NBA seasons are lengthy journeys. As they unfurl, every player, coach, and team experiences a million ups and twice as many downs. They have to because the sport demands it.
From Fall to Spring, thousands of possessions play out. Shots misfire. Defensive rotations are bungled. Passes flub off finger tips and roll out of bounds. Thunderous dunks electrify the crowd. Corner threes rip through the net. Players evolve, teams improve, and organization’s grow.
A lot goes on. And even with two eyes, DVR, League Pass Broadband, and a collection of statistical databases always there to keep us informed, a little bit can slip through the cracks.
Welcome to Red94’s Player Power Rankings—aka what lies beneath the cracks—where I’ll be grading everyone on Houston’s roster in a traditional “Power Ranking” format. Who’s playing well? Who’s not playing their best? Who deserves a non-refundable ticket to the NBA glue factory? Who’s the MVP of the Universe? It’s all here, every Friday afternoon.
Our inaugural piece is only operating with information from Wednesday’s victory against the Charlotte Bobcats, but next week’s will grade the players based on the games they play from tonight to next Friday. The assessments aren’t accumulative. (If that were the case, James Harden and Dwight Howard would sit at the top all season long.) They’re based on a combination of dozens of statistics gathered from various sources and my own objective views that come from watching games unfold.
Much like the players involved, this weekly post will hopefully progress from now to the end of the season. If you have any suggestions on how to make it better, don’t hesitate to e-mail me at MichaelVPina@gmail.com. (It should be noted that this is not an original idea, and I’ll be humbled if the project is half as delightful relative to what SB Nation’s Seth Rosenthal used to do over at New York Magazine.) On that note, on with the rankings, which will only cover those who played.
9) Aaron Brooks: Hmmm, not much to say here other than he was the only Rocket to see the floor and not score a single point. He also tried to set some sneaky screens for Garcia and Parsons, the latter being awful and one of his three fouls. Brooks’ 10 minutes were the result of Beverley’s injury, but you already knew that.
8) Omri Casspi: For all intents and purposes, Omri Casspi and Francisco Garcia are the exact same person. The two are interchangeable parts in Houston’s championship contending machine. On Wednesday it was Garcia who lit it up from deep, but Casspi will undoubtedly have his moments as the season goes on. He subbed in for Omer Asik as the first man off Kevin McHale’s bench, and played admirable defense, both in the post and against the pick-and-roll (the latter was a bit dicier, especially in the early going when paired with Jeremy Lin). With 30 seconds left in the first quarter, and Houston scrambling to convert a high percentage 2-for-1, Casspi caught a pass in the corner, took two dribbles towards the free-throw line and whipped a one-armed pass across the court to Garcia for an open three, which he made. That’s kind of the stuff Casspi does. He isn’t just a spot up shooter. He can put it on the floor and make plays for others, or score off the dribble. The first of his two field goals against Charlotte came on a magnificent, left-handed contested floater.
7) Chandler Parsons: It’s the one NBA sequence that best resembles churning butter. Chandler Parsons positions himself in the weakside corner as James Harden and Dwight Howard run a side pick-and-roll. Once Howard begins to roll (or Harden gets a head of steam chugging towards the rim), Parsons races the baseline towards the basket. Whoever’s supposed to be guarding him is mesmerized by the synergy commencing between Howard and Harden, and right before he reaches the rim, Harden lobs Parsons a beauty to be thrown down. Apart from that small sample of basketball pornography, which took place late in the second quarter, Game 1 wasn’t really Parsons’ night to shine. He missed a bucket full of wide open threes and miscommunicated with Garcia trying to defend a Josh McRoberts/Gerald Henderson pick-and-roll that ended in a Bobcats layup. If Houston wasn’t in transition, Parsons wasn’t effective.
6) Omer Asik: Raise your glass. Here’s to the quietest 14 rebound game in NBA history. I have a bad feeling nobody will recognize Asik (again) this year, and that’s a shame. Late in the game, when Josh McRoberts proved to be too quick for Dwight Howard on the perimeter, Kevin McHale subbed in Omri Casspi for…Asik. (Definitely not saying this was the wrong move, just pointing out how unfair life can be.) Don’t cry for him, but it’s OK to shed a tear.
