Ranking the Top 25 Players in Houston Rockets History

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIAugust 1, 2013

Ranking the Top 25 Players in Houston Rockets History

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    The Houston Rockets have a storied history of Hall of Fame talent, making their top 25 players of all time list especially difficult to crack.

    The top 10 is made up of nearly all Hall of Fame players, and that speaks of the type of teams the Rockets have put on the court over the years. Ever since the team's days as the San Diego Rockets, they have only grabbed two NBA championships, however.

    The criteria for making this list are difficult relative to the competition, but not all that difficult in terms of understanding. Key players who played on the championship teams in 1994 and 1995 were immediately considered, as were those players who are lucky enough to be in the Hall of Fame. Players who also posted strong statistical lines in their careers with the Rockets were also considered.

    In order to determine what sets certain players apart from others, several components were looked at. Whether or not the player was a No. 1 overall selection in the NBA draft helped many candidates, as did appearances on All-NBA teams or winning the Rookie of the Year award. Players who played a majority of their careers with the Rockets also saw bumps in the rankings.

    Overall impact on the team was also considered, even though that's not something that can be statistically measured. Those players who left lasting imprints on the team and the league were placed higher on this list than others who simply fit in with the crowd.

Honorable Mention: Dikembe Mutombo

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    Dikembe Mutombo was a Rocket for the final five years of his career, 2004-2009. He made little impact on the team's ranking in the Western Conference, but it's difficult not to appreciate the impact Mutombo had on the NBA.

    Mutombo's famous taunts after blocking shots and his overwhelming presence in the paint made him useful to Houston even in the latter stages of his career. He only averaged 2.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.1 blocks per game with Houston, but did manage to shoot 50.1 percent from the floor.

    Because of his underwhelming statistical numbers, though, it wouldn't be fair to rank him anywhere higher the rankings. Mutombo had a long NBA career, but his days in Houston were a far cry from his early years with the Denver Nuggets and Atlanta Hawks.

25. Shane Battier

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    Shane Battier was with the Rockets from 2006 to 2011, though he was traded halfway through his last season in Houston to the Memphis Grizzlies. Throughout his short career in Houston, though, Battier made a name for himself as a three-point specialist.

    He shot 38.7 percent from three with the Rockets, establishing himself as one of the more consistent shooters in team history. Other than his shooting, though, his numbers weren't great across the board. He only averaged 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game and wasn't a member of any championship-caliber teams.

    He services were put to use, but they weren't used in the same way they have been over the past two seasons with the Miami Heat. His contributions rank him higher than Dikembe Mutombo, but his overall lack of impact prevent him from ranking higher.

24. Sam Cassell

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    Sam Cassell played his first three seasons in the NBA with the Rockets (1993-1996) and didn't really put up great numbers. He only averaged 10.2 points and 4.1 assists, ranking him with the least impactful statistically.

    That being said, Cassell was a key member of the two championship teams in the mid-90s. That alone puts him on the list. He started just one game during those two years, coming off the bench and making an impact when point guard Kenny Smith needed a breather.

    Without his contributions off the bench, the Rockets may have struggled to clinch their championships. Cassell went on to have a great NBA career.

23. Robert Reid

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    Robert Reid was a member of the Rockets from 1977-1988, though he missed the entire 1982-83 season. He retired at the age of 27, only to return the following season to the Rockets.

    Reid was never the best player at his position, nor was he one of the most dominant players in the game. He still put up respectable numbers in his career with Houston, dropping 12.8 points and grabbing 5.3 boards per contest.

    Given Reid's lack of hardware during his tenure in Houston, he comes in pretty low on this list. He's ahead of Sam Cassell, a player with two championships with the Rockets, because of his longevity with the team. 

    He's not a Hall of Famer, but Reid had a very respectable NBA career.

22. Sleepy Floyd

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    Sleepy Floyd was the Rockets point guard from midway through the 1987 season to 1993 and put up strong numbers on a team just a few seasons away from winning consecutive titles. Unfortunately, he was but a stepping stone to the players on those teams.

