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2013-2014 Houston Rockets Season Preview
Posted By HOOPSWORLD On September 18, 2013 @ 9:00 pm In NBA | No Comments
The Houston Rockets entered the off-season with the singular goal of luring Dwight Howard to town via free agency, and that’s exactly what they did. It remains to be seen whether or not the addition of the NBA’s premier big man is enough to propel the Rockets to the top of the Western Conference, but there is little doubt that the potential is there. The rise of James Harden sparked Houston’s return to postseason play last season, and with Howard in the mix the Rockets expect nothing less than to contend. The return of Francisco Garcia and the addition of Omri Casspi will help to surround Howard with three-point shooters, a game plan that pushed him all the way to the NBA Finals in 2009.
Additions: Dwight Howard, Omri Casspi, Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Camby, Reggie Williams, Isaiah Canaan, Robert Covington, B.J. Young, Jordan Henriquez
Subtractions: Thomas Robinson, Royce White, Carlos Delfino, James Anderson, Tim Ohlbrecht, Daequan Cook
Congratulations on nabbing Dwight Howard, Daryl Morey. I hope he’s better behaved for you than he was for everyone else he’s worked for as a professional hoopster. The good news is that by pairing Howard with James Harden, arguably the league’s best two-guard right now, the talent level on this roster has moved far beyond where it was a year ago. Throw in Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons, and all the other role players that made this team special a year ago, and it’s very easy to see why so many people are anointing them one of the West’s elite. The bad news is that they play in basketball’s toughest division, so the road to a ring isn’t going to be an easy one. Still, it’s impossible to deny the fact that the addition of Howard should move this team up a tier or two in the power rankings.
3rd place – Southwest Division
– Joel Brigham
The Rockets were the big winners of the 2013 offseason, adding Dwight Howard to a core that already includes James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley among others. In addition to Howard, the Rockets brought in veteran contributors such as Ronnie Brewer, Omri Casspi, Reggie Williams and Marcus Camby, all of whom should help this team take the next step from up-and-coming squad to legitimate contender. If Howard is 100 percent healthy, which he wasn’t last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, this Rockets team could be very scary. Few players can dominate a game on both ends of the court like Howard and if he can return to Orlando form, Houston should be among the league’s top-tier teams. At this point, the Rockets are just a lot of names on paper, but the potential is there for them to be very good. Not only will the addition of Howard make this team better, internal improvement from youngsters like Harden, Lin, Parsons and Beverley among others should help Houston make huge strides this season as well.
2nd place – Southwest Division
- Alex Kennedy
When you look at where the Rockets were at this time of year last year and where they are now, you can’t help but applaud the incredible job that general manager Darryl Morey and his staff have done. To go from Kevin Martin being your best player to having an inside-outside duo of James Harden and Dwight Howard is nothing short of amazing. It’s not just those two either, the Rockets now have a legitimate contending team whose championship window is just starting to open up. As Morey will tell you, though, when you compliment his work, it’s all on paper right now. The team still has to jell, come together and learn how to best utilize everyone’s strengths in Kevin McHale’s system. The San Antonio Spurs and Memphis Grizzlies will probably still be the top two teams in the Southwest Division, but the Rockets’ time is coming. They’ll be competing for division titles and NBA championships once they reach their full potential.
3rd place – Southwest Division
The Houston Rockets sent shockwaves throughout the league after luring All-Star center Dwight Howard away from the Los Angeles Lakers during free agency. While the Rockets are still a couple of pieces away from being a legit title contender, the trio of Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons are a great start in the process of entering the league’s elite. Houston will need a strong bounce back year from point guard Jeremy Lin or it will be forced to rely on Patrick Beverley or the fading Aaron Brooks to lead the team’s offense. The power forward position is also a cause of concern entering training camp. Second year forward Terrence Jones is likely a little too green to become the team’s full-time starter and relying on a combo of Howard and Omer Asik in the frontcourt may work in spots, it’s not an ideal long term solution. Harden burst on the scene last season and now has a co-star in Howard to alleviate some offensive pressure. The Rockets should be in contention for one of the Western Conference’s top six playoff seeds in 2014.
2nd place – Southwest Division
- Lang Greene
With the acquisition of Dwight Howard, the Rockets are expected to emerge as one of the top contenders in the Western Conference this season. Howard joins a cast featuring rising star James Harden, one of the NBA’s best value players in Chandler Parsons and neophytes Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverly. Earlier reports out of Houston suggested that Omer Asik was unhappy about being relegated to a reserve, so that presents a situation to watch. Though the Rockets had to cut ties with a number of productive players in order to free the necessary cap space to sign Howard, it is difficult to imagine them doing anything other than improving on last season’s 45 wins. However, it is similarly difficult to imagine the Rockets besting either the San Antonio Spurs or the Memphis Grizzlies in the division. This season will mark the beginning of the Rockets’ ascent into the stratosphere of contenders out West, but it will likely take the team two years to build a championship roster around the nucleus of Harden and Howard. With a legit shooting guard-center combination, the Rockets mean business, but they are still two years away.
3rd place — Northwest Division
- Moke Hamilton
Top Offensive Player: James Harden. Dwight Howard might be the most celebrated Rocket this season, but Harden is most likely going to once again lead the team in scoring. His ability to get to the basket is second-to-none, and he also keeps the defense busy with his ability to drill open jumpers. The fact that he is a willing and capable passer makes him the complete offensive package. The Rockets are still Harden’s team.