5) Patrick Beverley: He unfortunately only logged 10 minutes thanks to a rib injury that’ll now keep him out of the lineup for 10-14 days. Earlier today I wrote more about why I love everything Beverley does on the defensive end. The only concern is whether his maniacal energy is sustainable in starter’s minutes throughout an entire season.
4) Jeremy Lin: Even though he came off the bench Wednesday night, Jeremy Lin is currently fourth in the league in “total drives” (which measures “any touch that starts at least 20 feet from the basket and is dribbled within 10 feet of the hoop. Fast break drives are excluded.”) with 14, according to the new, insanely cool SportVU feature on NBA.com/Stats. This shouldn’t surprise you if you watched the Bobcats game. Every seam he saw, he attacked, whether it was provided by a Dwight Howard/Omer Asik screen, or his man was simply playing up too tight. This type of controlled hostility is why Lin is such a weapon coming off the bench (in my opinion, he’s the league’s best backup point guard—apologies to Jarrett Jack). He shot 60% on those 14 drives, which is incredible and unsustainable, but an obvious great sign nonetheless.
3) James Harden: Bothered by a tight back, Harden wasn’t his constantly aggressive self. He still attacked the basket and led the Rockets with six made free-throws, but this just wasn’t the same guy. Throughout the season I may be hyper-critical of Harden’s defensive shortcomings, but that’s only because most of them are so non-sensical, especially his off ball cluelessness. There wasn’t much growth in the preseason, and some of his bad habits continued against Charlotte (making an Al Jefferson screen look like a fishing net, over helping in the post when he has freaking Dwight Howard and Omer Asik as more than capable one-on-one post defenders, standing in the paint and completely losing track of his man who’s probably still open at the three-point line, etc.), but there were improvements. He successfully iced a pick-and-roll with Howard’s help, getting in front of Charlotte’s screener and forcing Gerald Henderson into a tough fall away baseline jumper. Offensively we already know Harden is that dude. He operates side pick-and-rolls with Howard like a magician, either drawing a shooting foul or dribbling out and luring the big away for a switch every single time. Whenever Howard provides him with a flat screen, Harden becomes a lava catapult. It’s scary, but fun, and looked extra amazing because it came against Al Jefferson, who’s unofficially the worst pick-and-roll defender who ever lived.
2) Francisco Garcia: Right before halftime on the Rockets television broadcast, J.B. Bickerstaff referred to Francisco Garcia as ‘Cisco. Which is way too close to this. Garcia is too good for that. He needs a nickname. Come on people, I know you’re creative. OK, Moving onto his performance: wow. Does he ever miss from behind the arc? And could convincing him to opt out of his deal then re-signing him to a cheaper contract be one of the all-time great Daryl Morey moves? Garcia launched one three every 3.3 minutes he was on the floor Wednesday night. He made five of them and scored 19 points. But what’s so awesome about him is the veteran pep. When Houston went small and Garcia caught the ball in the corner with a larger guy closing out, he simply drove baseline to make something cool happen. The Rockets averaged 1.18 points per possession in the 30 minutes he was on the floor, and while that number will obviously go down (as will the five made threes, probably), it’s not surprising that it got that high in the first place. He’s a perfect piece for this team—except when operating pick-and-rolls with Omri Casspi, as he did insipidly late in the first quarter.
1) Dwight Howard: So, he’s healthy! That’s cool. Twenty six rebounds, an unstoppable right-handed jump hook that made Bismack Biyombo wish Charlotte didn’t pick up his team option, and a string of devastating screens to spring James Harden and Jeremy Lin towards the basket. Howard had a pretty wonderful debut with the Houston Rockets. His rebounds weren’t ones that just fall in his lap either. He fought for a bunch of them, leaping over guys; sometimes battling between two and three Bobcats to gain possession. Things started slow and ugly, with Howard either traveling, stepping out of bounds, or fouling is man while trying to make a post move. But we’ll chalk those up to early season jitters. Overall, Howard has been worth every penny.