Early Predictions for Houston Rockets' Starting Lineup

Jake Lapin@lapin_62094Correspondent IJuly 24, 2014

Early Predictions for Houston Rockets' Starting Lineup

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    The tandem of James Harden and Dwight Howard will lead Houston this year.
    The tandem of James Harden and Dwight Howard will lead Houston this year.USA TODAY Sports

    After the roller coaster ride of NBA free agency, we finally have a clear picture of what the Houston Rockets lineup will be for the 2014-15 season.

    On the brink of becoming a major contender in the West with Bosh and Parsons, the Rockets lost out on both. However, it isn't all bad for Daryl Morey and Company, who had to rebound quickly and fill out the roster.

    The team still has James Harden and Dwight Howard leading the way. The Rockets also were able to sign some solid free agents, most notably Trevor Ariza. What could have been a spectacular starting five with a weak bench turned out to be a strong first unit with more reliable second-stringers.

    Let's take a closer look at the depth chart and predict who will begin the season starting for the Rockets.

Point Guard: Patrick Beverley

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    Beverley should get the nod as starting point guard for Houston.
    Beverley should get the nod as starting point guard for Houston.Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Other Options: Isaiah Canaan, Ish Smith

    Point guard is certainly not one of the Rockets' strongest positions, but this one is fairly obvious. Barring any drastic changes, Patrick Beverley will run out of the tunnel as the starter on opening night for Houston.

    Coming off of his first season as a starter, Beverley earned his spot in the starting lineup with his all-out hustle and pesky defense. He averaged 10.2 points, 2.7 assists and 1.4 steals per game. Bev achieved second-team All-NBA defensive honors and was a big part of the Rockets' rotation last year.

    Now that the Rockets have traded away Jeremy Lin, there doesn't seem to be any sign of competition for the starting point guard position. Even after a great summer league in Las Vegas, Isaiah Canaan isn't ready for a starting role yet in his young career.

    Houston also added Ish Smith this offseason. Smith played 28 games with the Rockets during his rookie season before being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies. In Phoenix last year with the Suns, he averaged just under 15 minutes a game, posting 3.7 points and 2.6 assists. Smith will most likely be the third-string point guard.

    The starting job is in Beverley's hands. He needs to improve his outside shooting and facilitating this season to help the Rockets offense, and of course, keep up the good work on D.

Shooting Guard: James Harden

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    The Beard will be the key to Houston's success this year.
    The Beard will be the key to Houston's success this year.USA TODAY Sports

    Other Options: Nick Johnson

    The Beard is a no-brainer at shooting guard for the Rockets. Harden was All-NBA first team last season, which makes him arguably the best shooting guard in the entire league.

    Harden's 25.4 points per game were fifth best in the NBA. He is one of the top scorers in the game with his great shooting touch from distance, his ability to finish at the rim and his knack for getting to the charity stripe at ease.

    The defense is an issue. At times, his lack of defensive awareness was embarrassing. If Harden wants to take a step up from star to superstar, he has to give more effort on the defensive end of the court.

    His playoff performance was also less than desirable. Wes Matthews outplayed Harden in the first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers. Harden struggled to get anything going offensively and he couldn't even get to the line.

    This season, Harden needs to pick things up a notch. With many left in doubt after the Rockets' unfortunate offseason, this is Harden's chance to step up and carry this team deep into the playoffs.

    On the bench behind him, Harden has playoff hero Troy Daniels and summer league stud Nick Johnson, who will both be contributors in the rotation.

Small Forward: Trevor Ariza

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    Trevor Ariza will have to fill Chandler Parsons' shoes this season for the Rockets.
    Trevor Ariza will have to fill Chandler Parsons' shoes this season for the Rockets.USA TODAY Sports

    Other Options: Robert Covington, Alonzo Gee, Scotty Hopson

    After deciding to let Parsons go to the Dallas Mavericks in free agency, general manager Daryl Morey had already found his replacement. Ariza signed a four-year deal with Houston to come back to the Rockets after a couple of stints in New Orleans and Washington.

    Last season with the Wizards, Ariza averaged 14.4 points and 6.2 rebounds a game. He fills two areas of need for the Rockets: three-point shooting and defense.

    Although fans may be sad to see Parsons go, Ariza is no doubt an upgrade defensively. The Rockets' perimeter defense was a joke last season, but Ariza will be a big help at small forward. He is one of the better lockdown defenders in the league.

