After a disappointing 2011-12 season, the Rockets added James Harden and Jeremy Lin and improved their .515 W% to .549 in 2012-13. This year, the Rockets made another big splash, adding Dwight Howard after a tumultuous season with the Lakers. Clearly the Rockets’ intent is to go for it all this season in coach Kevin McHale‘s third year with the team.
Outside of Howard and the loss of Carlos Delfino, the team looks a lot like it did last season. That means the Rockets will have to develop their young guys to improve the supporting staff around their core of Howard, Harden, and Chandler Parsons. They probably don’t have the firepower to compete with the likes of the Spurs and Thunder in the playoffs but the Rockets are slowly inching back to the success they saw under Jeff Van Gundy and Rick Adelman. Except this time, they’re not looking to make the semifinals, they’re going for the gold.
Points Per Game: 2nd
Points Allowed Per Game: 28th
Rebounds Per Game: 7th
Notable Losses: Carlos Delfino, Thomas Robinson
Lin’s first year in Houston didn’t quite live up to the hype as the former Knick averaged 13.4 points, 6.1 assists, and 1.6 steals per game while shooting 44 percent. Ironically, those numbers are almost identical to what he had done on the Knicks over 35 games but, not quite worth the $25 million contract the Rockets gave him. Worse, he completely disappeared in the playoffs, averaging just four points and two assists while shooting a miserable 25 percent. His lack of development could open the door for Patrick Beverley.
Beverley didn’t get to play too much in his rookie season but averaged a serviceable 11.5 points, 5.9 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.1 blocks, and 1.8 three-pointers per 36 minutes. In the playoffs, he saw more minutes than Lin and averaged a solid 11.8 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists, and shot 43 percent. It took Beverley four years of pro ball in Ukraine, Greece, and Russia to make it to the NBA but he could finally get his chance this season.
Brooks struggled mightily in 2010-11, shooting just 37.5 percent. That performance sent him to China for a year before he came back to join the Kings and later the Rockets, the team that originally drafted him. He definitely looked like a better shooter last season, averaging 45 percent from the floor and 37 percent from deep. He put up 13.6 points, 4.1 assists, 2.9 rebounds, and 1.1 steals per 36 minutes and should be a solid backup off the bench once again.
Canaan was the Rockets’ second-round pick this year and certainly has a lot of potential but a lot of questions as well. Although he averaged a career-high 21.8 points in his final year at Murray State, his shooting dropped from 47 percent to 43 percent and his three-point shooting dropped from 45.6 percent to 37 percent. Certainly, though, he can be a solid three-point shooter off the Rockets bench.
Shooting Guards: James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Reggie Williams – Grade: A-
After coming off the bench for three years in Oklahoma City, Harden established himself as an elite starting guard in 2012-13. Although his shooting dropped from 49 percent to 44 percent, he averaged 26 points, 5.8 assists, 4.9 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, and 2.3 three-pointers per game. If he can improve his shooting percentages ever so slightly, he could quickly solidify himself as one of the game’s best.
Garcia hasn’t shot over 40 percent in two straight years though looked better in Houston after coming over from Sacramento. He has solid three-point skills and can grab some rebounds, steals, and block some shots but don’t expect more than 15 minutes or so per game from him.
After a solid, though short, rookie season, Williams’ production has declined over the last three seasons and last year he played just 9.5 minutes per game as he dealt with injuries. He can get some rebounds but his 43 percent shooting and 3.7 points per game pretty much tell you everything you need to know about him.
Parsons turned into a very serviceable forward in his second year in the NBA, averaging 15.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, and one steal while shooting a strong .486 from the floor and .385 from three-point range. He does a bit of everything and continue to improve as the season went along, averaging 18 points and shooting .517 from the floor after the All-Star break. He’s really becoming a very, very solid forward.
Casspi is a terrible shooter, shooting under 39 percent last season, and doesn’t do much on either side of the ball. The Rockets could have used some more depth here but they’ll have to live with Casspi and Jones.
Jones showed some potential in his rookie season, averaging 13.6 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes over 19 games. At the same time, his .457 shooting for a power forward leaves plenty of room for improvement which is why he may play more at the three this season. That’s not a knock, he’s only 21 and was voted a D-League All-Star last year but he’ll need to be a more efficient scorer to see more minutes.
Smith is developing into a very solid defensive power forward/center after two seasons in the NBA. Last year he averaged six points, 4.6 rebounds, and 0.6 blocks per game, playing just 16 minutes. That’s right around 13.7 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes. He’ll get more playing time this season so we’ll see if that translates into a larger amount of minutes.
Motiejunas had a few moments last year but finished the year with 5.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 45.5 percent shooting. He’s not much of a rebounder and takes too many long shots for a seven-footer so he’ll likely remain in a limited bench role.
Centers: Dwight Howard, Omer Asik, Marcus Camby – Grade: A
Howard’s production dropped off slightly last season but it was right around where we’ve seen him for years. Over his last seven years, Howard is averaging 19.6 points, 13.5 rebounds, 2.4 blocks, and shooting 59 percent from the floor. You’re not going to find a better center than that and getting out of Los Angeles should be great for him.
Asik started at center for the Rockets last season and, while he doesn’t have the offensive prowess that Howard does, is as good a rebounder as anyone. He averaged 10.1 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks over 30 minutes per game and shot a solid 54 percent. He could be a starter elsewhere and will likely see plenty of time at power forward.
Camby is a big body on the bench. He rarely ever shoots anymore but he still has the size to be a solid rebounder and shot blocker in a very limited role.
Coach: Kevin McHale – Grade: B-
McHale enters his third season as the Rockets’ head coach and has finished with a record over .500 in back-to-back seasons. After winning 45 games last season and getting bounced from the playoffs, the Rockets are looking to make a real run this year. The addition of Dwight Howard will be a welcome one and the youngsters from last season have had an extra year to develop. Of course, with big Dwight Howard comes a big personality and McHale’s main job will be to keep the locker room working on the same page.
Team Grade: B+