Every Friday, I rank every active Rocket (who sees the floor) based on his performance from the previous week. If you missed the most recent installment, here you go.
Also, there were no rankings last week due to holiday traveling/celebration by yours truly. So, sincerest apologies for that. This week I’ll only be covering Houston’s past three games: A victory over the New Orleans Pelicans, followed by two bad losses against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Sacramento Kings.
11) Ronnie Brewer (Last week: 12)
Brewer registered two (count ‘em, two) defensive rebounds in six minutes of action this week. Onward and upward.
10) Isaiah Canaan (Last week: N/A)
The rookie makes his debut on the Red94 Player Power Rankings by scoring the first four points of his career in garbage time against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The first two were free-throws that bobbled above the rim before falling through. His first field goal came at the expense of Thunder second year forward Perry Jones, who tried but failed to ice a side pick-and-roll. Canaan saw the mistake and drove baseline for a nifty layup. I know very little about this player but have a strange feeling he’ll contribute in a meaningful way at some point this season.
9) Donatas Motiejunas (Last week: 11)
He can’t play defense right now, and has yet to display an understanding of how to time a hedge—and control his body—defending the pick-and-roll. He can’t backup Dwight Howard because he can’t do this, he can’t protect the rim, and he isn’t a very good rebounder for someone that tall.
There was a quick two play sequence against the New Orleans Pelicans that pretty much sums up why Motiejunas spends most of his time on the bench. Houston started the second quarter with him on the floor instead of Howard. The Pelicans ran two straight pick-and-rolls with Jason Smith and Tyreke Evans, springing Motiejunas and James Harden into action.
On the first play, Motiejunas extends too far out and fouls Evans.
Moments later the Pelicans run the exact same play, and there appears to be a miscommunication between Harden and Motiejunas.
After setting the screen, Smith rolls towards the paint and Harden shadows him. This decision surprises Motiejunas, who believes he’s supposed to hedge then recover. Harden either thinks the two are switching, or is woefully out of position on purpose (entirely possible).
After hedging on Evans too long, Motiejunas races back to Smith while Harden stays in no-man’s land around the free-throw line. It’s difficult to put all the blame on Motiejunas for this play—which ends with an easy basket by his man—but he could’ve executed it better. In the 20 minutes Motiejunas graced Houston with his presence this week, the Rockets allowed 125.0 points per 100 possessions, worst on the team.
8) Francisco Garcia (Last week: 5)
Francisco Garcia shot 12.5% from behind the arc this week, but who cares? He drove baseline past Quincy Acy during the Kings game and scored a layup. GREAT STUFF, SISQO!
7) Aaron Brooks (Last week: 8)
Aaron Brooks continues to do some neat stuff on drives to the basket. More often than not the ball doesn’t go in the hoop, but at least it’s entertaining. After getting called for a travel in the fourth quarter against New Orleans, Brooks slammed the ball against the backboard in truly impressive fashion, earning himself a technical foul and, to me, his most memorable moment in weeks.
6) Omri Casspi (Last week: 6)
Casspi’s offense has waned a bit, but his defense is getting better. He’s now much more stable in the post, pushing back on forwards who outweigh him by 30-plus pounds. Casspi has also looked more comfortable hedging on pick-and-rolls. He slides quickly out on the perimeter then seamlessly recovers back to his man. This was an issue earlier in the year, but last week Casspi was nearly flawless.
5) Jeremy Lin (Last week: 9)
In the absence of Patrick Beverley, Lin ran with the starters this week. He didn’t look very comfortable finding his own shot early on in any of the three games, but as they went on Lin did a fantastic job pushing the pace off missed shots and looking for his own opportunities in transition. During the fourth quarter of Houston’s win over New Orleans he was also amazing from the outside, sinking 73 three-pointers in approximately 25 seconds.
4) Terrence Jones (Last week: 7)
Officially my favorite player on the team, Terrence Jones led Houston with a 56.5% field goal percentage this week. He was effectively a walking double double, and impressed on both ends of the floor with insane blocks and game-turning coast-to-coast runs that left defenses flat-footed and in awe. As athletic as Anthony Davis is (he’ll probably be the best player in the league five years from now), Jones held his own when the two former Kentucky Wildcats squared off. He’s getting better by the week.
3) James Harden (Last week: 2)
He made a season-high five three-pointers against the Kings, but was invisible on the other end all night long. Harden scored 38 points in that contest, two nights after an eight-point egg in Oklahoma City. The three-point shot lingers as a dilemma for both him and the team; I wrote a piece yesterday about how Harden’s trying to compensate by expanding into the mid-range, but he isn’t as dangerous as he can be until those shots from deep start to fall on a regular basis.
It doesn’t feel right being overly critical of a player who’s so fun to watch with the ball, but top-12 players must be held to higher standards than everybody else.
2) Chandler Parsons (Last week: 3)
It’s kind of crazy how much better Houston’s offense is with Chandler Parsons on the floor. The guy almost never makes mistakes and can do many different things it’s become difficult to keep track of them all, but at the same time writing them out feels cliche.
Parsons sat just 30 minutes this week, and in those 30 minutes the Rockets turned into dysfunctional zombies and shot 31.5% from the floor. Parsons wasn’t perfect though. In Houston’s two losses against Sacramento and Oklahoma City he attempted 13 three-pointers and made only three. But nobody played well against the Thunder, and on the whole he’s been the team’s most consistent offensive player. Parsons was unfortunately burned on the other end of the floor by Tyreke Evans a couple times, and remains Saran wrapped to screeners when defending a pick-and-roll. Not a compliment.
1) Dwight Howard (Last week: 1)
Dwight was a shell of himself against old friend Kendrick Perkins when Houston played the Thunder, but toss that performance to the side and he’s been one of the five or six best all around players in basketball. At the beginning of the second half against New Orleans, Howard had back to back plays where he caught an entry pass with his back to the basket, took a few dribbles, then spun and dunked it. That type of offense is invaluable.
He also had eight turnovers in that game, and was frustrated by DeMarcus Cousins during Houston’s embarrassing home loss to the Kings. But overall Howard’s been Houston’s best overall player. He’s number one on this list for, like, the fifth straight week. And I’m not sure he’ll ever leave.
Michael Pina has bylines at Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth, and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.