The Rockets are both blessed and cursed with a bit of superfluous talent at a few positions.
Possessing one of the NBA's more talented rosters, the Houston Rockets have proven to be among the Western Conference's top forces. They stand at 29-15, good for the fifth-best record in the West and the seventh-best record in the entire league.
They are a fast-paced, high-scoring unit with arguably two of the league's top five players. But with the development of this season's group, some of last year's difference makers could be better off elsewhere.
There are still a few areas for Houston to improve on, and revamping in these areas would be ideal.
The Rockets should be formidable as they are, but a few impact moves by the Feb. 20 deadline could shore up the team's weaknesses in time for the postseason.
Let's take a stroll through the Rockets' backcourt depth.
For all of James Harden's outstanding qualities, he's never been known to lay the clamps on an opponent. According to Synergy (subscription required), he's allowed 55 percent shooting in isolation and 63 percent on threes, equating to 1.15 points per isolation play allowed as a defender. This ranks 189th in the league among qualified players.
Jeremy Lin has developed into a reliable starting point guard, and is improving on the defensive end. But Synergy has him down as the 90th-ranked pick-and-roll defender and 143rd-ranked spot-up defender—his two most frequently guarded plays.
Patrick Beverley has quickly made a name for himself as one of the league's better defensive, young options at the 1. He has averaged 1.3 steals over just 31.5 minutes this season, and the team's defensive efficiency balloons by about five points per 100 possessions with him off the floor (according to NBA.com). However, the 25-year-old is only 6'1" and 180 pounds, and simply can't be trusted to check bigger guards.
According to NBA.com, Houston's defense is six points per 100 possessions worse with reserve Aaron Brooks on the court. His Synergy numbers support this claim, having him allowing 0.93 points per play on the season.
If there's any area where the Rockets sorely lack, it's backcourt defending. Beverley has success while manning up against fellow point men, but Harden isn't a good—or interested—enough defender to keep bigger shooting guards in check.
If Daryl Morey is set on moving Omer Asik or Jeremy Lin during the season, obtaining an able-bodied combo guard/swingman that can defend multiple positions should be at the top of his priority list.
New York has a need at both the center and point guard spots, though it's unlikely James Dolan would welcome Lin back with open arms.
By now, it's no secret: Spacing is the key to successful NBA offenses in 2014. This is especially true with a backcourt like the Rockets', filled with penetrating guards that thrive when driving into the painted area.
Houston soon learned this was the case after the brief dual-center experiment to start the year. Omer Asik and Dwight Howard's fits in the system were clumsy at best, and the team has flourished with Asik mainly out of the picture.
Terrence Jones has emerged as the starting power forward. The 22-year-old has averaged almost 12 points and eight rebounds this season while posting a PER around 19. While his slot in the rotation is solidified, he doesn't do a ton to space the floor—more so than Asik did, but still not ideal in terms of spacing. Jones attempts only 1.5 threes per contest, and makes only 28 percent.
The 6'9", 250-pound forward has put up 266 of his 363 shot attempts from inside eight feet, according to NBA.com.
Chandler Parsons is an in-house candidate to run some minutes at the 4 and stretch the defense, but Kevin McHale has gone this route for only nine percent of the team's total minutes, according to 82games.com.
McHale has used Omri Casspi in this role, and he's shooting 36 percent from three on the season. However, according to 82games, they are giving up a bit on the defensive end when running these lineups. Casspi is allowing opposing power forwards to post a 17.5 PER, and 11.4 boards per 48 minutes to his 8.6.
As a team, the Rockets rank 24th in three-point shooting at .344.
Attempting to bring in a big body that can hit from distance should be another point of emphasis for Houston over the next month.
Placing a call to the Portland Trail Blazers regarding Dorell Wright, who has fallen down the team's depth chart, could be intriguing for both sides. Wright is a career 36-percent shooter from three, and the Rockets could send Ronnie Brewer over as a reinforcement to aid the Blazers' 23rd-ranked defense. Wright has held his opponents in check at a slightly better rate than Casspi has this year, per 82games.
Morey could also place a call to the San Antonio Spurs to inquire about Matt Bonner, who is playing on an expiring deal. The 10-year vet is a career 42-percent shooter from downtown, and holding power forwards to a PER below league average.
