Grading Houston Rockets Players at the 2014 NBA All-Star Break
Houston is currently in the midst of a league-best seven-game winning streak. That includes notable victories over potential playoff teams like the San Antonio Spurs, Phoenix Suns and Washington Wizards.
The team will look to stretch the streak to eight games when they visit the Staples Center for a clash with the lowly Los Angeles Lakers on Feb. 19.
For the season, the Rockets are 36-17, which is good for second place in the Southwest division as well as the third seed in the Western Conference. The key to their success has been an offense that puts up an average of 105.5 points per game (third-best in the NBA).
With this being Valentine's Day, it's only right that we show each member of the Houston Rockets some love by evaluating their performance thus far. One thing to keep in mind is that, even though we have periodically graded the team throughout the year, these grades represent each player's efforts from opening day until now.
As we have done all season, this section is reserved for the players who haven't seen the floor enough to be worthy of individual grades. However, since they are actually on the roster, they deserve to at least be mentioned.
Despite being one of the better perimeter defenders on a team needing help in that area, Ronnie Brewer hasn't registered much of a blip this season. He's logging just under seven minutes per game, and his statistical averages aren't even worth noting.
Basically, he's caught at an odd crossroads. He hasn't earned the trust of his own team to be worthy of playing time. As a result, he doesn't have enough trade value to draw the interest of another team. Essentially, Brewer's 2013-14 season will be spent getting acquainted with the end of the bench.
Injuries have reduced once-promising backup center Greg Smith to just 11 games this season. He's missed the last 13 games with a knee injury, and there's no timetable for his return. Even if he gets healthy, he'll have a tough time finding minutes in this frontcourt.
Omer Asik is finally back from a two-month absence, and Terrence Jones has emerged as a viable option at power forward. With Donatas Motiejunas showing some signs of life as well, Smith's best chances of making a contribution this season will be as a result of a trade or injury.
Like Brewer, playing time has been scarce for rookie Robert Covington. He had a cup of coffee with the team in late-January, but he didn't see much more than mop-up duty. He has the skills to be a contributor down the road, though, and he's definitely worth keeping an eye on.
However, the team may be too focused on immediate success to worry about developing one of their best young prospects this season.
Rookie Isaiah Canaan is basically in the same boat as Covington.
He saw a little bit of pro action in late-December and early-January, but it was nothing to get excited over. With Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley and Aaron Brooks ahead of him in the pecking order, Canaan's best efforts this season will probably be in the D-League.
PF Donatas Motiejunas
Donatas Motiejunas has shown flashes of being a decent role player, but there hasn't been much consistency. Offensively, he's a gifted seven-footer who can drain the occasional three-pointer. Beyond that, however, there isn't much to the 23-year-old.
For a guy with his size and athleticism, he should be more of a factor on the boards. Currently, however, he's averaging just 3.3 rebounds per game. He doesn't provide much on the defensive end either. With Omer Asik returning from knee and thigh injuries, D-Mo could see his minutes take a hit.
Despite his shortcomings, Motiejunas has value. He could be a worthwhile target for a team that has time to mold his vast potential into a versatile offensive weapon; that team just isn't the Houston Rockets.
Still, he's done just enough this season to warrant a grade, albeit not a very good one. Here's hoping he finds a new home by the Feb. 20 trade deadline.
PG Aaron Brooks
Throughout his career, Aaron Brooks' calling card has been the ability to score the basketball. If you need a spark off of the bench, he's the perfect guy to call on to give your offense a jolt. For a guy with his small stature (6'0", 161 lbs), he's fearless attacking the basket and has a wicked outside shot to boot.
The problem is that Brooks is a one-dimensional guard on a team loaded in the backcourt. Jeremy Lin is more than capable of being a weapon on the second unit and, unlike Brooks, he can play either guard spot. There's also Patrick Beverley, who is a fine defender with an offensive game that is coming along nicely.
