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.
11) Aaron Brooks (Last week: N/A)
There’s a comfort in knowing Aaron Brooks is your third point guard. Is he the best backup to the backup point guard in the league? Is that even a compliment?
Brooks knows how to score, can stretch the floor, and is capable of a surprising jolt of athleticism from time to time, whether that be some insane offensive rebound, an unexpected block from the weak side, or staying in front of John Wall. (It feels like he’s really old, but Brooks just turned 29 in January.)
He played 11 minutes this week, all coming against the Washington Wizards on Wednesday night. Even though Patrick Beverley is clearly the better player on both ends of the floor, seeing Brooks replace him isn’t the worst thing in the world.
10) Omri Casspi (Last week: 8)
It’s true. Omri Casspi failed to score a basket this week despite 20 minutes of action. If/when Houston strikes before the trade deadline, expect at least one trade they participate in to bring back a dependable bench player on a short-term deal. Casspi has moments of awesomeness, but it’s unclear where he’s consistent enough to be in Houston’s rotation during the playoffs. (If the postseason started tomorrow, Donatas Motiejunas would probably get a chunk of Casspi’s minutes.)
9) Omer Asik (Last week: N/A)
ASIK BACK! Sort of. We saw tiny blips of Asik’s old self this week, but he (understandably) looked exhausted after the first three or four trips up the court. Against the Timberwolves he was tasked with covering Kevin Love for one stretch, and instead of sticking around the rim, Asik had to worry about covering the perimeter (not his forte). Love burned him. A dunk happened, though!
8) Francisco Garcia (Last week: N/A)
With 8.5 seconds remaining in the first half against Washington, John Wall tried to inbound the ball from his own baseline. He couldn’t. Why? Francisco Garcia was hopping up and down in front of his face, waving his arms and being a general nuisance. There are other reasons why that five-second violation occurred, but noting them would distract you from Garcia’s only accomplishment of the week.
7) Terrence Jones (Last week: 2)
Tough week for Terrence Jones. He couldn’t guard Kevin Love (who can?) without fouling, and committed a few costly turnovers towards the end against Washington. Jones didn’t have his typical impact on the glass, either, and on offense wasn’t good for more than an occasional high-flying alley-oop. Have we reached the point where Jones should refrain from any more three-point attempts?
6) Donatas Motiejunas (Last week: 7)
Donatas Motiejunas was better than Terrence Jones this week. For Houston, that’s better news than heading into the All-Star break on a seven-game win streak. Not that Jones struggling is a good thing, but for them to have two super cheap, young guys contribute and show week-to-week improvement is fantastic. Motiejunas was aggressive off the dribble (somehow he caught Jan Vesely in a torture rack out at the elbow), made quality defensive rotations, and, generally speaking, looked like a player who deserves legitimate minutes.
There was one play against Minnesota when Motiejunas sprinted up the floor, caught a pass over his shoulder while going full speed beneath the basket, and still managed to lay it in. This was marvelous. Also, Bill Worrell said “3-Mo for D-Mo” when Motiejunas made a wipe open three, and it made me laugh. Who isn’t enjoying this season of Rockets basketball?
5) Jeremy Lin (Last week: 4)
Lin’s defense was nothing short of great this week. He was up on his man time and time again—whether it be J.J. Barea, Ricky Rubio, Brandon Knight, whoever—thwarting drives to the hoop and sticking tight off the ball. This was good to see.
On the other end, Lin wasn’t bad. He nearly shot 50% from the floor and 40% from the three-point line, but Houston scored 8.1 more points per 100 possessions with him on the bench.
4) Patrick Beverley (Last week: 6)
Beverley made seven threes out of his 13 attempts this week, most of them wide open. How many times did he turn it over? Zero. That’s a good number, right?
For the second week in a row, Houston has played out of their minds when Beverley is on the court. He missed Wednesday night’s game against the Wizards, but was fantastic in the other two, driving to the basket, creating shots for himself and others. The Rockets were 20.5 points per 100 possessions better than the Bucks and Timberwolves with Beverley on the floor this week. That number is monstrous, and firmly attests to Beverley’s maniacal brand of complimentary basketball.
3) Chandler Parsons (Last week: 3)
Okay, so Parsons was awesome this week with the ball in his hands. It appears he’s finally mastered the lob to Dwight Howard, and in all three games connected on several from different spots on the floor. Parsons was aggressive in traffic and shot 51.4%, too. I say this every week, but whatever, here goes again: he’s SO GOOD ON OFFENSE. Okay, now onto a couple defensive mishaps.
That first screen shot came moments after Jeremy Lin made a three on the other end. It’s not doctored, and I don’t even know how to use photoshop. Why Parsons (or any of his teammates) didn’t get back on defense on a routine play is beyond me.
The second screen shot came after Parsons poked the ball away from Nene and, thinking he had a steal, rushed out to the other end for a fast break opportunity. Instead the Wizards recovered the loose ball almost instantly, and Nene found a wide open Bradley Beal on the wing. Houston’s defense is ranked in the top-10, but both these plays are symptomatic of a lingering issue that will probably prevent any true success in the playoffs.
2) James Harden (Last week: 5)
My weekly criticism of Harden’s defense will commence shortly, but first: Does it really need to be said that Harden’s positive impact on offense GREATLY outweighs his negative impact on the other end? I wrote something similar last week, but sometimes it feels like Harden and Dwight Howard are the two best players in the league who have their weaknesses talked about more than their strengths. I’m guilty of doing this, as you’ll read later, but whenever I write something critical I just sort of assume people understand how great these guys are on a consistent basis, and how awful their team would be if they didn’t play.
A freaking Euro-step with four seconds left to win the game? Are you kidding? Who does that? The timing and body control was breathtaking. The calmness of it all. Harden turned it over a bunch this week, but he also averaged 25.3 points per game and was automatic at the free-throw line. His strength on drives to the basket is incredible, as is his ability to stop on a dime (does anyone know the meaning behind that saying?) and float a lob pass to Howard or Terrence Jones. (He tried to toss one to Asik, but there was little chance he was jumping up for it.)
Anyway, Harden is really awesome and the Rockets wouldn’t be in the playoff hunt without him, atrocious defense and all.
Speaking of atrocious defense…
…Trevor Ariza made 10 three-pointers during Wednesday’s game, most coming with Harden as his defender. This was one.
1) Dwight Howard (Last week: 1)
Howard was great this week. He made his free-throws (67.9%!), hoarded rebounds against two solid rebounding teams (and the Bucks without Larry Sanders, who played five minutes before breaking a bone in his face), and ate Vesely and Gorgui Dieng whole. But this week, Howard’s most impressive plays were passes. His assists weren’t simple kick-outs, either. When double teams came he repeatedly found an open shooter spotting up on the weak side. These passes crippled the Milwaukee Bucks, and usually ended up as three more points for the Rockets.
When Howard sat Houston’s offense was beyond atrocious. Only 30 minutes, but still, 75.7 points per 100 possessions? That’s “three Bud Lights deep before the opening tip in my rec game” bad.
Michael Pina has written for Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth, and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.