Houston Rockets 2016-17 NBA Training Camp Roster Rankings
The Houston Rockets enter training camp following an offseason with far more changeover than last year: Dwight Howard is gone, and both the team and the player may be happier as a result. In his stead, newcomers Eric Gordon and Ryan Anderson will bolster the offense.
And there will be no dispute over team leadership after Houston extended James Harden four more years for $118 million. Finally, new head coach Mike D'Antoni will mastermind the offense, which promises to be one of the most explosive in the league.
As training camp approaches, this is how the rotation stacks up, with the bottom of the bench first, the top of it next and the starting five ranked according to importance. The rankings are subjective based on how well each player should fit the Rockets' needs.
End of Bench: 11-15
15. Chinanu Onuaku
Onuaku, the No. 37 pick in the draft, was also the only selection the Rockets had. Given the team's depth and its fondness for utilizing the NBA Development League, it's a good bet he spends the bulk of his time with Houston's affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, where he can get more playing time and develop.
14. Montrezl Harrell
Harrell brings defensive intensity off the bench. According to Basketball-Reference.com, he averaged 14.3 points per 36 minutes and had a player efficiency rating of 14.6 during his rookie season. Those numbers should be enough to get him a little more playing time than the 379 minutes he logged last year.
13. Sam Dekker
Dekker saw only six minutes in three games last year due to a herniated disc injury. There's still little to judge from him against NBA competition, but since the Rockets used the No. 18 pick in the 2015 draft on him, he'll get some playing time with the mother ship; however, he could be down in Rio Grande Valley for a spell or two.
12. K.J. McDaniels
If this team has a breakout candidate, it's the defensively gifted McDaniels. The Rockets invested so much in the offense this offseason that they might need him to plug a lot of holes on the other end. With more minutes, he could become an elite defender.
11. Tyler Ennis
Ennis is Houston's most recent acquisition after the team acquired him in a trade for Michael Beasley, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical. Ennis hasn't had much of a career to date, playing just 1,065 minutes during his first two years combined. But in Space City, he should battle for the backup position. D'Antoni worked wonders with Steve Nash, so maybe he can kindle the same sort of sparks with another Canadian point guard, as Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle postulated.
Top of Bench: 6-10
10. Pablo Prigioni
Prigioni is here for leadership. Ostensibly, he's the backup point guard, but he won't get a ton of minutes, and Ennis will challenge him. Prigioni can distribute and shoot the ball, though, and his experience will make him a mentor for some of the younger players.
9. Corey Brewer
Brewer struggled last season, watching his PER drop to 9.9, the lowest since his rookie season. If he starts off like he finished last year, he could find himself behind McDaniels on the depth chart sooner rather than later.
8. Donatas Motiejunas
Motiejunas has not officially signed yet, but the Beasley trade is a positive sign, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, so I have included him here.
He had a problematic season in 2015-16, complicated by a plethora of injuries. After the Rockets traded him to the Detroit Pistons midseason, Detroit backed out after he failed a physical. When healthy, D-Mo has great footwork in the post, a sweet hook shot and some decent court-stretching ability. More of a defensive presence than Ryan Anderson, he may be part of the closing lineup.
Nene was a great signing and provides a measure of defense on a reasonable $2.9 million contract. While the 34-year-old has lost athleticism, he's a skilled big man in the post and should help instruct Clint Capela on both ends of the court.
6. Eric Gordon
Gordon has enough handles and ability to create shots or run the offense when Harden is on the bench. That's big, since over the last two seasons, the Rockets have blundered on offense every time Harden has found pine. According to NBA.com, their offensive rating plunged from 107.2 to 99.1 when their star sat in 2015-16 and from 107.7 to 93.7 in 2014-15.
Gordon's effective field-goal percentage against opponents' benches last year was 52.4 percent, according to Nylon Calculus. He could be a contender for Sixth Man of the Year.
5. Trevor Ariza
Trevor Ariza wasn't the same player last year that he was in 2014-15.
Oh sure, if you look at the stat lines, they're not a whole lot different: He went from 12.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists to 12.7, 4.5 and 2.3. Doesn't seem like a whole lot to criticize, right?
If you look at his defensive real plus-minus at ESPN.com, though, it tells another story: In 2014-15, he posted a plus-2.36. Last year, he was at minus-0.65. He fell from seventh among small forwards to 44th out of 76. Of course, it's impossible to infer everything from just numbers. However, as the tension grew in the Rockets' locker room, it seemed to sap some of Ariza's tenacity.
