Houston Rockets Power Rankings: Evaluating Full Roster After First 6 Weeks
The first six weeks for Houston have been quite eventful. The Rockets came out firing, jumping out to a 6-0 start.
It's been a little downhill since then with injuries to several key players along the way, but overall, the Rockets have cemented themselves among the Western Conference's elite.
It's been a collective team effort for Houston thus far, to say the least. The Rockets have not had the same starting lineup for five consecutive games this season. The group they wanted out there at the tip has started together just twice, both in the month of October.
Terrence Jones has been out practically all season with nerve damage in his leg. Patrick Beverley has repeatedly had to nurse a gimpy hamstring back to health, and now Dwight Howard is having knee problems of his own.
To top it all off, Howard is also under investigation for a child abuse case in Georgia.
The Rockets have had to depend on their bench, which was their biggest concern coming into the year. The inexperience and immaturity of Houston's second-stringers have not been much of an issue, as the Rockets have kept pace with the top teams in the NBA.
In a twist of irony, all these early health issues could be a blessing in disguise. First, it's better to lose guys to injury in November than it is in March or April.
Second, the youngsters on the bench are getting some meaningful minutes early on, and that can build their confidence once playoff time rolls around.
So far, every single player under contract has seen the floor for Houston. Here's a breakdown of each player in the first installation of player power rankings for the 2014-15 season.
The rankings are based on the most significant impact each player has had to the Rockets' cause early on this year.
All stats are from ESPN.com unless otherwise noted and are accurate as of 12/6/14.
The Injured Reserves
Injuries affect the majority of NBA teams throughout the course of a season, but other than the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Rockets have been bitten the worst by the injury bug.
For these power rankings, I won't be counting anyone who has missed at least a third of the season due to injury. This leaves out Beverley, Jones and Howard.
Howard has missed a good chunk of games in a row with a knee strain. After pulling himself out of the starting lineup just moments before a matchup with the L.A. Lakers, he went on to miss the rest of the five-game homestand and then some.
He's been listed as day-to-day and is reportedly making progress, and the sooner the Rockets get him back, the better.
Howard has appeared in 10 games so far this season, and he has done quite well in all of them. He's averaging 18.8 points and 11.3 boards per game to go along with a couple of blocks.
Howard has anchored the top-rated defense in the league, which is a very impressive feat for a Houston team that struggled mightily on that end last season.
Hopefully the plasma therapy will help get him back to normal. Rockets fans should also hope that his run-in with the law in Georgia doesn't amount to anything, either.
Beverley re-injured his tender hamstring in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Mavericks back on November 22. He has had issues with this hammy for quite a while now, and coach Kevin McHale has decided it would be best not to rush back on the court.
Beverley first pulled the hamstring in the second game of the season at Utah versus the Jazz. He cycled in and out of the lineup for the next few weeks before pulling it again against Dallas.
After missing five straight contests, Bev returned against the Phoenix Suns and had a big game. He scored 19 points with five three-pointers, and he grabbed a couple of offensive rebounds in the final minutes to help seal the win.
As for Jones, things don't look quite as positive. A nerve inflammation can be a dangerous situation, as Jones noted, "It was scary, very scary for me not to have any movement in my leg at first, and not being able to move it as a basketball player is going to scare anybody."
There is no timetable for Jones' return, and that could be ways down the road, considering he just recently was able to move his toes once again. His season, which got off to such a promising start, could be in the books.
We can only hope Jones makes significant progress in the coming months and can return to action for the Rockets.
Isaiah Canaan has also been out for a bit with a twisted ankle, but he is only sidelined for a short amount of time and should return to the lineup soon.
He has already been a key contributor early on, but we'll get to that later. Same goes for Kostas Papanikolaou, who strained his knee and could miss some time.
In addition to the injured players, the Rockets' two draft picks from this past summer will not be a part of the power rankings, either.
Both Clint Capela and Nick Johnson have been up and down between the NBA and the D-League this season, but neither has played in more than seven games for the Rockets.
