The NBA’s Ultimate Underdog Team
Coming into the 2012-2013 NBA season, expectations weren’t very high for a Houston Rockets team that had failed to reach the postseason in each of the past three seasons. Even after pulling off a blockbuster trade for Oklahoma City Thunder star sixth man James Harden, there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz surrounding this team in Houston.
Even though hindsight says that wasn’t a prudent judgment, it’s not difficult to see why this team as a whole was undervalued heading into the season.
While no doubt a blue-chip talent, Harden was coming off of a nightmare NBA Finals appearance in which he made less than 38 percent of his shots from the floor and averaged just 12.4 points per contest. Just a few months later, Oklahoma City decided they couldn’t afford Harden at max-level money and traded Harden (currently the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer) to the Rockets.
“That’s in the past, I don’t really worry about that,” Harden said. “I just try to focus on getting these guys up and ready every single game. Every practice, just being a leader out there and motivating them to want to go out there and make the playoffs and do something special here. That’s my motivation every single day.
“We’re focused on the guys we have in this locker room and how can we better each other every single day.”
The team’s starting point guard, Jeremy Lin, came out of nowhere and was an overnight sensation for the New York Knicks this past season. However, when it came down to paying the orchestrator of Lin-Sanity this past summer, the Knicks balked and Lin walked in favor of a four-year deal worth $28.8 million.
That’s just the tipping point with guys like Omer Asik, who was deemed expendable by the Chicago Bulls, and Chandler Parsons, who fell to the 38th overall pick in the second round, intent on proving critics wrong. Parsons, in particular, has shrugged off that second round pick status to the tune of averaging 15.2 points and 5.5 rebounds as the second-leading scorer for Houston this season.
“I was a second round pick and I use that as motivation every day,” Parsons told HOOPSWORLD. “Every single team passed on me and I have no hard feelings but that’s in the past. I’m not playing like a second round pick so that doesn’t really affect me so I’m just worried about our team and doing whatever I can do to help us win. I think that’s the just the character of our team.
“We’re just a tough-nosed, hard-working, young group of guys that just want to do whatever it takes to win,” Parsons continued. “It doesn’t matter what kind of paths we took to get here, we’ve all just bought into winning, working hard and developing chemistry.”
Most recently, the Rockets acquired the number five overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft in Thomas Robinson after he failed to get much burn his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings. Despite featuring an impressive set of physical tools and the lofty status that comes with being a top-5 pick, Robinson was unable to find his way with the Kings and is looking for a fresh start in Houston.
“You always learn from those situations, good or bad,” Robinson told HOOPSWORLD. “I definitely learned a few things there… You always learn from a situation.
“I want to maximize my abilities (in Houston).”
Recent signing Aaron Brooks, who has literally been around the world and back throughout his basketball career, might be the most clear example of an underdog in Houston. After spending his first four NBA seasons in Houston, Brooks decided to play in China during last year’s lockout-shortened season before joining Sacramento this past summer. Like his new teammate Robinson, Brooks was also deemed expendable by the Kings and was cut this past week before signing with the Rockets.br> br>
“It was kind of an awkward feeling being back, walking in and seeing the same uniform that you wore,” Brooks told HOOPSWORLD. “It seemed like forever ago, but I don’t know, this is a good team. They’re rising, they’re up-and-coming and I know the city, so it was an easy decision for me.”
Across the board, it’s clear that many of the players that make up this Houston roster were undervalued by both their previous squads and presumably around the league as a whole. Now, with just over a month before the start of the 2013 postseason, the highest scoring team in the NBA looks primed to break that postseason drought with a bevy of overachieving players.
“I think they feel they’re very good players and they go out and try to play that way every single night,” head coach Kevin McHale said. “I don’t get that sense from the guys. They’re trying to find their way. they’re a lot of young guys. Thomas Robinson was the fifth pick and he’s been traded. A lot of young guys trying to find their way.”
The youngest team in the NBA, sporting a starting lineup that features Asik (26-years old) as its senior member, the Rockets have scorched their way to a 33-29 record – good for seventh in the brutal West. Despite various new players added to the mix and a few hiccups along the way, Houston looks primed to hold fast in their pursuit of a postseason berth.
“We just try to get better almost every single day in practice, work on our defense, try to work on our rotations, moving the ball and some days we do it really well,” McHale said. “Other days you’d swear we didn’t work on anything and I don’t think that’s that unusual for a young group of guys that haven’t been around each other for that long. We’ve literally had two different teams this year. The guys are good guys and they work hard, there are days where they do what we tell them. Sometimes they’re worrying about their minutes and if they missed their last shot and you just want to shake them, then the next day they’ll come into the gym and work hard and it works well for us. We’re all just trying to figure out each other and try to find a rhythm as a team and we have  games left to find that rhythm.
“I think we should win every game and when we don’t I’m mad so I don’t know.”
Even with the loaded Los Angeles Lakers in their rear-view mirror trying to overtake either Houston or the eighth-seed Utah Jazz, the young and upcoming Rockets have plenty of reason to believe they’ll hold on to the seventh seed. Having already thoroughly exceeded expectations this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Rockets proved critics wrong once again and played a role in keeping the super team Lakers out of the postseason.