Predicting Houston Rockets Final 15-Man Roster
As has been the case for the last two years, the Houston Rockets' 15-man roster will have a different look this upcoming season.
Familiar faces such as Chandler Parsons, Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin are now playing for different teams. Asik and Lin were shipped off to the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively, to clear up cap space for a third star. Parsons, meanwhile, signed a three-year, $46 million with the Dallas Mavericks, which Houston declined to match.
After missing out on the likes of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, general manager Daryl Morey shifted his focus to improving a defense that finished 23rd in points allowed (103.1 points per game).
"Last year, we were very potent offensively, but we felt we needed more balance. We have championships aspirations. To do that, you have to be effective on both ends. From our head coach down, we felt we got to get more defense, rebound better, tougher, more physical, more competitive and deeper." Morey said, per Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen.
The plan to get better defensively started with luring small forward Trevor Ariza back to Houston with a four-year, $32 million deal. From there, Morey brought in a few more former Rockets at a discount. He added guard Ish Smith as well as forwards Jeff Adrien and Joey Dorsey.
Morey also found a couple diamonds in the rough on draft night. Clint Capela, a raw big man from Switzerland, was the team's first-round pick at No. 25 overall. Houston followed that up with explosive Arizona guard Nick Johnson in Round 2.
The result of these moves (as well as others) is a roster that has 17 men vying for 15 spots. Training camp will be the ultimate decider of who's staying and who's going. Until then, here's our best guess at who will make the final cut.
F/C Clint Capela
When Clint Capela was drafted, the initial plan was to keep him overseas to keep him off the books and give the team more cap space to chase a marquee free agent. When that plan went belly up, the Rockets opted to sign their prized first-round pick.
The question now becomes, what does a team with a championship aspirations do with a 20-year-old big man who isn't quite NBA ready? There's two options here.
The Rockets could carve out a few minutes for Capela on the court so that they get a firsthand look at what the kid can do. From there, the coaching staff can continue working with him and Capela will get a better feel for the game by playing against actual pro competition.
The other route is to have Capela get his feet wet in the D-League. It's a strategy that has worked with in the past with Robert Covington and Isaiah Canaan, both of whom could be breakout stars for the Rockets this season.
With Omer Asik gone, the Rockets need a backup center. Donatas Motiejunas will get some minutes behind Dwight Howard, but he may be better suited at power forward. Joey Dorsey was brought in as well, but he's a bit undersized at 6'8".
At 6'10", Capela has good size and he's a freakish athlete. If he proves to be a quick learner, there's plenty of opportunity for him on the second unit.
G Nick Johnson
Rookie guard Nick Johnson was one of the most impressive players on the floor during the summer league. He took Orlando by storm by averaging 15.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, and five assists in five games. He followed that up with a nightly clip of 12.5 points, 4.4 boards, 2.3 assists and 1.8 steals in eight games in Las Vegas.
After a strong showing like that, Johnson's path to the pros should be pretty clear, right? Not exactly.
Houston's backcourt is pretty crowded. At point guard, there's Patrick Beverley, Isaiah Canaan and Ish Smith. At shooting guard, there's James Harden and Troy Daniels. Johnson certainly has the talent to be a quality reserve, but the opportunity just isn't there yet.
Like Canaan last year, Johnson will probably spend some time in the D-League until Houston's depth chart gets a little thinner. At 6'3", he's a little short to play 2-guard, but he makes up for it with his incredible athleticism.
Johnson also has the capability to be a hard-nosed defender. With time to work on his outside shot and getting adjusted to the speed of the pros, he could be the latest in a long line of Rockets second-round steals.
F Kostas Papanikolaou
With all due respect to Austin Powers, European forward Kostas Papanikolaou is the new international man of mystery. The Rockets obtained the rights to K-Pap last July when they traded Thomas Robinson to the Portland Trail Blazers.
This summer, the team decided to bring the former New York Knicks second-rounder over to the NBA with a two-year deal worth $9.6 million (with a first year salary of $4.8 million, the highest ever given to a second-round pick). Papanikolaou won two Euroleague championships playing for Olympiacos in Greece.
He played for FC Barcelona last season and won Liga ACB championship.
On the surface, there's a lot to like about K-Pap. He's still just 24 years old and has the size to play either forward spot at 6'9", 230 pounds. Like most European big men, he's a solid outside shooter, which will come in handy on a Rockets team that's enamored with shooting threes.
As with any rookie (international or otherwise), Papanikolaou will need time to acclimated. In a written statement, per Aris Barkas of Eurohoops.net, Papanikolaou called coming to the NBA "the biggest challenge" of his career but believes he's ready for the transition.
