With Dwight Howard securely ensconced as a Houston Rocket, the front office has lately turned its attention to filling out the rest of the roster. Of last season’s players who are no longer with Houston, Carlos Delfino stands alone as the only major rotation player and an integral part of last season’s success. Morey & co. were faced with the challenge of replacing Delfino’s productivity and adding depth to the Rockets’ roster without the cap space needed to chase well-known rotation players. Despite this limited financial flexibility, the front office’s performance has been predictably stellar.
Delfino was a pivotal role player on last year’s Rockets team. His role as a three-point specialist fit perfectly within Houston’s offensive philosophy and allowed the Rockets to play small-ball with Parsons at the 4-spot. Delfino played 25 minutes per game last year, shot 38% from three on 6.3 attempts per game, and three-pointers constituted two-thirds of his field goal attempts. Per 48 minutes, the Rockets shot 7 more three’s with Delfino on the floor and scored 3 more points overall. The most oft-used line-up in which Delfino played was the Asik-Delfino-Lin-Harden-Parsons unit, which had a +8.6 point scoring differential, shot 42% from three, and scored 110 points per 100 possessions, a rate on pace with that of Miami’s and OKC’s league-leading offenses. Throughout the season, Delfino was the Rockets’ de facto sixth man, a deadly three-point shooter who provided Houston with optimal floor spacing:
Outside of Howard, the Rockets’ off-season acquisitions have been comprised of veterans on short-term minimum-level contracts. Three of the players whom Houston has signed are candidates to soak up Delfino’s minutes; the other two are players who are familiar to Rockets’ fans and who will fill specific roles.
The Delfino Replacements:
Francisco Garcia (two-year contract at the minimum, player option for second year)
The most obvious and readily available player to step into Delfino’s role is Francisco Garcia. Garcia was traded to the Rockets in the Thomas Robinson deal with the Kings. A career 36% three-point shooter, Garcia played 18 games for Houston during the regular season and shot 38% from deep. Garcia saw an uptick in his minutes during the playoffs, in which he averaged 27 minutes per game (vs. 18 minutes per game during the regular season). Indeed, the Rockets’ most oft-used line-up in the 6 games against OKC was the Beverley-Asik-Garcia-Harden-Parsons unit, which had a +17 scoring margin. In short, Garcia was a good fit for the Rockets last season, and he appears primed to assume a more prominent role this year.
Note that Garcia’s ’12-’13 shot-chart is not all that different from Delfino’s:
Reggie Williams (two-year contract at the minimum, second year non-guaranteed)
Williams is a 6’6” small forward who just finished his fourth year in the league. He had his breakout season (’09-’10) as a rookie in Golden State, a year in which he played 33 minutes per game and averaged 15 points per game. Last year, he assumed a greatly diminished role in Charlotte, appearing in only 40 games and playing a paltry 10 minutes per game. He is, however, a career 37% shooter from deep (although his 3-point percentage has dropped from 36%/42% in his first two years to just 31% the past two seasons). Although Williams’ productivity has declined in recent seasons, the Rockets are effectively making a low-risk bet that he can regain some of his former usefulness as an accurate high-volume three-point shooter.
Omri Casspi (two-year contract at the minimum, team option for second year)
Casspi, at 6’9”, could potentially play either forward position. A former first round pick of Sacramento’s, Casspi has spent the past two seasons languishing in relative obscurity in Cleveland. Like Williams, Casspi has seen his playing time diminish over his brief career: this past season, he played only 12 minutes per game in 43 games. Nonetheless, Casspi is a career 35% three-point shooter and a player who adds additional flexibility to an already malleable Rockets roster.
The Insurance Policies:
Marcus Camby (one-year contract at the minimum)
At 39 years of age, Camby’s best days are surely behind him. Camby’s health also raises concerns: he played only 24 games last season for the Knicks. Rockets fans, however, will recall a surprisingly effective stint that Camby had on Houston in the latter half of the ’11-’12 season. Camby appeared in 19 regular-season games, starting 13 of them and playing 24 minutes per game while hauling in 9 rebounds per game. Despite his obvious limitations, Camby should still be able to provide a defensive presence in the event that Howard or Asik goes down with an injury. At the very least, he will provide additional depth to what is already the most defensively devastating tandem of centers in the NBA.
Aaron Brooks (one year contract at the minimum)
Brooks, of course, is a classic Morey find. Drafted at the end of the first round of the 2007 draft, Brooks exceeded all expectations by averaging 20 points and 5 assists per game in the ’09-’10 season, garnering most-improved player honors in the process. Since then, Brooks has bounced around to a few different teams (namely, Phoenix and Sacramento) but has yet to re-emerge as the creative offensive force he was during his first tour of duty in Houston. Brooks spent the majority of last season with the Kings before signing with the Rockets for the latter end of the year. In limited minutes as the third-string point guard behind Lin and Beverley, Brooks was largely disastrous: he put up a PER of only 7 and turned the ball over nearly a quarter of the time. His play was not as actively damaging in the playoffs: in 11 minutes per game he sported a more reasonable (although still below-average) PER of 11 and turned the ball over only once every seven possessions. By bringing back Brooks for another year, the Rockets are making another low-risk investment in a player who could end up being a useful third PG by virtue of his ability to create his own offense.
With the addition of Dwight Howard, the Rockets have gone from a young team with upside to a legitimate championship contender with the need to populate its roster with capable veterans. By filling out its roster with veterans who have been productive role players in the past, Houston is actively fulfilling this mandate. Better yet, all five players signed by Houston come with minimum-level, short-term contracts and constitute low-risk investments that could pay off nicely as the season progresses. Faced with limited resources, the front office has done an admirable job of filling the void left by Delfino and ensuring that the Rockets will have a deep and flexible roster for next season.