Houston could offer a combination of Casspi, Brewer, and/or Francisco Garcia to pique the Spurs' interests. With both Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard out for the near future, San Antonio should be looking for help on the wings.
Daryl Morey had a far different outlook for his club when he lured Jeremy Lin away from the New York Knicks in the summer of 2012. The Rockets were a team purportedly on the rise, but lacked an identity.
Without Lin, the roster as it stood would have the team headed straight for the lottery. With Lin, it wouldn't quite be a playoff squad, but at least Morey would have a sparkling name to headline his developing cast, knowing that bigger things were further along the road.
As it turned out, bigger things were just a few months away. Houston acquired its true star in James Harden just days before the 2012-13 season began. The Linsanity Tour's Houston leg came to a close—the point guard was merely the opening act.
Lin was forced to adjust to the new role of complimentary piece, adjusting to playing mostly off the ball with the offense running through Harden. And he did so admirably, playing in all 82 games and improving his field-goal and three-point clips from the previous season.
But by the end of the season, yet another plot twist was thrown into Houston's backcourt when 24-year-old rookie Patrick Beverley, signed in January 2013, emerged as a legitimate rotation option at the point, and one that could eventually complement Harden better in the starting backcourt.
After his first 10 games, Beverley averaged 20 minutes per game through the rest of the season, and was a starter through Houston's six-game playoff stretch, coming off the bench for the last time in Game 1.
This year, Beverley has knocked Lin back to the bench. Lin's minutes are down from 32.3 last season to 30.7 this year. There's no question he's a legitimate talent at the point, but with Harden cemented at the shooting guard, and considering Beverley's lack of ball dominance and defensive prowess, it's clear now that he's the better fit in Lin's old spot.
Making around $8 million this season and next, and coming off the books after next season, Lin's deal—once feared to be among the league's worst—is very fair.
With no shortage of teams in need of a reliable point guard—ironically, the Knicks may top the list—Morey would have no problem rerouting his original splash signing elsewhere.
The Houston GM has made a habit of collecting assets, knowing he can never have too many, and there will always be a need for some player, somewhere. It appears that now is the time to complete the cycle on Lin and toss him back into a starting rotation.
Much that was said about the Jeremy Lin drama of 2012-13 into 2013-14 can be said about Omer Asik's situation in Houston.
Asik was brought in from the Chicago Bulls on an identical contract to Lin's. As the Rockets' defensive anchor last season, the Turkish seven-footer thrived. He finished third in the league in rebounding at 11.7 per night, and averaged a double-double on just 7.5 shot attempts per game.
Obviously, with the addition of Dwight Howard this past summer, Asik's starting role with the Rockets essentially vanished—it was evident to nearly everyone speculating on the Howard signing. Except Kevin McHale, of course, who seemed convinced that an Asik-Howard 4-5 pairing would be able to flourish.
Asik asked for a trade immediately after the move, as ESPN reported at the time. The Rockets didn't oblige. “With Omer, he had a great year for us last year and really became one of the top centers in the league,” McHale said. “It’s just when you have an opportunity to get Dwight, it’s hard not to. I’m sure Omer right now is a little down in the dumps, but we’ll pick him up.”
Yeah, that never really happened.
Asik was relegated to the bench after eight games in the starting lineup next to Dwight. Averaging just 22 minutes, six points and eight rebounds per game, Asik wasn't exactly thrilled.
Asik hasn't played since Dec. 2 due to a right thigh bruise and knee troubles, but according to the Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, the center could return to the bench by the end of January.
Just in time for trading season.
As recently as Dec. 1, the Rockets were reportedly asking for two first-round picks for Asik, according to MSG Network's Alan Hahn (h/t ProBasketballTalk). It's unlikely any team would pay that steep a price for a player as limited as Asik, and the seven-footer's knee issues certainly don't help Houston's chances.
The fact remains, however, that Houston would be better served with a return for Asik than simply hanging on to him in this limited capacity. According to 82games.com, he held opposing centers to merely a league average PER last year. That's something most teams would surrender legitimate assets for.
With someone as movable as Asik—a player who'd be infinitely more valuable as another team's premier defensive big than on Houston's second team—it's hard to imagine a deal won't get done. If not this February, than certainly in the summer months that follow.
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