That's a large reason why Brooks has struggled to find playing time as of late. Excluding his 11-minute performance against Washington on Feb. 12 (in which Beverley sat with an abdominal strain), Brooks hasn't seen the floor since the end of January.
Even in that game against the Wizards, Brooks couldn't find his shot and finished without a point. If the team were to use Lin as the main backup behind James Harden at shooting guard, Brooks could have some value as Beverley's backup.
When he's played decent minutes, Brooks has actually been solid this season. He's averaging 7.1 points per game and shooting close to 40 percent from the field (including 41 percent from three), which is respectable for a third guard.
It's just tough to like Brooks much going forward with his playing time being so inconsistent.
C Omer Asik
This may be a little harsh, but Omer Asik has been a colossal disappointment this season. It all started in July, when the big man became miffed over the addition of Dwight Howard. That resulted in Asik asking for a trade, which was rebuffed at the time.
The team then tried to appease the Turkish seven-footer by playing him alongside Howard in the starting rotation. That didn't work out, either, and Houston scrapped the idea, giving Asik's spot to eventual breakout star Terrence Jones.
As you might expect, Asik was unhappy and once again asked for a trade. The team tried to move him in mid-December but couldn't find the right deal. During that time, Asik was nursing a thigh injury. That thigh injury would later become a knee injury, and Asik would miss two months.
So far, he's played a total of 20 games this season and hasn't been much of a factor beyond some solid work on the glass (6.5 boards per game). It may be unfair to criticize such a small body of work, but Asik hasn't done much to earn the benefit of the doubt.
When he hasn't been hurt, he's been sulking. Since his triumphant return on Feb. 8, he's looked very pedestrian as he slowly gets himself back into the swing of things. There hasn't been a point this season where he has looked like someone happy to be a Houston Rocket, which makes it tough to get behind him.
In a Q&A session with season ticket holders in January, general manager Daryl Morey said that he plans on keeping Asik until the end of his deal, which expires after next season (h/t Ben DuBose of ClutchFans.com). Given the price tag—Asik is owed roughly $20 million for this season and next—and Asik's discontent, that might be a mistake.
Unless Asik cheers up or finds a new home, it's tough to view these last few months as anything less than a failure.
G/F Francisco Garcia
Like a lot of guys on Houston's bench, Francisco Garcia has had trouble with consistency. This season, Garcia has gone long stretches where he just vanishes during games. For a team that could use another shooter on the second unit, that has been a bit of a problem.
The 33-year-old hasn't scored in double digits since dropping 16 points on the Detroit Pistons on Dec. 21. During that span, his best effort was an eight-point outing against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Dec. 29. Part of the problem during that stretch was a knee injury that kept him out for 10 games.
Still, the Rockets deserve better from the oldest guy on the roster. Garcia's ineffectiveness is a large reason why Houston is ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of bench scoring. Per HoopsStats.com, the Rockets' second unit averages 25.8 points per game (25th in the league).
The Louisville product needs to find the groove he was in earlier this year, when he scored a total of 53 points in the team's first four games (13.2 points per contest). Otherwise, the team would be wise to use the remaining days until the trade deadline to find a better alternative.
F Omri Casspi
Omri Casspi is another veteran whose bright spots have been few and far between this season. The versatile Israeli forward started the season off strong, as he shot 47 percent from the field and 43 percent from downtown in the month of November. He also averaged 9.3 points per game during that span.
Since then, his numbers have taken a bit of a dip. December saw his percentages drop to 39.5 percent from the field and 28 percent from three. He bounced back in January, nailing 47.5 percent of his shots from the field (including 35 percent from behind the arc).
This month, he's played sparingly, averaging just 13 minutes per game. He's taken all of 11 shots in February, converting just three of them (27 percent). He is shooting 50 percent from three, albeit on only four attempts.
As with Francisco Garcia, Casspi needs to step it up after the break. The team needs his scoring off the bench as well as his slick shooting to stretch the floor in smaller rotations. Casspi's ability to score from the outside or take it to the rack make him quite the mismatch for slower power forwards.
