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.
9) Robert Covington (Last week: 10)
27 seconds of action towards the end of Wednesday night’s victory over Phoenix. That’s Robert Covington’s badge for entry on this week’s list, though it’d be nice to mention he was named a D-League All-Star on Monday.
8) Omri Casspi (Last week: 9)
Casspi can be really fun, particularly when he’s moving up the floor with a live dribble, flanked by two teammates. He generally makes the right decision in these situations, and most of the time that decision is to pass. He’s so unselfish, even his perfectly-timed cuts into the paint feel more like assists than baskets after he bails out a teammate who either lost his dribble or is about to be double-teamed.
Unfortunately, he can’t be counted on for more than six or seven points a game at this point, and defenses are starting to smile whenever he launches a three. But the Rockets generally play better on both ends when he’s out there. He seems like such a pleasure to have as a teammate.
7) Donatas Motiejunas (Last week: 7)
I really don’t enjoy writing about a player’s “confidence” because who the hell knows what a guy’s thinking except the guy, and even then, sometimes, the answers aren’t easily identifiable. But Donatas Motiejunas had several post-touches midway through the shot clock against Phoenix and instead of making the move he’s capable of in single coverage, he opted to pass out and force Houston to scramble for a good look elsewhere.
Motiejunas post-ups aren’t the most desirable shot in the world, but it’d be nice to see him take what the defense is giving. And when Alex Len is guarding him 10-feet from the basket, it’s a sign that the defense is giving him an opportunity to score.
6) Patrick Beverley (Last week: 8)
He went scoreless against the Cavaliers, missing all five shots while pointing nearly all his focus on Kyrie Irving instead. Against the Suns he was more aggressive on offense, and still managed to stick with Goran Dragic and Leandro Barbosa on the other end.
Beverley finished that game with eight points in 31 minutes, but his five assists were something to marvel at. On one play midway through the third quarter he drove away from a high screen, fooling his man and forcing help defenders off teammates as he raced toward the rim.
Chandler Parsons was the lucky recipient of Beverley’s pinpoint kickout, and Houston ended the possession with a wide open three-pointer. It’s all gravy when Beverley creates like this. He’s probably the most overlooked player on the team, and when his three-pointers are opening up driving lanes all over the court, the defense is in humongous trouble. Containing Dwight Howard and James Harden is enough (not to mention Parsons). When Beverley is active the Rockets are a complete and total nightmare.
5) James Harden (Last week: 6)
When evaluating James Harden, one must acknowledge that the points will always be there. (It’s almost impossible for them not to be. When the final horn sounds Harden will have his 23 points on 15 shots. It’s clockwork.
They can’t be taken for granted—points will always be important—but they also can’t overwhelm the senses.
He scored 51 points in this week’s two games. Those points are appreciated, but he’s hijacking more and more of his team’s possessions with insane isolations that have no business in an NBA offense.
Here’s one example from Wednesday night.
On the very next play he did the exact same thing. No other Rockets touched the ball.
Harden is such an incredible passer, and for him not to capitalize on that gift is a shame. Superstars aren’t superstars because they make scoring look simple, they’re superstars because they make it look simple for their teammates.
To be as fair as possible, Harden’s in a difficult position right now. The team’s offense revolves entirely around a dominant center who demands low post touches that, I’m sure, have the potential to take everyone else out of rhythm. Harden still leads the way in usage percentage, but his scoring opportunities aren’t the same as last year. Maybe he feels he needs to insert himself in the game’s flow another way, but the fit isn’t right for shots like the one above.
For Harden to fill the space that remains between his current state and his eventual ceiling, he needs to eliminate those random dribble dribble dribble dribble shoot possessions altogether.
While we’re here, his defense on Ish Smith, and Leandro Barbosa was borderline bench worthy:
Harden also lost track of Gerald Green over and over again through screens in the half-court. So yeah, defense is still a problem.
4) Jeremy Lin (Last week: 3)
How about that triple-double against Cleveland? Just an awesome performance from Lin, who notched 15 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists in just under 30 minutes of action. He’s been fantastic for quite a while now, and continues to excel as a change-of-pace option off the bench. Good things tend to happen when Lin drives to the basket.
Defensively he had trouble with Goran Dragic, either getting beat in transition, dropping too low on high screens, or fouling to prevent penetration. Considering Dragic has done this to just about every opposing point guard in the league all season, this isn’t that big a deal.
3) Chandler Parsons (Last week: 1)
Parsons was benched for the final 20 minutes of Houston’s win over Cleveland. Reason being: porous defense. This is nothing new. Parsons has made mistakes on that end all season long, primarily as a rotating defender on the perimeter and guarding pick-and-rolls. How he bounced back against the Suns (on offense) was fantastic.
In a game-high 41 minutes he had 19 points, seven rebounds, and six assists. He looked for his own shot in most of the pick-and-rolls he ran, and missed only four of his 12 field goal attempts. That pump fake remains in mint condition.
2) Terrence Jones (Last week: 4)
“The T.J.” is when someone blocks a jumper, runs down the court, catches a pass, and dunks it all in one smooth, well-choreographed motion. This is also no longer the most impressive part of Terrence Jones’ game.
He was a flawless monster in the first quarter against Phoenix, taking over just about every inch of the floor. For lack of a better word (though I doubt there is one), the performance was imperialistic. He took what he wanted, when he wanted it, blocking shots, running the floor, showing precise vision in transition, scoring coast to coast, throwing alley-oop passes, finishing with both hands in the post, sliding over to box out Dwight Howard’s man whenever the big fella drifted to block a shot.
It was all so wonderful to watch. I wrote a couple weeks ago that Jones might be playing himself out of Houston as the team’s primary trade chip, but I now believe the exact opposite to be true. Who knows how good a player he’ll be next year and the year after that? They’d be crazy to deal him.
1) Dwight Howard (Last week: 2)
Howard has had moments of pure domination against just about every center he’s squared off against this season (except Kendrick Perkins). But what he did to poor Suns rookie Alex Len was on another level of command. With Jeff Hornacek refusing to double Howard in the post (a strategy that once co-aligned with common sense, but could be out of vogue sooner than later), Houston’s center went to work over and over again, with enough time to make a move, gather himself, and finish at the rim with no resistance. It was embarrassing.
He finished that game with an efficient 34 points and 14 rebounds. Not everybody will look as overmatched as Len and Plumlee did, but there’s a shift coming in the way teams will have to start guarding Dwight. He’s too good down there, making free-throws (18-for-26 this week) and getting better in nearly every facet of the game.
Michael Pina has written for Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth, and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.