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The Rockets Daily – September 24, 2013

Looking Up – The Rockets ranked no. 2 in ESPN Insider’s Future Power Rankings, which surprisingly is only a one-spot rise from May, when Dwight Howard was still in L.A. Kevin Pelton writes:

And even if it takes a year or two to find the right pieces around Harden and Howard, Houston has time because its two stars are 27 (Howard) and 24 (Harden). The Rockets have all their own first-round picks and a chance at cap space in 2015, when Asik and Lin become free agents, giving Morey plenty of flexibility. This is one contender built with staying power.

In case you couldn’t guess, the Heat rank no. 1, because LeBron James is the trump card in any form of ESPN ranking system, but surpassing OKC on this list is an accomplishment. What is funny about Houston’s rank is that the team didn’t rank extremely high on any of the five criteria (players, management, market, draft and money), but was solid in each. By comparison, OKC’s players were ranked extremely high, but the team’s financial situation was grim. Miami’s market and management rankings were stratospheric, but the Heat’s draft prospects are in the basement. You could say the Rockets are the NBA equivalent of a diversified portfolio.

Rankage – Take a valium and settle down before you read what I’m about to say. Austin Rivers was ranked ahead of Aaron Brooks on ESPN’s NBA Player Rankings. Calm down. I know. Me too. Brooks ranked 283 and Rivers slipped in at 281. But believe it or not, this is not the most worrisome result of Monday’s batch of rankings. That distinction is shared by Terrence Jones and Greg Smith, who ranked at 297 and 300, respectively. Depending on what form of Donatas Motiejunas shows up at training camp, one of those two guys is likely to be Houston’s starting power forward this season. If your team is relying on contributions from anyone ranked below 250 in this list, then you’re probably in trouble. Eight-man rotations for all 30 teams add up to just 240 guys. Also, Omri Casspi ranked 288, but for a depth/injury insurance guy, that’s not bad.

The rankage also continues at The Point Forward, which is counting down a list of the league’s top 100. Remember, this is the same list that ranked Monta Ellis a spot ahead of Omer Asik. James Harden came in at no. 11:

Playing off Howard should be relatively simple compared to finding wiggle room between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and leaves Harden free to be both offensive creator and necessary support. The result should be a masterful blend of volume and efficiency, brought by a player who already ranked in the top 10 in usage rate and the top 15 in true shooting percentage. The only other players to achieve that same statistical balance last season were Durant and LeBron James, both of whom set the standard for scoring equilibrium.

Rob Mahoney also picks up on one of Harden’s biggest offensive flaws inherent in his strategy for drawing fouls:

It also resulted in an incredible number of Harden’s drives ending with the ball being flung wildly out of bounds, credited either as an airball or unprompted turnover. Playing for contact often comes at a price, and in Harden’s case the toll manifests as a few wasted possessions a night when he expects a whistle and hears none.

Dwight Howard was ranked at no. 7, right behind Tim Duncan. Important note: this ranking was based solely on last year’s performance. Despite his ranking below Timmy, Rob Mahoney writes:

As good as Duncan was last season, peak-level Howard was decisively better. We can’t yet know how close Howard might get to again achieving those highs, but at the least I think he stands to be one of the deadliest bigs in the league when on the move (even in a down year, Howard converted an ungodly 79.6 percent of his pick-and-roll possessions last season, per Synergy Sports), a solid post-up option, and a worthy defensive anchor. If he further approximates his best seasons to date, he’ll be a clear-cut MVP candidate. Howard has the potential — based in recovery, not in development — to climb a rung above Duncan, and in that alone I think he has a compelling case.

Look, when Dwight Howard is injured, he’s close to being the best center in the league. When he’s healthy, it’s not even an argument. He’s healthy now. I really can’t wait for the season to start so we can stop acting like this should be a debate.

Love The Hair – Chandler “The Hair” Parsons sat down with Jason Friedman to talk about life, love, and his love-life. After the obligatory talk about hair-twirling and flirtation, Parsons drops what I consider to be a huge hint that he’s preparing for playing the starting 4-spot:

JCF: What’s been your primary focus this summer?

CP: Just continuing to work on my all-around game. We’ve added so many pieces and that’s going to free up a lot of shots; just having Dwight getting double-teamed and James being the player he’s going to be. I’ve got to be ready to knock down shots and just become a more consistent shooter. I’ve been working every day just getting a lot of repetitions up. I hired Ron McClanaghan this summer and worked out with the best players in the NBA all summer long. I worked out at OHoops in Orlando – I’ve never trained this hard in my life.

I’m in great shape. I added eight pounds. My jump shot feels good – I’ve been trying to work on getting it up into the air so it’s not as flat, especially when I get tired. Then I’ve also been trying to work on my low-post game. Probably 90 percent of the time guys are going to be smaller than me so if I get a chance to post somebody up off the block or face them up, I’ll do that.

Nothing screams “stretch-4!” like a 6’10″ small forward beefing up and working on his post game. I consider it even odds between three different options for the PF position this year:

  1. Motiejunas, Jones or Smith is the nominal starting 4 but plays few minutes.
  2. McHale experiments with starting Asik and Howard together.
  3. Garcia starts at SF with Parsons at PF.

Parsons isn’t stupid. He knows that his value is higher if he can make option number 3 workable. The story closes with a reflection on how the team’s culture has changed since Parsons arrived, since back in the days when Luis Scola and Kevin Martin were the leaders:

I love the fact that everyone is here early.

It’s different because my first two years here it wasn’t like that. Guys weren’t exactly the closest, guys weren’t hanging out off the court. So this team, we’re all similar in age so we have so many of the same off the court hobbies, we all like going to the same spots so it’s cool because it almost has a college team feel. And I really believe that helps when you’re going to war on the court that you know who you’re playing with and you like who you’re playing with.

Parsons was drafted on to a team of guys who were consummate pros, but that team wasn’t going anywhere and they all knew it. Hopefully the experience of playing with championship aspirations accelerates the growth of some of the other young players.

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About the author: John Eby got on the Rockets bandwagon in 1994 and never got off. He is a public relations guy and recovering TV journalist living in South Carolina.