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.
12) Greg Smith (Last week: 10)
Greg Smith, a favorite of mine, logged a single minute this week before awkwardly twisting his knee trying to block Carmelo Anthony’s shot. After the game he was diagnosed with a right LCL sprain, but we don’t know when he’ll return. If it’s serious, don’t expect the Rockets to trade Omer Asik for a long while.
11) Ronnie Brewer (Last week: 9)
Brewer’s first and only appearance of the week came last night against the Knicks because the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony. Terrence Jones started off guarding the reigning scoring champ, but when Mike Woodson went super small in the first half, McHale wisely chose to give Brewer three minutes of burn. For Anthony, who did whatever he wanted, who Houston assigned as his primary defender didn’t seem to have any affect either way. He finished with 79 points.
10) Aaron Brooks (Last week: 8)
The Houston Rockets were outscored by 88.7 points per 100 possessions when Aaron Brooks was on the floor this week. (Related: this week Brooks played five minutes.)
9) Omer Asik (Last week: 6)
As I’m sure you’re aware, the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen has reported that Omer Asik wants out. First and foremost, this stinks. Asik wasn’t only one of the league’s finest defensive players last season, but he was also one of the most consistent. You know what you’re getting night in and night out with Asik as your center, and that sort of dependability is every coach’s best friend.
We aren’t even in December and the Asik-Howard duo appears to be dead. I don’t know what to say other than Kevin McHale gave up on it way too soon. Playing match-ups against the smaller Philadelphia and New York made sense, but this whole thing collapsed when Terrence Jones started the second half of Monday’s double overtime win against Toronto (one of the league’s best rebounding front lines, mind you).
To not even give these two 10 games to figure it out is short sighted, but clearly Houston’s coaching staff sees unfixable holes that I don’t. There were some nifty things McHale and his staff went to on offense that could’ve worked over the long run, but it doesn’t look like we’ll ever get a chance to see how it’d play out. A damn shame. Before being benched in last night’s win over New York, Asik had appeared in 239 consecutive games—the longest streak in the league.
Keep in mind, Asik will be paid approximately $15 million next season, even though his cap hit is $8.3 million. So even if ESPN’s Trade Machine gives you a green light, make sure the team you’re shipping him to has extra deep pockets. I won’t begin to speculate on any possibilities just yet (especially until the Greg Smith situation clears up), but if this whole thing fails to die down, count on some trade machine craftiness from yours truly in the near future.
8) Francisco Garcia (Last week: 5)
It wasn’t a great week for Francisco Garcia. He sat out Monday’s game against Toronto with the flu, then missed all four of his shots against the Sixers two nights later. Garcia’s come back to Earth a bit after being unconscious from behind the line earlier in the season.
Relegated to spot-up shooting duty from behind the line (73.3% of all his field goal attempts were threes this week), he wasn’t a very good spot-up shooter, going 18.2% on triples. Most of them were wide open. Being sick isn’t fun.
7) Terrence Jones (Last week: 12)
And just like that, Terrence Jones is a starter. Kevin McHale’s decision to start Jones over Omer Asik against Philadelphia was probably based on match-ups, with the Sixers starting the small, quick Thaddeus Young instead of a more traditional power forward.
Jones over Asik to start the third quarter against Toronto was a little more questionable. But that’s not related to a beef with Jones, who’s been OK. Against Philadelphia he jacked up four three-pointers (one coming at the end of the shot clock) and made two.
His release is much too slow to be effective over the long-term, and three-pointers aren’t why he’s on the court. Jones hustles, which makes opponents work harder, especially in the paint when he’s crashing the glass for an offensive rebound. As a shot-blocker he looks like a mini-Dwight Howard, and in limited opportunity he’s been solid one-on-one defending opponents who can’t back him down.
But when it shakes out, he still looks lost defending the pick-and-roll (he somehow doesn’t hedge far enough, then compounds the damage by failing to recover back to his man in time, as if that’s humanly possible), and is somewhat of a liability on offense. Until he either sinks threes at a threatening rate over a proper stretch of time or proves he can score off the dribble, defenses won’t pay him any attention, which hurts everybody else.
But the bottom line here is that Terrence Jones can do positive NBA things, which, to be honest, I personally wasn’t so sure would ever happen. The Rockets aren’t winning a title with him as their starting power forward, but there’s no reason to think he can’t be a suitable backup. (Also, “showcasing” him in the rotation could pay off if/when this team swings a meaningful trade.)
