Every Friday all season long I’ll be ranking every active player (who sees the floor) on the Houston Rockets based on his performance from the previous week. If you missed last week’s installment, here you go.
11) Ronnie Brewer (Last week: 11)
The Rockets only played three games this week, so the sample size is even smaller than usual. Does that have any impact on how we’re going to evaluate Ronnie Brewer? Of course not, because he’s Ronnie Brewer.
10) Donatas Motiejunas (Last week: 10)
With Greg Smith and Omer Asik hurt, Motiejunas still barely received any playing time this week. And whenever Dwight Howard needed a breather last night against Portland, Kelvin Sampson replaced him with Terrence Jones instead. It’s been a tough year for Motiejunas, who probably feels like he could be this team’s “Terrence Jones” if given the opportunity. On that note, here’s my favorite play of the week:
9) Francisco Garcia (Last week: 9)
Francisco Garcia didn’t score a single point in Houston’s first two contests against the Golden State Warriors and Orland Magic. That’s the bad news. The worse news is every other part of his game appears broken. He doesn’t create off the dribble, get to the free-throw line, draw fouls, rebound, or play the consistent, dependable defense (apart from his randomly well-timed blocks as a help defender) we saw glimpses of during last year’s playoffs and the first week of this season.
8) Jeremy Lin (Last week: N/A)
He was M.I.A. for all but last night’s game against Portland, but Lin was aggressive and looked healthy, so we’ll give him a generous spot. On his first possession back, Lin fouled Wesley Matthews. Seconds later Mo Williams blew by him for a pretty floater in the paint. It took Lin maybe three seconds to then receive the inbound pass and go coast to coast for a layup.
This is the superpower Lin needs to deploy over and over again when he enters a game, if not scoring at the rim then putting immense pressure on the opponent and forcing them to implode. There aren’t many players who do this better right now, though a few do exist. Lin registered only 15 minutes last night, and apart from that opening drive he wasn’t a real factor on either end the rest of the way.
7) Aaron Brooks (Last week: 1)
How the mighty have fallen. After showing he could still score at the NBA level—that he could still drive, shoot, navigate the paint, and run a pick-and-roll—it appears Brooks will fall out of the rotation now that Lin’s back. That’s fine, I guess.
Brooks is a terrible defender, which I’m sure is the number one reason why Kelvin Sampson opted not to play him last night—when Beverley couldn’t buy a shot, and a few airballs were launched by Houston’s tired legs. That whole “defense” thing is understandable enough, but it’d be nice to see Brooks take Francisco Garcia’s minutes. It just feels like he earned them.
6) Patrick Beverley (Last week: 8)
This week we saw why Patrick Beverley had such a difficult time holding down a regular spot in the NBA before Houston made their stab. Nobody has ever used the word “majestic” to describe his offensive game, and given all the playing time Beverley receives for pestering opposing guards on the opposite end, him doing almost anything with the ball has been painful to watch.
Beverley shot 32.0% from the floor in Houston’s last three games, and 18.2% from beyond the arc. Gross. But the defense is still there. Beverley played a major part in holding Stephen Curry to a 5-for-14 shooting performance last Friday. And for those who watched last night’s contest, raise your hand if you remember Damian Lillard doing besides act aggressive towards Beverley? (Lillard scored eight points, took 10 shots, and missed nine of them.)
5) Chandler Parsons (Last week: 5)
Not sure if that back injury is still a significant factor in Parsons’ life, but he played like it was this week, shooting 37.2% on 14.2 attempts per game. Only James Harden averaged more shots. The good news is Parsons’ three-point shoot appears to be as accurate as it was last season, if not better. That 6-for-6 performance in Brooklyn a few weeks ago really woke up him.
4) Omri Casspi (Last week: 2)
His minutes took a hit this week, as did his influence from deep. Casspi didn’t hit a single three-pointer over the past three games, which is a strange thing to write or say or think about. He’s been so money all season, though, so no use harping on it.
Defensively he has a bad habit of exiting the paint at the precise moment an opponent nears the rim on a drive. It must be maddening for his teammates, and on one layup by Nicolas Batum last night, Dwight Howard shot Casspi a look.
3) Terrence Jones (Last week: 7)
Terrence Jones has blips of time when he’s capable of filling the most stone-hearted, overly pessimistic Rocket fan’s soul with honey. I’m of course referring to those plays where he’ll spike someone’s floater straight into the court then take off towards the other end and finish with a layup or dunk.
These moments are special and fun. Over the past week Jones led the Rockets in blocks per game, was second in rebounds, and third in points. But last night he spent a good portion of the game playing out of position because Kelvin Sampson refused to try Donatas Motiejunas at backup center.
Jones shouldn’t be playing center, and the whole experience was a bummer. So was watching him try to guard LaMarcus Aldridge, an act debatably harder than singing “Happy Birthday” with a bag of nails in your mouth. TNT’s Steve Kerr mentioned this several times on the broadcast, and bravo to him because it was worth repeating.
When Howard came out, Jones would either slide over to the five, or directly enter the game for him. That’s an experiment that has to stop.
2) James Harden (Last week: 3)
When there’s four minutes left in a game and the scoring margin’s less than five points, how many players would you prefer having on your team over James Harden? I can think of two or three, but that’s about it. Last night he did everything he could to steal a game Houston had no business winning, on the road against a superior (right now) basketball team.
But thinking about the fundamentally different ways Harden can score, when he’s hot it’s incredible. There’s the step back three that barely grazes the rim before splintering the defenseless net. There’s the powerful ballroom waltzes towards the basket, hardly breaking a sweat while his man is hunched over and panting.
Even though I just gushed for a couple paragraphs, Houston should try to avoid relying on Harden in the fourth quarter. The team was not built for perpetual isolation. It was built for drive-and-kick, pick-and-roll, up-and-down basketball, and Harden removes the good stuff sometimes. Still, watching him is fun. So there’s that.
1) Dwight Howard (Last week: 4)
Howard was unstoppable on his birthday against Orlando, stomped all over the Golden State Warriors, and last night he gave Robin Lopez a haircut, repeatedly torturing him in the post with the smoothest back-to-the-basket game we’ve seen from him all season.
Apart from a really bad goaltend on an Aldridge runner that pretty much ended last night’s game, Howard was superb all week. On offense he was patient in the post, pump faking, flashing an up-and-under or two. The baby hook from the right baseline has been gorgeous, as has his footwork and timing. Howard’s numbers this week were monstrous: 24.7 points, 19.0 rebounds, 59.5% FG percentage, and 60% FT percentage (yay!).
As a defender from the weak side, Howard’s been a menace, swatting balls all over the place (sometimes they even go to his teammates), and turning would-be-simple layups into dear-god-I-hope-my-coach-doesn’t-take-me-out floaters.
Michael Pina has bylines at Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth, and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.