The Rockets will likely start him off slow, but he will eventually work his way into the rotation. If he shows the skills in the NBA that he did overseas, K-Pap won't be a mystery man for very long.
PG Ish Smith
One of the most interesting battles when training camp rolls around will be between free-agent acquisition Ish Smith and impressive rookie Nick Johnson for the third point guard spot.
As a four-year veteran, Smith has experience on his side. However, that experience includes playing for six different teams and posting a career average of 2.9 points per game. Also, Smith isn't a particularly good outside shooter (career mark of 21.7 percent from three), which makes him an odd choice for a Rockets team infatuated with the deep ball.
If he can beat out Johnson (as well as other guys vying for a roster spot such as Alonzo Gee and Scotty Hopson), Smith likely won't see anything beyond mop-up duty. Much like the Ronnie Brewer signing last year, Smith is a cheap veteran who can provide some depth.
When Johnson proves he's ready for an increased role, Smith's time in Houston will likely come to an end. In the meantime, he's a familiar face at the end of the bench.
PF Jeff Adrien
Forward Jeff Adrien might be the Houston Rockets' biggest free-agent steal of the summer. He's coming off a strong stint with the Milwaukee Bucks, where he averaged 10.9 points and 7.8 rebounds in 28 games. His per-36-minutes numbers during that stretch translate to 15.6 points and 11.1 rebounds a game (stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com).
Adrien makes up for his lack of ideal size (6'7") by playing with a ton of energy. If he can keep the momentum going from his time with the Bucks, he would give the Rockets another quality rebounder on the second unit.
Adrien will have to fight for his minutes though. Donatas Motiejunas is coming off a strong summer league showing and has the inside track as the team's third big. Joey Dorsey, Kostas Papanikolaou and Robert Covington will also factor into the equation at power forward as well.
Still, with the Rockets needing to replace Asik's work on the boards, Adrien was a good, cheap addition who will help fill the void.
PG Isaiah Canaan
With the departure of Jeremy Lin, the backup point guard job is Isaiah Canaan's to lose. The second-year man out of Murray State helped his cause with some inspired play in the summer league. In eight games in Las Vegas, the diminutive dynamo averaged 17 points a night.
Like Lin, Canaan's role will be to provide an offensive spark off the bench. The only difference is Canaan doesn't have the size (listed at 6'0") to log minutes at backup shooting guard like Lin did. Still, there are plenty of reasons to think Canaan will be one of Houston's breakout stars.
First, in Vegas, Canaan showed some improvement with his stroke from outside. After shooting 32.7 percent from three in the pros last season, he converted 34 percent from deep in the summer league.
Next, Canaan showed a knack for coming away with a few steals, averaging 1.8 thefts per game in Sin City. Granted, summer league numbers aren't a harbinger for things to come, but they are still evidence of progress.
The true test for Canaan will be be how he handles his new responsibility. He may have the upper hand on Ish Smith and Nick Johnson right now, but he will need to continue to produce like he did in Vegas to fend them off.
SG Troy Daniels
Troy Daniels gave the Houston Rockets a glimpse of what he can do in small doses last season. In five regular-season games, the 23-year-old averaged 8.4 points per game and shot 48 percent from three.
He followed that up with some postseason heroics, averaging 7.3 points per game and shooting 53.3 percent from downtown in the playoffs. That includes an impressive Game 3 performance against the Portland Trail Blazers, where he scored 17 points and nailed four of his five shots from behind the arc.
The question now becomes was Daniels' efforts last season an aberration or a sign of things to come?
Daniels will get a bump up in playing time this season as James Harden's chief backup. He'll be tasked with giving Houston's second unit a threat on the perimeter. Judging from his 10 games of work, he certainly has the touch to pull it off.
However, much like Isaiah Canaan, the elevation up the depth chart means becoming more than just a niche player. Daniels will have to find ways to score when his jumper goes cold as well as show what he can do on the defensive side of the ball.
SF Robert Covington
Robert Covington's time is now.
After dominating the D-League last year, the next step for the Tennessee State star is to show what he can do in the NBA. With Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia gone, there are minutes to be had behind starter Trevor Ariza.
Covington won D-League Rookie of the Year honors last season. He averaged 23.2 points (second best in the league), 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals (also, second best) per game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Covington also shot 44 percent from the field, including 37 percent from three.
Covington's D-League stint also included winning the D-League All-Star Game MVP award after scoring a record 33 points (22 in the final six minutes).
Now, however, the competition gets a bit harder. Covington had a couple cups of coffee in the NBA last season, but didn't get much playing time. In four games, he logged 4.9 minutes and scored 2.3 points per game.