If the team comes back with a fresh vibe to go with the new faces, it could make a world of difference for the wing who consistently takes on the toughest defensive assignment.
4. Patrick Beverley
Patrick Beverley's name gets floated in the rumor mill a lot. To a degree, it's understandable: He's not a traditional point guard in any stretch of the word. He's averaged 4.0 assists per 36 minutes for his career, for crying out loud.
Chris Paul gets that in a single rotation.
But the notion that Houston needs a true point guard died a quick and painful death when the Ty Lawson experiment failed last year. What do you want in a 1 when your primary ball-handler is at another position?
You want a guy who can create shots for himself, and 40 percent of Beverley's field goals were unassisted, according to NBA.com. You also want someone who can be a threat off the ball; Beverly had an effective field-goal percentage of 61.3 on catch-and-shoot attempts.
Finally, you want someone who defends well. Beverley is a pit bull and a former All-Defensive selection.
You might find a better point guard than Beverley, but where are you going to find a better fit alongside Harden, particularly at a bargain price of $6 million per year?
3. Ryan Anderson
Ryan Anderson was the Houston Rockets' big offseason acquisition, and if you're only looking at offense, it's an amazing one.
Anderson has 980 career threes. According to Basketball-Reference.com, only five other players 6'10" and taller have done that. Of those, only Dirk Nowitzki, Hedo Turkoglu and Rashard Lewis have a better three-point percentage than Anderson's 37.7.
But they've all also had more than twice as many games as Anderson, who nets 4.1 deep balls per 100 possessions, which is far and away the most of any of that small club. If we're just looking at the stretch 4 and what makes it stretchy, Anderson is the Mister Fantastic of the position.
And now he's playing on a team built by Daryl Morey (who leads the analytics revolution), is coached by Mike D'Antoni (whose seven-seconds-or-less Phoenix Suns teams tore up the league with three-point shooting) and led by Harden (whose drive-and-kick ways make him the perfect complement to Anderson's shooting).
You'll have to avert your eyes when Anderson is guarding the pick-and-roll, but he is going to be scoring many points for the Rockets this year.
2. Clint Capela
Clint Capela will step into the starting role vacated by Howard as the new anchor of the defense, and a lot will rest on his young shoulders.
He is ready for that task. Per ESPN.com, his DRPM from 2015-16 was plus-2.74, better than Howard's plus-1.62. The Rockets defense was four points per 100 possessions better when Capela was on the court, while their defensive rating was better with only Capela (103.5) than only Howard (105.7), per NBA.com.
But that's just the defensive side. The offensive fit is nice too, especially with Anderson in the fold. As Tim Bontemps noted for the Washington Post: "Clint Capela is the kind of young, bouncy player that could work as the center in a pick-and-roll with Harden, and Houston already has two quality three-point shooters in Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley."
When I think of an athletic, D'Antoni pick-and-roll big, it's easy to picture a young Amar'e Stoudemire. Capela isn't likely to see that kind of success, but he is liable to see that kind of role, and he's well suited for it.
1. James Harden
Harden should be mad. He should be egregiously offended. When he was left off the All-NBA team this year, he was the most productive player in history not to get on. Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports explained:
James Harden averaged 29 points, 7.5 assists, 6.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game for the Houston Rockets this year. It's a stat line that, according to Basketball-Reference.com's database, only two other players have managed since the NBA started recording steals in 1973: Michael Jordan, in 1988-89, and LeBron James, in 2007-08 and 2009-10.
We could go on and on about Harden's impact on offense and his rare talents there. His combination of scoring, passing and efficiency is exceedingly rare in the history of the league. But he was left off many ballots for a reason, even if it wasn't a fair one.
He lacks in defense and leadership.
Harden admitted as much, telling Jason Terry on his The Runway podcast, per Devine:
"I mean ... there's no answer for me. I don't know," Harden said when asked why he thought he didn't make one of the top three teams by teammate Jason Terry on his show, "The Runway," on Wednesday night. "That's something that I've been thinking about."
There is an answer, though, and Harden quickly eluded to it.
"But like I said, man, you know, it wasn't a good year," he said.
And this is the crux: Is he just mad, or is he stewing? Is he working on things in the offseason that will translate into two-way success on the court? Will he be a leader now that the Rockets have extended his contract and unreservedly handed him the keys to the team?
If Harden answers those things in the affirmative, he could come back and be the league MVP.