Capela was Houston's first-round pick in July, 25th overall. At the time, general manager Daryl Morey had bigger things on his mind, like attracting a third superstar.
Capela seemed like the best pick because he could be stashed overseas and not cost Morey a penny. One disappointing free-agency offseason later, Capela is now in the States playing for the Rockets.
After starting the year on the big league roster for a few weeks, Capela was sent down to the D-League to play in the valley.
With the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Capela is averaging 9.0 points and 7.2 rebounds in under 15 minutes per game, including this massive dunk. In his two NBA appearances, Capela is yet to score a point, but he did pick up a few blocks.
Johnson, the 42nd overall pick, has also been back and forth between Houston and Rio Grande. In the valley, Johnson has run the show, scoring 21.7 points per contest.
He has made eight appearances for the Rockets, in which he hadn't done much until hitting this big game-winning shot against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Johnson has shown some flashes of potential serviceability down the road.
Both of these guys got to see some quality playing time in the D-League before being recalled back to the NBA due to all the injuries. With Beverley and Canaan both missing time, Johnson has gotten a handful of the backup point guard minutes.
Capela has only seen the floor in garbage time, but the Rockets still need him while Howard remains out with a strained knee.
It will probably be a while before these guys give serious contributions, but for the time being, they will continue to develop.
10. Troy Daniels
A short time ago, Troy Daniels went from being an unknown rookie to a playoff hero. The 23-year-old hit a game-winning three-pointer in Portland to save the Rockets' postseason lives after playing just five games during the regular season last year.
Some, including myself, thought that Daniels' playoff success would translate to this season and he would be a key contributor in Houston's rotation. Unfortunately, this has not been the case.
Daniels has appeared in 13 games so far this season, but he is averaging less than six minutes per appearance. Most of his minutes have come in garbage time, even with all of the injuries the Rockets have sustained in the first handful of weeks.
The 6'4" guard signed on with the Rockets as an undrafted free agent two summers ago because of his rare shooting ability. This kid can shoot the lights out, but he is mysteriously shooting just 24.2 percent from deep this season.
Many of those shots have been contested, and a lot of them are near-misses, but that percentage is just not getting it done.
When Daniels hits the floor, usually the game is already over, and he likes to launch threes right away. It's tough for players to sit out the whole game and not come out a bit cold in the fourth quarter, but still, it should be different for Daniels.
Shooting threes is his specific role on the team, and while I don't think his job is in any danger quite yet, it would be best for both him and the Rockets if he started knocking down shots from long distance at a much better clip.
9. Francisco Garcia
Similar to Daniels, Francisco Garcia has primarily been a three-point shooter throughout his 10-year career. However, the 32-year-old has not been shooting particularly well this season with the Rockets.
Garcia is connecting on just 22.7 percent of his three-point attempts in the early going. That rate is well below the team average of 35.2 percent.
The Rockets have made the most threes in the NBA, but unfortunately Garcia has not been a big part of that, even though that is his main role with the team.
It hasn't been all bad for the 6'7" forward this year. He has been able to play some solid defense as part of the team's revitalized focus on that end of the floor. He has also pitched in as one of the main facilitators off the bench, especially since the injuries to point guards Beverley and Canaan.
The veteran will be counted on for plenty of minutes while the injured players remain sidelined. While he may not be stuffing the stat sheet, Garcia's leadership and experience have had a positive impact. But overall, it hasn't been a fantastic year for Garcia.
8. Joey Dorsey
In his return to the Rockets (and to the NBA), Joey Dorsey has gotten a handful of opportunities due to injury. With Howard out of the lineup, Dorsey has become the primary backup center behind Tarik Black.
Things got off to a bit of an ugly start for the 6'9" big man. The undersized center looked lost and a bit overpowered in the NBA game play upon his return from overseas.
He's somewhat of an offensive liability, including a 21.4 free-throw percentage that has been exposed by some teams who have hacked him. In November, the 30-year-old put up just 1.3 points and 2.6 rebounds in 8.4 minutes of playing time.