Top Defensive Player: Dwight Howard. As good as Houston was on the offensive end last season, they were dismal on the defensive end, ranking 28th in the league in opponent’s points per game. Howard’s shot-blocking ability will change that, as will his ability to rebound and thereby prevent opponents from getting easy transition baskets. Howard’s presence will also mean that Houston’s perimeter players can focus more on denying open shots and pressuring three-point shooters, knowing Howard is waiting in the paint to turn away rim-bound guards. Expect Houston to be a much-improved defensive team based solely on the addition of Howard.
Top Playmaker: James Harden and Jeremy Lin. This role is generally reserved for a team’s starting point guard, but in the case of the Rockets, Harden is just as much the floor general as Jeremy Lin. Last season they averaged 5.8 and 6.1 assists per game, respectively, and Harden was just as likely to facilitate the offense as was Lin. Harden was also primarily responsible for running the offense during the fourth quarter, when Lin was often on the bench.
Top Clutch Player: James Harden. Dwight Howard would like to be Houston’s go-to player in the clutch, but the reality is that his poor free throw shooting will likely make it difficult for head coach Kevin McHale to keep him in close games. Harden proved last season that he was ready to shoulder the responsibility of being his team’s focus when the game was on the line, and Harden will likely once again wear that label this season.
The Unheralded Player: Chandler Parsons. As much as James Harden and Dwight Howard will garner most of the attention this season, Parsons is likely to continue to be one of the primary driving forces behind Houston’s success. He was second on the team in scoring last season at 15.5 points per game, and also led the team in three-point accuracy at 38.5 percent. Parsons will likely emerge as the final piece of Houston’s big three in 2013-14.
Best New Addition: Dwight Howard. For years Houston has been trying to find a way to bring in another premier big man, and this summer they finally did it. Howard has his issues, but there is no question that he is the best center in the NBA, impacting every play on both ends of the floor even if he is not directly involved. If Howard is healthy and focused on winning a championship, the Rockets will go far.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon: It took years, but the Houston Rockets finally found a way to get Hall of Famer Hakeem “The Dream” Olajuwon involved with the team on a regular basis. Rockets fans are hopeful that Dwight Howard can live up to the legacy of Olajuwon, and his chances of doing that grow every time he spends time on or off the court with the greatest Houston Rocket of all time.
2. Dwight Howard: The sky is really the limit for the Rockets this season, based entirely on the arrival of the summer’s top free agent. Dwight Howard is the NBA’s best big man when he’s healthy, and by all indications he will finally be ready to assume that role this season. The Rockets will make him the centerpiece of everything they do this season, and that’s what Howard was looking for. There’s no reason why he shouldn’t follow in the footsteps of Olajuwon and Yao Ming, who were the driving forces behind some very good Rockets teams.
3. James Harden: Every contender needs two superstars, and Harden is Houston’s number two guy. Actually, there is a pretty good argument to be made that Harden is the best player on the team, but his humility and preference to avoid the spotlight will be just as big a contribution as his passing and his scoring. It will allow Howard to believe he is the Rockets’ best player whether he is or not, and that’s incredibly important.
4. Chandler Parsons: Every contender also needs an unsung hero, one who carries a huge part of the burden night in and night out, but rarely gets credit. Players like Mario Elie and Robert Horry filled that role for the Rockets’ championship teams, and Parsons is the one who will most likely play that vital role this season. He can do it all, from drilling open threes to driving for highlight reel dunks and put-backs. He also plays hard-nosed defense on the opposite end of the floor. Howard and Harden will get all the glory, but the Rockets’ overall success will also have a great deal to do with the play of Parsons.
5. Marcus Camby: With Dwight Howard and Omer Asik already lined up as the NBA’s best one-two punch at the center position, Camby isn’t expected to play much of a role on the court for the Rockets this season. That doesn’t mean he won’t be a vital piece of the team, however. The one thing Howard doesn’t have is a championship state of mind, and with Olajuwon on one side and Camby on the other the Rockets hope they can instill one this season.
Last season the Rockets were one of the league’s best three-point shooting teams, and were also second in the NBA in scoring at 106.0 points per game. The presence of Howard in the paint will only create more open three-point opportunities for the Rockets, but now that they have the option to run half-court sets for Howard they will also be a much-improved half-court team. The fact that Houston opted not to trade Omer Asik means they will have the best center rotation in the league. It also ensures them against foul trouble or potential injuries to Howard.
Two seasons ago Jeremy Lin was one of the biggest stories in the NBA. Last season he struggled to live up to the hype, and now that Howard is in place he may represent Houston’s biggest weakness. The ideal point guard to play with Howard should be a dead-eye three-point shooter and excel at creating space for post players to operate. Lin will have to work to fit that bill. Experience could also prove to be an issue at the power forward position, where a host of young players will vie for playing time next to Howard.
Can Dwight Howard once again be a dominant force in the NBA?
Over the last two seasons Howard has been known as much for the drama that he has created off the court as for anything he’s accomplished on the court. This year Howard needs to prove that he can stay healthy and also stay focused on being the best player he can be. If he gets caught up in the coaching, the roster, or any other distractions, he could turn out to be the biggest disappointment in the league this season.
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