    Floyd averaged 11.3 points and 5.2 assists per game in his five-plus seasons with the team, but his biggest accomplishment might be the fact that he played in all 82 games in five of those seasons. He missed 30 games in his final season with the team, though he was no longer the same player he was in his earlier days at that point in his career.

    The Golden State Warriors dealt him to the Rockets in a package deal that netted Golden State Hall of Famer Ralph Sampson, and that is, perhaps, what makes Floyd famous in Houston.

21. Mike Newlin

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    Shooting guard Mike Newlin played eight of his 11 NBA seasons with the Rockets, and his long hair ranks amongst some of the best styles in team history. That's obviously not enough to put him on the list (though it would if this were a hairstyle ranking).

    Newlin posted strong numbers, dropping 14 points and dishing out 4.3 assists per game. His best season came in 1975-76 when he scored 18.6 points per game on 50.7 percent shooting. He was also great in 22 career playoff games, shooting 50 percent from the field and scoring 14.8 per game.

    Newlin never ranked amongst the best at his position, but the amount of time he spent with the team during his career propels him over the likes of Sleepy Floyd and some others who placed behind him. Newlin is one of the best Rockets whom nobody talks.

20. Luis Scola

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    Luis Scola was a beast for the Rockets from 2007-2012, and many members of the fan base were upset after he was waived by the team and allowed to sign with the Phoenix Suns. He was the heart and soul of a team that didn't see much success during his tenure.

    He averaged double digits in points in all five seasons, with three seasons exceeding 15 points per game. He was also a steady presence on the glass, pulling in at least 6.4 rebounds per game each year. Scola also won over the fans through being one of the most efficient players in the league, as he shot at least 49.1 percent from the floor in each season.

    Scola would fit perfectly on the current team with James Harden and Dwight Howard, as the team lacks a steady contributor at power forward. Unfortunately, the Rockets let him walk. It's a move that could continue to haunt general manager Daryl Morey for the rest of his tenure in Houston if the team doesn't win a championship.

19. Stu Lantz

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    Stu Lantz was taken with the first pick of the third round (that's right—third round) in the 1968 NBA draft by the San Diego Rockets. He played four seasons with the franchise, three of which came when the team was located in San Diego.

    Lantz put together a solid line, scoring 15.4 points, grabbing 3.9 boards and racking up 3.3 assists per game. The guard never accomplished anything major in the NBA, though he did score 20.6 points per game during the 1970-71 season.

    Lantz's contributions to the history of the franchise rank him ahead of Mike Newlin, who played double the amount of years with the team. Newlin, though he makes the cut for this list, was essentially just another blip on the radar in terms of quality Rockets players. Lantz played in the team's first season in Houston and put up strong numbers to boot.

18. John Lucas

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    John Lucas played three separate stints with the Rockets from 1976-1978, 1984-1986 and 1990. The No. 1 overall pick by the Rockets in the 1976 draft, Lucas is a prime example of what could have been. A rash of injuries and problems with drug addiction prevented him from reaching the pinnacle of the sport.

    He played 80 games or more just five times in his 14-year career and played under 50 games four times. He played in all 82 games in each of his first two seasons with the Rockets, but then played in 47, 65 and 49 games, respectively, in each of the next three.

    He was a very good player when on the court. He averaged 11.2 points and 7.1 assists during his five years with the Rockets, but there's no denying the fact that those marks could have been higher had injuries (and drug addiction) not taken a toll on his final three seasons with the team.

    As a No. 1 overall pick, a player who played three separate stints for Houston and a player who had a world of talent, the injury-ridden Lucas easily cracks the top 20.

17. Robert Horry

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    Robert Horry won seven NBA championships during his illustrious career as "Big Shot Bob," and the first two came as a member of the Rockets. He only played four seasons in Houston, but his shooting from deep were key to the success of the championship teams.