At 6'9", Covington has the size to play either forward position. With his shooting and prowess on the boards, he could be a sneaky good stretch 4. He could also give opposing defenders fits at small forward.
The trick will be earning the minutes. The Rockets have forwards such as Jeff Adrien and Kostas Papanikolaou vying for minutes as well.
One thing's for sure, the D-League isn't an option for Covington anymore. If his game translates to the NBA, Houston will have a potential star in the making.
PF Donatas Motiejunas
If his production in this year's summer league is any indication, Donatas Motiejunas is poised to have a breakout season. In eight games, D-Mo posted averages of 16.8 points and 8.1 rebounds in Las Vegas. He shot 59.3 percent from the field, including 38.5 percent from downtown.
With Omer Asik gone, the Rockets are in desperate need of size on the second unit. Motiejunas is a seven-footer with above-average speed and athleticism that can stretch the floor as well as work the boards. The only thing left for the talented Lithuanian to prove is the ability to defend.
If Motiejunas is going to help the team replace Asik, he will have to improve as a shot-blocker. The team will also have to find a defined role for him. Do the Rockets use his size and play him at center or utilize his shooting touch as a power forward who can space the floor?
While playing D-Mo at the 4 has its advantages, making him the backup center would be ideal. Other than Clint Capela, all of Houston's other "big men" are undersized. Motiejunas may still need work as a defender, but his physical gifts will give the Rockets an advantage down low.
Regardless of where he plays, Motiejunas has shown progress this summer. With the right opportunity, he could finally live up to his vast potential.
F/C Joey Dorsey
The return of Joey Dorsey to the Houston Rockets was a little bit of a surprise. After all, Dorsey hasn't played in the NBA since 2010-11 with the Toronto Raptors. In his first three seasons in the pros, he played in just 61 games for three different teams before opting to play overseas.
However, while playing internationally, Dorsey caught the eye of Rockets general manager Daryl Morey. According to Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, Morey called Dorsey "the best defensive big in Europe."
That isn't just hyperbole. Dorsey won Greek League Best Defender honors in 2012 while playing for Olympiacos. He, along with new Rockets teammate Kostas Papanikolaou, led the team to a Euroleague championship.
Still, it remains to be seen if Dorsey can bring that defensive prowess to the NBA. At 6'8" and 268 pounds, Dorsey will have use his strong frame to make up for his lack of ideal height. While the Euroleague has produced some talent over the years, it goes without saying that Dorsey is in for a jump in competition.
The bright side for Dorsey is there's an opportunity to make a comeback in Houston. The Rockets don't have a true backup center and, if he can be the defender he was in Europe, Dorsey could be a huge help for a team that needs an infusion of defense.
PG Patrick Beverley
The rise of Houston Rockets starting point guard Patrick Beverley has been a great story. In the span of two years, Beverley went from being a Eurocup MVP in Russia to being one of the best defensive point guards in the NBA.
Prior to the arrival of Trevor Ariza, Beverley was Houston's best (and only) perimeter defender. He earned NBA All-Defensive second team honors last season. He averaged 1.4 steals per game and held opponents to 48.7 percent shooting, per 82games.com.
General manager Daryl Morey seems to believe more is coming from the former Arkansas guard, per Houston Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen:
"I think it's pretty unlikely that guys younger than 25 (Terrence Jones and Beverley) aren't going to get better in their second full season in the NBA as starters." Morey said.
While Beverley's skills as a defender are well known, his focus this season should be to improve as a passer and scorer. Beverley averaged a modest 10.2 points per game last season but could probably do more in this dangerous offense. He also produced a paltry 2.7 assists per game.
The continued evolution of Beverley will be fun dynamic to watch. He's improved so much over the past two seasons that it isn't impossible to think he can take another large step toward being a more complete guard this year.
SG James Harden
Since coming over from the Oklahoma City Thunder two years ago, James Harden has helped lift the Houston Rockets to the playoffs in both seasons. He's established himself as an electric scorer and one of the 10 best players in the game. He's arguably the best shooting guard in the NBA.
However, there's still more to be done.
While Harden has lead the Rockets to the postseason the last two years, both of those trips ended in the first round. Last season was particularly disappointing as the fourth-seeded Rockets were eliminated by the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers in five games.
If it weren't for Troy Daniels' theatrics in Game 3, that series could have easily been a sweep. For the Rockets to get off the snide and make a deep playoff run, Harden must do two things.
First, he must become more of a leader. The Rockets lost last year's captain when Chandler Parsons went to Dallas and, as the best player on a young team, Harden must accept those responsibilities.
Next, Harden's defense has to get better. If "The Beard" isn't the worst defender in the NBA, he's easily in the top five (or bottom five, if you want to get technical). Harden's lack of interest on the defensive end will continue to hinder this team's championship aspirations.