December, however, has been a lot kinder to Dorsey. With Howard out, his minutes have gone up to 18.0 per game, and his statistics have improved drastically.
He is grabbing 7.5 boards, and his free-throw percentage is up to 50 percent. He also is shooting 60 percent from the floor after a 38.9 percent clip the previous month.
Dorsey has gotten more accustomed to the NBA style of play after about a month of getting back into the groove. His defense has been sufficient in the low post, and he has even started his own highlight reel.
When Howard returns, his minutes should see a sharp decline, but it's still nice to know that he's no longer totally useless and a waste of space. In fact, he can be trusted to come in and play quality minutes on a nightly basis.
7. Isaiah Canaan
It has been an interesting season for Isaiah Canaan. The former Murray State Racer was not even in the rotation at all at one point this season. Yet when Beverley went down, he got the nod as the starting point guard.
In his nine starts, Canaan is averaging 12.6 points. He is shooting 43.1 percent from deep, which fits in quite nicely to Houston's lineup. But it's not just his shooting that's been impressive. At 6'0", Canaan is the Rockets' best penetrator other than Harden, and he can finish around the rim over bigger defenders.
The 23-year-old is a dual scoring threat offensively, and he can hold his own on defense against talented opposing guards. He was on a roll until he twisted his ankle on November 28 versus the L.A. Clippers.
With Beverley back from injury, it will be intriguing to see if Canaan gets back into the rotation. His play has shown that he certainly deserves it and can positively contribute.
Even with Beverley, Harden and Jason Terry dominating the minutes at guard, Canaan should see some playing time when he gets back. He has proven to be a great replacement for Jeremy Lin at backup point guard with his prolific scoring.
6. Tarik Black
At the beginning of training camp, no one gave 6'11" Tarik Black a chance to make the team, and yet here he is. The undrafted big man has been the backup center for Howard after a monster preseason earned him a roster spot.
With Howard out, Black has now started 10 games in his young NBA career. The 23-year-old center has been a big help in Howard's absence, cleaning the glass and playing some good interior defense. He has done a great job of attacking the offensive boards and getting second-chance points for the Rockets.
When Howard returns, Black will get a big decrease in minutes, but he'll still get in the game a decent amount. His ability to fill in at center and do the dirty work in the paint has had a significant impact for Houston.
Without him, the Rockets certainly would not be 7-3 minus Howard.
5. Kostas Papanikolaou
It's a shame Papanikolaou went down with a knee injury against Minnesota, because he was playing very well for the Rockets in his young rookie season. Big Papa has been great as a stretch 4, point-forward type of player in Houston's small-ball lineups.
The 6'8" forward has great playmaking ability for his size. He can penetrate the lane and has a knack for making great passes.
His shooting has been erratic, especially from deep. He's only shooting 29.9 percent from behind the arc, but he has had a few games where he couldn't miss. He also commits too many turnovers at times, but that and his shooting will become more consistent with experience.
With a grade 1 MCL sprain, K Pap will sit out for about 10-14 days until he can get back on the court. The Rockets will miss his presence in the lineup and his ability to give the offense flow as a playmaking forward.
4. Jason Terry
What can I say about the Jet? When the Rockets first traded for Terry in the offseason, we weren't sure if they were going to keep him. Now, he's been the strongest player off the bench and is a big reason for their impressive record.
At 37 years old, Terry looks like he's a young kid again with the Rockets. When Beverley and Canaan both went down, he stepped in as the starting point guard. In his four games as a starter, Terry is averaging 16.5 points and 4.5 assists, shooting 60 percent from deep.
All season long, Terry has been a catalyst for the Rockets on both ends of the floor. He brings endless energy and loves to get the crowd involved, but more importantly, his three-point shooting and veteran leadership have helped the Rockets continue to win.
3. Trevor Ariza
The biggest signing of the summer, Ariza is earning his paycheck for the Rockets, and it's showing big time. The 6'8" forward was brought in to help improve the team's defense, and he has done so swimmingly.