    He shot 33 percent from downtown during his time with the team, averaging double digits in points in three of the four seasons (he missed out in 1993-94 with 9.9 points per). His final season in Houston (1994-95) was both his career high in points per game (12.0) and the last time he ever averaged double digits.

    Horry's legacy as one of the most clutch shooters in NBA history began in Houston when the team selected him 11th overall in the 1992 draft, and that type of career deserves recognition. He likely ranks in the top 25 of each team he played for during his 16-year career (Rockets, Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs).

16. Cuttino Mobley

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    Cuttino Mobley, like Shane Battier and Robert Horry, is one of the best three-point shooters in team history. He drained 36.8 percent of his shots from there during his six-year tenure in Houston. That helped him post 16.7 points per game.

    During his rookie season in 1998-99, he averaged 9.9 points. While not spectacular, it was good enough for him to earn a spot on the NBA All-Rookie Second Team. Mobley was a member of some disappointing teams from 1998-2004, though, so it's difficult to put him any higher.

    Mobley went on to have a long career with stops in Orlando, Sacramento and Los Angeles (Clippers). Arguably his best years came in Houston, though. Finding a guard who could match his scoring touch and ability to shoot accurately from deep in team history is extremely difficult.

15. James Harden

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    James Harden has only played one season in Houston, but his role as team leader and responsibility of speeding up what figured to be a long and strenuous rebuild automatically rank him amongst some of the best players in team history. His pure talent also rivals that of some of the top players.

    He was All-NBA Third Team in 2012-13 after dropping 25.9 points, grabbing 4.9 rebounds and dishing out 5.9 assists per game. He truly filled the stat sheet and led the team to a playoff berth as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference.

    His presence was likely what gave general manager Daryl Morey the confidence to bring in superstar Dwight Howard, and the duo will form a formidable tandem for the opposition to deal with.

    The sky is the limit for Harden in Houston and will likely rank higher on the list before his tenure in the city ends. The type of impact he had in just one season with the team would suggest that he could rank in the top 10. If he brings a championship or two to the city, then maybe even top five. For now, he's sitting pretty at No. 15.

14. Vernon Maxwell

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    Vernon Maxwell had a great five-plus years in Houston that were capped off by two consecutive championships in 1994 and 1995. His role on the team was crucial, as he started 127 of the 139 regular-season games he was active for during the two championships years.

    He scored 14.6 points and dished out 4.6 assists per game, playing alongside point guard Kenny Smith in the backcourt, and the duo formed one of the best backcourts in the NBA during the early-90s. Maxwell often gets overlooked when talking about the best players in Rockets history, but his importance to the franchise should make him a lock on any "best of" list.

    Like many others, Maxwell's best career numbers came when he was in Houston. Leaving the Rockets just seems to have an adverse effect on the careers of many.

13. Steve Francis

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    Steve Francis was both explosive and disappointing in his five-plus years with the Rockets. His final season in 2007-08 only saw him play 10 games, but the previous, more healthy seasons were both a sight to behold and something to wince at.

    Francis filled the stat sheet in Houston, scoring 17.1 points, dishing out 5.8 assists and grabbing 5.5 rebounds per game. Those numbers are good enough to rank him higher than championship-winners like Vernon Maxwell and Robert Horry.

    The problem with Francis, though, is that he didn't lead the team to a championship, despite the hype surrounding him when he demanded to be traded after being drafted by the Vancouver Grizzlies. Francis wasn't the best role model for Rockets fans, nor was he what the team needed to get back to the promised land.

    Even still, he put up great numbers and is one of the more recognizable faces in team history.

12. Kenny Smith

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    Kenny Smith was the starting point guard on both of the championship teams in the mid-90s and was responsible for orchestrating the offense and the most successful squads in team history. Do I need to explain his presence on this list any further?

    He played six years in Houston, scoring 12.5 points and dishing out 5.2 assists per game. He shot a ridiculous 40.2 percent from deep in Houston, making him one of the best shooters in Rockets history. The speedy Smith was a catalyst to the championship teams and will forever be remembered in Houston.

