscent of the glory days in Orlando, and hopefully he will be able to lead the Rockets to the finals just like he did with the Magic in 2009.
All stats are from ESPN unless otherwise cited and are accurate as of January 23.