Houston is second in the NBA in defensive efficiency, behind only the Golden State Warriors. Everyone is buying in and playing great defense, but Ariza's contribution cannot be underestimated on that end of the floor.
Ariza matches up with the opposing team's best player night in and night out, regardless of the position. It doesn't matter if it's 7'0" Dirk Nowitzki or point guard Chris Paul, Ariza will match up and lock down.
On offense, Ariza has left a bit to be desired, which is probably why he ended up as third on this list. Although he somehow manages to put in nearly 14 points per game, the way he gets there is not pretty.
His red-hot three-point percentage from early on this year is down to just 36.0 percent, not even top three on the team. From the field in general, he's only shooting 38.4 percent.
His stroke from long range is off, and he is not good at creating his own shot one-on-one. Again, his defense deserves praise, and he should be rewarded at season's end for his mastery on that end of the floor.
But his offense needs some work. Fortunately, this has not affected the Rockets' chances at winning, and his contract at half the price of Chandler Parsons' in Dallas is still looking as good as ever.
2. Donatas Motiejunas
At the beginning of the year, D-Mo was looking like a bust. Even after a great summer, he looked lost on both ends of the floor and could not compete down low. Suddenly, it's like someone just flipped the switch.
Not only is he looking better, but Motiejunas has been leading the charge for the Rockets along with Harden as of late. With no Howard or Jones, Motiejunas has been dominating the paint on both ends of the floor.
In the month of December, the 7-foot Lithuanian is averaging 14.0 points and 7.5 boards. He looks comfortable in the post with a vast array of moves on the block. He also is holding his own defensively, and he has finally figured out how to box out.
In a recent game against the Wolves, the Rockets were down on the road without Harden or Howard. Who do you go to? D-Mo! Motiejunas carried the Rockets to an overtime win with his ability to wreak havoc in the post.
D-Mo has been considered at stretch 4 in the past with his decent shooting ability. This year, he is shooting just 25.9 percent from deep, but the good news is that he no longer has to look for that shot.
Motiejunas has learned not to shoot the three-point ball unless it is available to him in the flow of the offense. Instead, he will keep the ball moving and then fight for position down low.
It's not just his impressive scoring ability. D-Mo is doing it all. He is playing hard on defense, his passing from the post has been great and he has done all of the little things, too.
He is boxing out for rebounds, and his rotations on defense have been fantastic. The only bright side of Jones' leg injury has been D-Mo finally realizing his potential.
1. James Harden
Not-so-bold prediction: The Beard will win MVP.
Harden has done some phenomenal things with a not-so-great supporting cast for Houston this season. He has kept up the scoring but has added the passing, rebounding and most importantly, the defense. He has made a great case for himself to earn MVP honors for 2014-15.
Harden is still as good a scorer as there is in the NBA. He can shoot with the best of them and get to the free-throw line at will. It's his other contributions that deserve all the attention.
Harden has improved as a facilitator this season. His 6.5 assists per game are far greater than his career average. Even with all of the injuries, Harden is still able to get his teammates involved.
His patience with the ball in his hands and his keen ability to see the open man when drawing a double-team have been the entire offense for Houston. Without Harden in the game, the Rockets offense is historically bad, but his presence changes everything.
The most impressive improvement to Harden's game by far is his defense. He is clearly refocused on that end, averaging 1.9 steals and 1.1 blocks per game. Believe it or not, despite all of those videos of his lazy defense, Harden currently leads the league in defensive win shares. I can't make this stuff up!
The Beard is fifth in the league in offensive win shares, but it's his defense that's winning games. With 75 percent of his starting mates on the sidelines, he is continuously leading his team to victory on both ends of the floor. If that doesn't deserve MVP, I don't know what does.
Sure, Stephen Curry and Marc Gasol have been on fire, and their teams are thriving. Yet the Rockets have kept pace with them. The only difference: The Grizzlies and Warriors have all their starters. Think about that.