    Also, Ariza is a better three-point shooter at 40.7 percent last season. Houston launches the most threes per game in the NBA, and the more 40-plus percent snipers they have, the better.

    Parsons may be a better playmaker and have more potential, but at half the price, Ariza's ability to fit perfectly in the system is hardly a major downgrade.

    On the bench, the Rockets have another shooter in Robert Covington, and possibly Alonzo Gee and/or Scotty Hopson, who were part of the Ariza sign-and-trade, depending on their near futures with the team.

Power Forward: Terrence Jones

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    Will Terrence Jones keep his starting job, or will D-Mo step in for Houston?
    Will Terrence Jones keep his starting job, or will D-Mo step in for Houston?USA TODAY Sports

    Other Options: Donatas Motiejunas, Jeff Adrien, Clint Capela

    The battle at power forward is probably the only questionable one in terms of the Rockets starting lineup this season. I'll give the benefit of the doubt to last year's starter, Terrence Jones.

    Jones was explosive alongside Dwight in the frontcourt last season. He averaged 12.7 points, 7.3 boards and 1.3 blocks a night as a starter. He has tremendous athleticism for his size and is lethal in transition.

    The Rockets would prefer someone who better fills the role of a stretch 4, but Jones is still a good option. He may have only shot 30.7 percent from deep last season, but he makes up for it with his ability to attack the basket and finish strong.

    Jones showed some flashes of brilliance last season, including a few games in which he scored 30-plus points. In the playoffs, however, Jones was a non-factor on offense and was bullied on defense by LaMarcus Aldridge.

    Even though he's an outstanding shot-blocker, Jones' defense as a whole has plenty of room for improvement. That, combined with his shooting struggles from beyond the arc, may leave the door open for someone to sneak in and steal his starting role.

    Donatas Motiejunas has the best chance of doing just that. After his impressive performance in Vegas, which earned him first team All-NBA Summer League honors, D-Mo is on the brink of achieving his potential that got him noticed overseas.

    In eight games, D-Mo averaged 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest, shooting nearly 60 percent from the floor. He also shot 40 percent from deep. It may be a small sample size against weaker competition, but nevertheless his stats are promising.

    If he can continue to dominate in the post and shoot it well enough from three, D-Mo will be a key part of the Rockets rotation and may even earn himself the starting job. The 7-footer next to Dwight Howard could wreak havoc.

    The Rockets also brought back Jeff Adrien this offseason, and they signed their first-round draft pick Clint Capela, according to Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports. Adrien may get some decent minutes off the bench, and Capela will probably spend most of his time in the D-League with the Vipers working on his game.

Center: Dwight Howard

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    Can Dwight Howard help lead the Rockets deep into the playoffs?
    Can Dwight Howard help lead the Rockets deep into the playoffs?USA TODAY Sports

    Other Options: Joey Dorsey

    Like Harden, Howard is a sure thing to start for the Rockets. He is possibly the best center on the entire planet.

    Howard's first season with the Rockets was solid, but this year should be much better. Whatever chemistry issues and system adjustments Dwight had to make last season are over with, and he has over a year of working with the great Hakeem Olajuwon under his belt.

    In the playoffs, Howard showed just how dominant he can be. He played otherworldly defense down the stretch of games and put on a clinic for Robin Lopez in the post. His post moves are better than ever and his free-throw shooting has improved.

    His defensive prowess and his new-and-improved post game make him a top player in the NBA. He was awarded second-team All-NBA honors last season, and he is still getting better. He was fourth in rebounds (12.2), third in field-goal percentage (59.1 percent) and seventh in blocks (1.8) last year.

    Dwight is in the prime of his career, and he can lead this squad along with Harden deep into the wild West.

    The only other true center on the roster is Joey Dorsey, the final piece of the reunion party for the Rockets. Dorsey, who signed a two-year deal this summer with Houston, said overseas they called him the "Dwight Howard of Europe." Dorsey spent that past few years in Greece and Spain and was dominant defensively and on the glass.

    Dorsey may get some decent minutes this year, and D-Mo could also get some playing time at center. However, with Asik gone, the paint belongs to Dwight Howard and no one else this season. No experiments or lineup tinkering will be necessary this time around. It's all about Dwight.