    He's not top-10 worthy, but he's certainly worth a look as a fringe guy.

11. Otis Thorpe

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    Otis Thorpe is the most efficient scorer in Rockets history—period. He shot a ridiculous 56 percent from the floor during his six-plus-year tenure in Houston and established himself as one of the best post-scorers in the league.

    That type of efficiency led to a scoring average of 15.5 per game in Houston. He also threw in 9.6 rebounds per game for good measure. Thorpe's name belongs near the top of the list as far as great Rockets' big men go.

    Thorpe's career also wasn't the same after leaving Houston, as he never again averaged more than 14.2 points or 8.4 rebounds in a season.

10. Charles Barkley

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    Charles Barkley, a 2006 inductee into the Hall of Fame, played just four years in Houston. He averaged 16.3 points and 12 rebounds per game and is one of the most talented players to ever put on a Rockets uniform.

    Barkley never played in more than 68 games during a single season for Houston, as his playing days were beginning to come to an end when he signed with the team prior to the 1996-97 season. In fact, he retired after his fourth year, the 1999-00 season.

    He did not add any hardware to his collection when in Houston and remains one of the best players to never win an NBA championship in the history of the league. Regardless, Barkley is a one-of-a-kind talent and person.

    A Hall of Famer who played for the Rockets deserves recognition as one of the best in team history.

9. Tracy McGrady

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    Tracy McGrady was the Rockets from 2004-2010. He came over to Houston after leading the league in scoring in back-to-back years with the Orlando Magic, and the world was expected of him with his new team.

    He failed to deliver a championship, but he did deliver a scoring average of 22.4 points during his five-plus seasons in red. He did so on poor shooting percentages that never exceeded 43.1 percent, so maybe that's a reason why his teams weren't more successful.

    McGrady was the face of the franchise while there, even with Yao Ming in the fold. He's one of the most popular NBA players of the past decade or so, and Houston fans treated him like a king during his first four seasons there. After he failed to deliver championships, though, the relationship began to go sour.

    He may very well be the best pure scorer in team history, and that's why he makes the top 10. He may not have been as efficient as Otis Thorpe, but he scored at a much higher output and was the face of his team.

8. Rudy Tomjanovich

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    Rudy Tomjanovich played his entire 11-year career with the Rockets after being drafted No. 2 overall in 1970-71 when the team was still in San Diego. He was an important member of the core group that helped the team transition to Houston during the following season.

    Tomjanovich scored 17.4 points and grabbed 8.1 rebounds per game during his career and could have done much more in the NBA. Had Kermit Washington never landed a punch on Tomjanovich's jaw during an on-court fight in 1977, "Rudy T." could have continued playing at a high level for years to come.

    He continued to make an impact in Houston even after his retirement from playing, as he was the head coach for the team's two championships in the 90s. Tomjanovich is one of the most respected people in the history of the Rockets franchise.

7. Yao Ming

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    Yao Ming is one of the most polarizing figures in NBA history. Standing at 7'6" and weighing around 310 pounds, there's no wonder the Rockets had the confidence to take him No. 1 overall in the 2002 draft. Injuries derailed his career, but he still lived up to the expectations after putting together some great seasons.

    During his eight healthy years with the Rockets, Ming scored 19 points and pulled down 9.2 rebounds per game. His height gave him the advantage near the rim on both offense and defense, though it helped him to be extremely efficient on offense. He shot 52.4 percent for his career. It also helped him block 1.9 shots per game.

    Ming increased the NBA's popularity in China and made him one of the most popular athletes in all of sports. That type of impact puts Ming ahead of more talented players like Tracy McGrady and Otis Thorpe, though his "what-could-have-been" career just wasn't successful enough to rank him higher.

    With no championships and no major awards (other than five consecutive All-NBA selections from 2003-2009), Ming ranks just outside of the Rockets greats.

