A retooled Houston Rockets squad will take the floor with fresh questions in the 2014-15 season, and this is perhaps the most prevalent: Who will be its third scorer?
With Chandler Parsons gone, there will be a productivity hole left open. There’s a blind spot of offensive creation behind the James Harden-Dwight Howard juggernaut and no clear successor to the role.
Houston has a handful of less headline-grabbing names on hand who could be capable of stepping up the task this year.
Trevor Ariza is the popular pick to be the team’s third gun. Not only is he the biggest name brought in via free agency this offseason, but he’s a seasoned veteran with a lot of playoff success—including a championship with the Los Angeles Lakers as a younger guard off the bench in the 2008-09 season.
Ariza can shoot, too. At 41 percent, he was more accurate from beyond the arc than Parsons (37 percent) was last season.
Ariza is sure to get his looks with the Rockets, one of the three-friendliest teams in the NBA.
But whether the wingman is asked to create shots for himself is another issue. The more crucial expulsion of his energy will be on the defensive end, where the Rockets were full of holes last season. Ariza’s primary duty will be to prevent Howard from being overtaxed with help-defense work protecting the rim.
Being a top wing defender in the vaunted Western Conference is a ton of work. If the Rockets dole Ariza’s jobs out to him optimally, he’ll be a three-and-D specialist who’s unconcerned with getting his looks.
The most surprising player of last year’s postseason, Daniels may see his minutes skyrocket with Jeremy Lin gone to the Los Angeles Lakers. A sixth-man slot is open, and Daniels’ hot hand could definitely shoot him into it.
Daniels is speedy as a greyhound off the ball, and if he can incorporate cuts toward the rim into his game, he may become an especially nasty scorer.
He’s diminutive and has never played anywhere close to a full season in the NBA, but Daniels’ potential as a potent sixth man is real. The league knows it, too, as RealGM's Shams Charania reported the Rockets had competition to bring him back for next season this July.
Daniels overcame skepticism last year by making the Rockets' playoff roster and hitting a game-winning shot in Game 3 against the Portland Trail Blazers. Can he trump his doubters even further?
Remember Terrence Jones? After the Rockets’ failed pursuit of Chris Bosh, one of the game’s very best power forwards, many are forgetting that the University of Kentucky alum is not only a Rocket, but a promising one.
Jones has a nearly-full offensive utility belt. His mid-range shooting is strong, as is his ability to create shots for himself there with his above-average speed for a big man.
He’s also quite deft with his footwork in the post.
Jones will start for the Rockets this year, so he’ll have more of a chance than other players to be the Rockets’ third wheel—essentially by default. He also showed tremendous comfort working in the team’s free-roaming, open-court style, finishing at the rim in quick actions.
Donatas “D-Mo” Motiejunas is perhaps the unlikeliest candidate of this crew. The Lithuanian center has rare dexterity for a 7-footer, however, and could emerge as a singular offensive force at some point if he finds the right niche.
Next season could be the time for this development.
Without Omer Asik backing up Howard, the Rockets will have to bump Motiejunas up in the lineup and mix and match him with Howard and Jones before they find the right balance.
Motiejunas’ ability to shoot from deep and pass like a guard means Houston will have to bring some new looks to work him in. It’s a nice challenge to have, and if coach Kevin McHale and company can give D-Mo the right role, he just might become their third banana as a scorer.
Nevertheless, all signs currently point to Jones, the talented young power forward entering his third season and most important proving ground yet. His continuity next to Harden and Howard, along with the coming rewards of his untapped potential, make him the obvious choice for more reps in 2014-15.
If he isn't up to the challenge, one of these other Rockets will have to step up.