6) Patrick Beverley (Last week: 8)
That play where he picked Ray Felton’s pocket and went the other way for a layup? Awesome. The 5.0 rebounds per game he averaged this week, including 1.5 on the offensive glass? Splendid.
But my main takeaway from watching Beverley is how quick and aggressive he defends his man on high screen-and-rolls. If the point guard can’t shoot, he flies under the pick and ruins the whole play. Tony Wroten learned this the hard way.
5) Omri Casspi (Last week: 2)
A lot of guys enjoy playing with Dwight Howard, but none benefit as much as Omri Casspi. Whenever his man dropped down to double Howard in the post, Casspi found open space, got the ball, and either finished at the rim or let an open three-pointer fly. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Those two spent 46 minutes on the court together this week, and when they did Houston outscored opponents by 13.2 points per 100 possessions. Defensively, Casspi had a rough time sticking to his assignment, especially in Philadelphia, where more than once Thaddeus Young turned him into a rusty screen door.
4) Dwight Howard (Last week: 4)
In Houston’s past four games, teams that made Dwight Howard defend the pick-and-roll were happy with the results. Not good, and something to keep an eye on. (It isn’t time to panic yet, though. The last two centers Howard faced can both knock down threes, making a customary assignment much more complex.)
Against the Sixers, and through the first half in Madison Square Garden, Howard was fantastic passing the ball from the post in the face of a double team. It was great. Rockets were cutting, and Dwight was finding them for easy looks at the rim. Hurray!
It’s a much different story when defenses opt to stay home and guard him straight up. Howard’s yet to divulge any go-to move in the post, and his most reliable shot this week was a running right-handed hook through the lane.
I wrote yesterday about Howard’s rare ability to make a defense anxious simply dribbling the ball in the post. But when those defenses call his bluff it gets real ugly, real fast. Opposing bigs who’re willing to stand their ground and take Howard’s massive shoulders in the chest will almost always draw an offensive foul. He isn’t using his speed, and there are no counter moves to his initial action. Spencer Hawes and Andrea Bargnani shouldn’t be winning battles in the post, but against Howard they did.
Thankfully, the pick-and-roll is a thing, and Howard is the best rolling big in the league. Expect the Rockets to go back to that next week.
3) James Harden (Last week: 1)
He missed the Sixers game, and didn’t look himself against Toronto (meaning he short-armed several layups that are normally automatic), but still managed 26 points (on 19 shots) and 10 assists.
Harden’s still an absolute monster in the open floor, and 72.9% of his points this week either came at the free-throw line or in the paint. The three-point shooting is somewhat of a concern, but one would think that’ll improve as the season goes on. (He shot 28.6% from deep this week, on 7.0 attempts per game.)
2) Chandler Parsons (Last week: 7)
Since SportVU opened its vault to the public, Chandler Parsons has owned the “Speed and Distance” category, specifically “distance traveled per game,” which is remarkable considering his size and position.
But that’s sort of who Parsons has become, the non-conventional jack-of-all-trades “glue guy” who could fit into any system and collaborate with any roster. On nearly every offensive possession Houston holds in the half-court, Parsons glides from one wing to the other, setting screening, coming off screens, cutting into open space, running give-and-goes with Dwight, and driving to the basket.
Parsons has weaknesses, but defenses have a difficult time identifying then exploiting them. His three-point shot is still stowed away (he shot 30% on 5.7 attempts per game this week), but once it comes back Parsons could vault himself to an even higher level. His True Shooting percentage was 61.7%, a great number considering how poorly he shot the deep ball.
1) Jeremy Lin (Last week: 3)
After Lin spent the week disproving the belief he can’t shoot (not saying he’d win, but if a three-point shooting contest were held between everyone on the Rockets, my money would be on him right now), driving to the basket at will, getting to the free-throw line and making much better decisions in the paint, it’s super tough to say anyone else deserves the top spot.
He was the best player on the floor against Philadelphia on Wednesday night, and he was also the best player on the floor against Toronto on Monday. I wrote last week that he was playing the best basketball of his career, but this week he was even better. Including a six-point effort against the Clippers, Lin averaged 23 points, 5.5 assists, and 5.0 rebounds in four games. His shooting splits were an asinine 50.8/48.1/90.5.
He’s racking up hockey assists and attacking the basket more than just about every player in the league. There are still a handful of careless turnovers per game, and the forgetful defense away from the ball, but Lin played like an All-Star this week. We’ll see how long it lasts.