6. Ralph Sampson

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    Ralph Sampson is one of the most dominating big men in team history and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2012. At 7'4" and 215 pounds, Sampson was one of the lankiest players to ever play the sport. That didn't hinder his dominance in both the paint and on the boards, though.

    He finished his four-plus years in Houston with averages of 18.7 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. This was expected of him after he was selected No. 1 overall by the team in 1983.

    Sampson played in the NBA for just nine seasons, but he was so dominant, while active, he deserved a spot in the hall. As a No. 1 overall pick and a player who just manhandled the competition, Sampson is one of the best Rockets (and best centers) in history.

5. Clyde Drexler

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    Clyde Drexler was the missing piece to the championship puzzle in 1994, as the team went on to win the NBA Finals after acquiring him from the Portland Trail Blazers (along with Tracy Murray) for Otis Thorpe, Marcelo Nicola and a first-round draft pick.

    Drexler is one of the most talented players in NBA history and was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 2004. During three-plus years in Houston, he averaged 19.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game.

    The only thing preventing him from ranking a few spots higher is the fact that he was only a Rocket for a little over three seasons. The shortest tenure of the four players ranked ahead of him is six years. His dunking and scoring ability may be the best amongst all Rockets, but there were four more players who contributed more to the franchise than Drexler.

4. Calvin Murphy

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    Calvin Murphy, originally drafted 18th overall by the San Diego Rockets, was another member of this list to play for the first team in Houston. He played his entire 13-year career with the Rockets and is recognized accordingly as one of the best in franchise history.

    The 1993 Hall of Fame inductee averaged 17.9 points and 4.4 assists in his career and even shot 48.2 percent from the floor. He never delivered a championship and only played in one All-Star Game in 1979. He was a member of the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 1970-71, but that represents the only real hardware Murphy earned outside of his enshrinement in the hall.

    Murphy spent his whole career with the franchise, though, and that propels him ahead of Clyde Drexler, Ralph Sampson and others who spent just portions of their career with the Rockets.

3. Elvin Hayes

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    Elvin Hayes was drafted first overall by the San Diego Rockets in 1968, and, along with several other players on this list, ushered in the Rockets' existence in Houston. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1990 and played seven full seasons with the Rockets.

    He averaged an astounding 20.5 points and 12.2 rebounds per game over seven seasons, but the most stunning thing about Hayes was that he missed just two games in his entire career with the Rockets. Those two games came during his final two years in the NBA (one per year in 1982-83 and 1983-84). He missed just nine games in his 16-year career.

    Hayes is one of the best (and most reliable) players in the history of the NBA. It's amazing that there are actually two players ranked ahead of him, but both are deserving of such an honor.

2. Moses Malone

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    Moses Malone, a Rocket from 1976-1982, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2001. He averaged over 20 points per game 11 times in his NBA career and averaged 23.7 points in six seasons with the Rockets. He also averaged a ridiculous 15 rebounds per game in Houston.

    Malone was a 13-time All-Star, three-time NBA, Finals MVP with the Philadelphia 76ers, All-Rookie team member, two-time All-Defensive team member and eight-time All-NBA team member. Not many can say they have that type of resumé.

    As one of the top players in the history of the NBA, he was a lock to be in the top three here. His dominance and ridiculous per-game totals rank him ahead of Elvin Hayes, though they were not nearly enough to rank him ahead of the top player in Rockets history.

1. Hakeem Olajuwon

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    Did you really expect anybody different? There aren't enough words to describe the career of Hakeem Olajuwon.

    He spent 17 seasons with the Rockets after being drafted first overall by the team in 1984. He was a member of both championship teams of the 90s and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008 after averaging 25.9 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game in Houston.

    Heck, he even had an offensive move named after him. Olajuwon continues to mentor NBA big men to this day, and his impact on the NBA will continue to be felt as long as he takes a part in the league. Olajuwon is one of the best players of all time and is—by far—the best player in Rockets history.

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