When you look at every great player in the NBA, what do they have in common? They make an impact on both ends of the court. Harden doesn't have to be the second coming of Doug Christie, but he can't be a walking turnstile either.
Harden's offense (fifth in the league in scoring with 25.4 points per game) will always be good enough to keep Houston in games. He's the guy you want with the ball when you need a bucket.
However, even with a elite duo in Harden and Dwight Howard, this Rockets team will continue to suffer if Harden continues to be the NBA's version of a designated hitter.
SF Trevor Ariza
While the Houston Rockets were focused on adding a third superstar, what they truly needed was a perimeter defender. In adding Trevor Ariza, they got just that.
While Ariza's arrival won't completely remedy the sting of losing Chandler Parsons, he is a more than suitable replacement. The UCLA product is coming off the best season of his career. He averaged 14.4 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals per game for the Washington Wizards.
Ariza also shot 45.6 percent from the field (his best output since 2008-09 with the Los Angeles Lakers) and a career-best 40.7 percent from three. His defensive skills are a welcomed addition to a Rockets team that struggled to hinder opposing wings last year.
The key for Ariza will be consistency. During his 10-year career, Ariza has put together just two good seasons. The first came during his last stint with the Rockets in 2009-10 and the other being last year. He will have to prove that last season's numbers weren't solely motivated by a forthcoming payday.
If Ariza can continue his production from last season, Houston will become a more well-rounded team. On the offensive end, the attention paid to James Harden and Dwight Howard will open up looks for Ariza. Defensively, the combination of Ariza and Patrick Beverley will be huge.
The Rockets took a lot of necessary heat this summer for gambling on nabbing a third star and losing big. However, the Ariza signing has the potential to pay off even more than adding someone like Carmelo Anthony or retaining Parsons' services.
PF Terrence Jones
Terrence Jones emerged as the Rockets' breakout star last season. He averaged 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.3 blocks in 76 games. He also notched 18 double-doubles, which was tied for 38th (with Toronto's Kyle Lowry and Detroit's Brandon Jennings) and was more than the efforts of superstars like Paul George and LeBron James.
The key to Jones' success was opportunity. After playing in just 19 games as a rookie, Jones beat out Omer Asik for a starting job last season and never looked back. The former Kentucky star also showed off some range on his jumper.
According to basketball-reference.com, Jones converted 38.5 percent of his attempts from within 10 and 16 feet. He also knocked down the occasional three, nailing 30.7 percent from behind the arc (up from 26.3 percent as a rookie). This shot chart (courtesy of Vorped.com) gives a better look of Jones as a shooter.
For an encore, Jones should continue to improve his three-point shot. His ability to space the floor will make life easier for Dwight Howard in the paint. Jones' shot-blocking also helps Howard as it gives Houston another defensive presence down low.
The strides Jones made from his first year to his second are promising as he enters another full season as a starter. At just 22 years old, he still has a bright future ahead of him and tons of room for improvement.
C Dwight Howard
Dwight Howard lived up to his end of the deal in his first season in Houston. After signing a four-year, $88 million contract last summer, Howard rewarded the Rockets by averaging 18.3 points, 12.2 rebounds (fourth in the NBA) and 1.8 blocks (seventh) in 71 games.
Most importantly, Howard went the entire season with any incidents or complaints. He seemed genuinely happy to be in Houston, which was huge after years of public-relations nightmares in Orlando and Los Angeles.
While Howard's arrival didn't change Houston's postseason fate from the year before, he did help move the team from the eight seed to the fourth seed. He also gives the Rockets their first legitimate two-way center since Yao Ming.
While the Rockets took a few hits this offseason, they are still one of only two teams (the Cleveland Cavaliers being the other, once Kevin Love comes to town) that can boast about having two of the 10 best players in the NBA on the same roster.
With Chandler Parsons gone, Harden and Howard must take even more control of the team. That means more touches and more responsibility. While almost everything went right for Howard in his first year, there are still things that need improvement.
While Howard will never be Steve Nash from the free-throw line, he needs to become less of a liability in close games. Teams will continue to pound D12 and send him to the charity stripe since they know he can't hurt them.
Howard's 54.7 conversion rate from the free-throw line was an improvement from the previous two seasons, but it's still one of the three worst outputs of his 10-year career. An uptick to around 60 percent this season isn't asking a lot.
Beyond that, continued health and moving closer to his dominant form will keep the Rockets relevant in a deep Western Conference. Houston's improvements on defense will take some of weight off D12's shoulders.
What he does with that lessened pressure might make all of the difference.