That advantage isn't as prevalent if Casspi isn't finding a way to make the shots drop. As a whole, his numbers for the season (7.6 points per game, 43.6 percent from the field, 35.5 from three) are decent, but the team really needs him to return to his November form.
PG Patrick Beverley
Injuries have hindered what could have been a bright first half for Patrick Beverley. From a broken hand to troubles with his abdomen, the former Arkansas star has played in 35 of the team's 53 games this season.
When he's on the court, however, Beverley flashes the potential to be a viable two-way guard. He's arguably the team's best perimeter defender, and he continues to grow offensively. This season, he's averaging 9.6 points, four rebounds and 1.4 steals per game.
He's also shooting nearly 40 percent from the field and 35 percent from behind the arc. If he can learn to get others involved (2.7 assists per game), he could become more of a complete point guard.
Another factor that will help Beverley improve will be staying healthy. The team gave him the final night before the All-Star break off, and he has the entire weekend to rest. By the time he takes the court against the Lakers on Feb. 19, he will have had a total of nine days to recuperate.
With the Rockets struggling to defend opposing wings, they need Beverley to stay healthy as they enter the final stretch. They have enough offense that they don't need him to take over games. What he does need to do, however, is make life hard for guys like Stephen Curry, Russell Westbrook and Tony Parker.
It's tough to judge Beverley so far because he seems to get hurt just as he's gaining momentum. However, there have been signs of potential, which hopefully leads to a redeeming second half.
PG Jeremy Lin
Jeremy Lin started off the season as a dark-horse contender for Sixth Man of the Year. Injuries then forced him back into the starting lineup, where he has developed into a solid young point guard. Now, with Patrick Beverley somewhat healthy, Lin's role continues to fluctuate from key reserve to starter.
Regardless of how he's used, Lin has been stellar this season. He's averaging 13.3 points and 4.5 assists per game as the fourth option in one of the league's most dynamic offensive attacks. He's also shooting 46.5 percent from the field and 34 percent from three.
The change in roles from last year's starter to this year's offensive spark plug has allowed Lin to focus more on attacking the basket and being aggressive. He also plays like a guy who seems to be carrying less weight on his shoulders.
The result has been games like his epic triple-double against Cleveland on Feb. 1. Linsanity ran wild on the Cavaliers to the tune of 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. He also added two steals and a block for good measure.
Lin is one of the team's biggest X-factors going into the second half. The team isn't depending on him to be a superstar, which allows him to salvage a second unit that has seen better days as of late. His ability to produce in either guard spot also gives the team some valuable depth.
PF Terrence Jones
The Houston Rockets' biggest breakout star so far this season has been power forward Terrence Jones. After wrestling a starting spot away from Omer Asik early in the year, Jones has proven capable of contributing in a number of ways.
The former Kentucky standout is averaging 11.7 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He's also blocking 1.4 shots per contest, which is just behind Dwight Howard for the team lead. As the fourth or fifth option in a loaded lineup, Jones' production is nothing short of impressive.
The key going forward will be consistency. Jones has had big games this season, only to follow them up with a few duds. He has to continue to establish himself as a guy that can take over a game if need be.
Still, Jones deserves credit for shoring up one of the team's biggest need areas at power forward. He saved the team from having to go out and make a deal for a high-priced option to play alongside Howard.
Jones will be someone to watch the rest of this season. His presence on the floor makes life easier on Howard, whether it's because of his work on the glass, his ability to space the floor with his sneaky jumper or by playing quality defense.
At 22 years old and in just his second season, Jones is a rising star, and his best days are well ahead of him. He is the latest in what has been a long line of draft steals by Daryl Morey.
SF Chandler Parsons
It's fun to imagine what kind of numbers Chandler Parsons would put up if he were the No. 1 option on another team. After all, as one of the best third wheels in the NBA, the Florida product is averaging 17 points and 5.6 rebounds per game for the Rockets.
