Three and a half months ago, SlowBreak wrote a lengthy state of the Rockets post you can find here. So what's the point of writing this now? Because, for all intents and purposes, this is a completely different team than the squad that finished the 2012 campaign two games out of a playoff berth. Of the top thirteen players in minutes played, ten are gone, leaving Chandler Parsons, Patrick Patterson, and Kevin "Tradebait" Martin as the only survivors from the purge that claimed Kyle Lowry, Goran Dragic, Luis Scola, Courtney Lee, Samuel Dalembert, Chase Budinger, Marcus Camby, Jordan Hill, Terrence Williams, and Jonny Flynn.
Making any evaluation of the roster more difficult is the fact that Rockets GM Daryl Morey has assembled a twenty(!) man roster of players who are as close to unknowns as is possible to find in today's NBA. How good is Jeremy Lin? Who is Donatas Motiejunas? What about Furkan Aldemir? Is Royce White the next great NBA enigma, or is even the answer to that question a riddle? Why is Courtney Fortson on an NBA roster? And, most importantly, how many power forwards is too many? Answers of dubious accuracy await after the jump!
THE STARTING LINEUP
PG Jeremy Lin. For a player who's inspired so much content, it's surprisingly hard to find people confident in what Lin's production will be this year. Coming out of college, the book on Lin was that he was an undersized combo guard who compiled big numbers against lousy competition. We now know Lin is excellent in the pick and roll, a great finisher, possesses good court vision, and is a deceptively effective defender. He is also turnover prone and a mediocre jump shooter. We also know that Kevin McHale installed a pick and roll heavy offense last year that saw Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic post career years. Entering his third year, Lin is a high risk, high reward player. If he never gets any better, it is easy to imagine defenses being able to pack the lane to prevent drives and send traps to force turnovers. However, for young players, a large amount of turnovers is also the sign of great potential. If Lin can do what countless young point guards before him have done as they have matured, turning some of those turnovers into positive plays and developing a reliable 18 foot jumper to force defenders to fight over screens, then the Rockets may have a (deserving) All-Star on their hands. Whatever the case, with the lack of other players to demand the ball, and a $25 million contract, we know he's going to get every chance to succeed in Houston.
SG Kevin Martin. Sometimes miscast as a franchise player, Martin only does one thing, score efficiently, but he does it well. Brought in to pair with Yao and create an offense that would foul out half the other team by the middle of the third quarter, the 29 year old Martin is now a $13 million expiring contract on a team looking to rebuild around youth and defense. He'll most likely be traded by the deadline to a contender (possibly the Wolves).
SF Chandler Parsons. The draft pick that got away from the Wolves, the second rounder Parsons was one of the biggest pleasant surprises of the 2012 season. An athletic 6-10 small forward, Parsons is a decent rebounder, master of the tip-dunk, very good passer, and a good defender with plenty of potential to improve. His only weakness was shooting, an area he where he consistently improved during the year as can be seen by his 3P% by month from Jan-April (.211/.333/.356/.396) and his FT% over the same time (.333/.444/.548/.824). He won't be a star, but projects as an excellent role player going forward.
PF Patrick Patterson. Patterson battled injuries and followed an encouraging rookie year with a disappointing sophomore season. At his best, Patterson is a smart defender, good mid-range shooter, and rugged offensive rebounder. Causes for concern include a miniscule free throw rate, and uniformly poor defensive rebounding going back to his days at Kentucky. Unless he has a great year, he'll most likely be eclipsed by one of Houston's army of power forwards.
C Omer Asik. In 2012, the Bulls defense was over 9 points better with Asik on the floor. Same in 2011. Last year, Asik averaged 13 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes while posting a DRating of 92. That's insanely good. If you don't trust the stats, just watch him, or better yet, watch him and listen to JVG gush over his defensive acumen. He's a legitimate seven footer with great instincts and far quicker feet than you'd expect. It's just possible the Rockets just signed a defender on the level of Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett, and Andrew Bogut. On the other hand, Asik has played less than 2000 minutes in his career, and has had conditioning issues despite only averaging about 15 minutes a game backing up Joakim Noah. How will he adjust to a full time role? It's a gamble.
PF/C Donatas Motiejunas. Another almost Timberwolf, Motiejunas is a seven foot tall power forward/center-when-he-gets-older with an advanced-for-his-age back to the basket game, a sweet, if inconsistent, jump shot, and concerns about motor and rebounding. He dominated in stretches in Summer League, averaging 16-8 on 62% shooting in 25 minutes a game, which is a good sign. Like many European prospects though, especially considering how much of his value will be in learning how to play in the low post, I would expect him to take a year to get acclimated to the NBA before (possibly) breaking out in 2014.
SG Jeremy Lamb. Another Summer League standout (20 PPG in 29 MPG), Lamb has a game similar to Kevin Martin's. Don't expect him to create for others, but he's a deadly scorer off the ball, if that makes sense, both cutting and as a spot up shooter. With a 7 foot wingspan, he also has some potential on the defensive end.
PF/SF Terrence Jones. A combo forward, or tweener if you feel uncharitable, overshadowed by Anthony Davis at Kentucky, Jones can do it all (defend, rebound, pass, score inside and out), but can he do it consistently? A top ten talent that fell a little due to motor concerns, Jones also had a strong Summer League, averaging 18-9 on 50/33/76 shooting in 25 MPG.
Everything/Nothing Royce White. The embodiment of the positional revolution, I have no clue what to make of Royce White. He's basically Mark Jackson or Andre Miller trapped in the body of an undersized power forward, or just maybe, Boris Diaw 2.0.
VETERAN ROLE PLAYERS THAT WILL PLAY
SG/SF Carlos Delfino. Recently signed to provide depth on the wing, give Lin another spot up shooter on the perimeter, and possibly back up Jeremy Lamb after a pending Kevin Martin deal.
PG Shaun Livingston. Currently the favorite to backup Lin, and give Delfino and Brockman someone to reminisce with about bygone days in Milwaukee.
SF/PF Marcus Morris. Learning to play the 3, with the idea to create matchup advantages against smaller defenders, Morris had a horrible rookie year, spending most of it in McHale's doghouse. He'll get another shot this year to impress.
C Greg Smith. He's tall. Put up good numbers in the D-League.
PG/SG Toney Douglas. Before he shot 32% from the field last year, Douglas was regarded as a useful player. Houston's hoping 2012 was an injury-related fluke.
SG/SF Gary Forbes. Doesn't do anything particularly well or particularly badly.
PF JaJuan Johnson. Has the upside of a mediocre stretch four.
PF Jon Brockman. There might be too many power forwards on the roster for the Brockness Monster to fit.
DRAFT & STASH
PG/SG Sergio Llull. A talented combo guard last seen playing for Spain in the Olympics, Llull may come over in 2014 or 2015.
PF/C Furkan Aldemir. A rebounding beast acquired in the second round, he'll stay in Turkey a couple more years.
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
With very little continuity between this season and last, Houston will be an intriguing team. Daryl Morey has, after several years of blue collar mediocrity, assembled a team of young high risk, high reward players. If Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik can translate their success into 2000+ minute seasons, if Parsons continues to improve, if Lamb, Motiejunas, Jones and/or White live up to their potential, if Patterson and Douglas bounce back from injury, this could be a playoff team. The most likely scenario is an extremely inconsistent thirty win team heading into the next offseason with two lottery picks and $30 million in cap space (w/Lin, Asik, Patterson, Lamb, White, Jones, Motiejunas, Parsons under contract). Which isn't a bad way to rebuild.