He's shooting 50 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from behind the arc. He's doing all this, despite dealing with back spasms and having to share touches with two All-Stars in Dwight Howard and James Harden.
Parsons' value to the team goes beyond the numbers. His versatility is huge for the Rockets. He can produce as a small-ball power forward or by playing his natural position at the 3. He's also on a ridiculously cheap contract, which pays him under $1 million for this season (with a team option for around the same price next year).
The 25-year-old's exclusion from this year's All-Star roster was one of those understandable tragedies. It's tough to stand out in a conference filled with talented big men. Still, the lack of attention paid to Parsons is sure to work to his and the team's advantage going forward.
There just aren't many defenses that are going to be able to have an answer for all of Houston's weapons. If he can stay healthy and boost his free-throw percentage (currently 72 percent), Parsons will be a household name, regardless of whether he's the first option or the third.
SG James Harden
James Harden continues to make his case as one of the 10 best players in the NBA as well as the league's best shooting guard. He's a dynamic scorer, which is evidenced by his average of 23.9 points per game (tied for seventh-best with Portland's LaMarcus Aldridge).
He's relentless attacking the basket, and he has a knack for consistently drawing fouls. His 8.8 free-throw attempts per game are fourth-best in the NBA. His 394 total tries from the charity stripe are good for sixth place in the league. He also converts 86 percent of his freebies (14th among qualified players).
He's also a decent rebounder (4.7 boards per game) and finds ways to get others involved (5.3 assists per game).
That's the good. Here's the bad.
"The Beard" may be one of the worst defenders in the NBA. He comes up with a few steals every now and then, but his on-ball defense needs some work. For a guy who spent the offseason working on his conditioning in order to become a complete guard, the defensive chops just aren't there.
There's also the issue of turnovers and shot selection. Harden is averaging 3.7 TO's per game, which is second only to Stephen Curry's 4.1 as the league's worst average. Harden has also struggled with the deep ball, as he's shooting around 33 percent (down from his career average of 36 percent).
A high turnover rate is the price you pay when you attack the basket as frequently as Harden does. Eventually, he'll snap out of his shooting funk as well (he's shooting 38 percent from three in his last five games). No player is perfect.
Still, it's up to coach Kevin McHale to reel in his superstar. Shot selection is important for a team with this many weapons, and Houston doesn't need its best player shooting bricks. They can't afford for turnovers to get out of hand either, especially with Jeremy Lin and Dwight Howard among the league's turnover leaders as well.
In his second full season as a starter, Harden is still a work in progress. So far, he's been a pretty good project.
C Dwight Howard
Now 53 games into the season, the Rockets seem to have gotten their money's worth out of their Dwight Howard investment—although the final word will depend on whether the team is hoisting a trophy at season's end.
Howard is averaging 18.8 points and 12.5 rebounds (fourth in the NBA) per game. He leads the team in blocked shots with an average of 1.8 blocks per game. Most importantly, he hasn't caused any drama or been a distraction at all in his first season in Houston.
Instead, Howard has looked the closest to his old, dominant form that we saw from him during his days in Orlando. He's a large reason behind the Rockets' standing as the eighth-best rebounding team in the league (44.9 boards per game).
He's given the Rockets an interior presence on both ends of the court. He may not send away shots at the same rate in years past, but opponents still think twice about challenging him in the paint.
The knocks on D12 are obvious. His free-throw shooting is abysmal. He's currently shooting just under 55 percent from the charity stripe, which is below his already-pedestrian 57.5 career free-throw percentage.
Turnovers are also an issue. His 3.3 mistakes per game are 11th-worst in the NBA. It's tough to see either of those issues getting resolved any time soon.
As with James Harden, the good far outweighs the bad with Howard. He's a double-double machine who is capable of single-handedly taking over a game inside. Short of a championship (which could be coming), he's given Houston everything they've paid for, and he's done it with a smile on his face.