It seems like having a wheeler dealer as a general manager means reintroducing ourselves to the Rockets roster every season. Gone are some familiar faces from last year, replaced by some interesting choices and some youngsters. But, the big names remain and that is more important than anything.
It is difficult to imagine that with the losses of three rotation players including one starter in Chandler Parsons that this team could be better than last year when they won 54 games. In fact, it is likely they won't be. When Darryl Morey swung for the fences and whiffed, missing out on Chris Bosh and Parsons while trading away Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik for cap space, it left some gaping holes in the roster. Some will need to be filled by unproven players and aging veterans.
If you are confused -- especially since you may have not been able to watch games on TV with regularity that last two seasons -- let me help you out with this primer on the Rockets roster.
Trevor Ariza Position: Small Forward Strengths: Outside Shooting, Perimeter Defense Weaknesses: Getting Own Shot
Ariza re-joins the Rockets after his best season in Washington where he helped the Wizards to a surprising playoff run while shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc. Ariza has always been a good perimeter defender, but with the addition of a consistent jumper, he could be the ideal compliment to the Rockets starters, and may make fans quickly forget the guy he replaced: Chandler Parsons.
Terrence Jones Position: Power Forward Strengths: Offensive Game, Rebounding Weaknesses: Low Post Defense, Shooting from Distance
Jones, perhaps more than any other player, will be pivotal for the Rockets this season. The third-year forward appeared to make a leap forward last year, but that development will need to continue in earnest. Jones needs to rely on hustle and rebounding to make his name as few plays will be called for him. He did that in stretches last season, but will need to put together a full year to become the player fans and coaches hope he can be.
Dwight Howard Position: Center Strengths: Low Post Scoring, Shot Blocking, Defense Weaknesses: Free Throw Shooting
For all the problems Howard had when leaving both Orland and LA, he has been the model player for the Rockets. He appears to have regained both his health and his offensive form, now two years removed from a back injury that shut down his season and career with the Lakers. He should continue to provide scoring, rebounding and interior defense at his typical high levels as long as he stays healthy.
James Harden Position: Shooting Guard Strengths: Scoring from All Areas on the Floor, Passing Weaknesses: Perimeter Defense
The Beard has committed himself to playing both ends of the court and after an embarrassing YouTube video highlighting his defensive lowlights, it would seem like the right thing to do. Harden is one of the best all-around scorers in the NBA. He is deadly efficient and can get to the basket at will. He might be the best two guard in the league. If he takes a step up on the defensive end, he could make a case for being in the same tier as former teammate Kevin Durant and Lebron James.
Patrick Beverley Position: Point Guard Strengths: Perimeter Defense, Hustle Weaknesses: Consistent Scoring
One of the most tenacious on-the-ball defenders in the league, Beverley has made a name for himself in a conference loaded with some of the best players at the position in the history of the game. He is a guy you would hate if he were on the other team, but love when he is on your roster. He will have to be a more consistent scorer, particularly from distance. It will be tough for the Rockets to advance deep in the playoffs with a below-average offensive point guard considering the competition.
Jason Terry Position: Guard Strengths: Shooting, Leadership Weaknesses: Defense
The veteran Terry spent much of his career sticking daggers in the hearts of Rockets fans. Now, he joins the team he routinely destroyed after a couple down years. The Rockets hope he will regain the three point shooting form that made him a valuable contributor on playoff teams like Dallas. His veteran leadership should also be a plus in the locker room.
Kostas Papanikolaou Position: Forward Strengths: Scoring Off the Dribble, Passing Weaknesses: Defense
A European player whose last name sounds like the Greek version of Santa Claus, Papanikolaou brings some interesting skills to the Rockets. At 24, he has already been playing professionally in Europe for nearly a decade and his offensive game is mature. He has good size, good handles and is terrific off the dribble. He will need to get used to the NBA three-point line, but appears to possess all the necessary tools to excel in the Association.
Donatas Montejunas Position: Power Forward Strengths: Low Post Scoring, Rebounding Weaknesses: Defense, Perimeter Shooting
For several years, Monte has shown flashes of promise, but little consistency. He has developed a nice offensive game around the basket and always hustles, but his lack of significant upper body strength and typically soft defense many European players exhibit can make him a bit of a liability at times on the floor. He will need to prove he deserves a spot on the roster and in the league this season and the Rockets will be relying on him to provide a scoring punch off the bench.
Tarik Black Position: Forward/Center Strengths: Hustle, Rebounding, Defense Weaknesses: Offense
From un-drafted rookie to rotation player, Blacks ascension has been surprising to fans and the coaching staff. But, his hustle and interior defense to go along with his knack for rebounding could make him a valuable commodity at backup center. He has a very raw offensive game and doesn't have the kind of size you would typically like to see for his position (he might be six-feet-nine on a good day), but his aggressive play will keep him in the rotation assuming he can stay out of foul trouble.
Isaiah Canaan Position: Point Guard Strengths: Offense, Ball Handling Weaknesses: Defense
Canaan spent most of last season in the Developmental League and has grown as a player in confidence and skills since the Rockets drafted him in the second round. He is a gifted scorer who can make shots all over the floor and handles the ball well. Despite looking a bit like Kyle Lowry, he does not possess the defensive talents of the former Rockets guard. He will need to improve that part of his game to get consistent minutes.
Troy Daniels Position: Guard Strengths: Outside Shooting Weaknesses: Defense
One week, Daniels was playing in the Rio Grande Valley. The next, he was making the game winning three pointer in an NBA playoff game. One of the best pure shooters you will ever see, Daniels is just learning how to play on a professional level. And while he may end up being one of the top three point shooters in the league, he will need to play some defense and/or improve his ball handling skills to see more than spot minutes no matter what he did in the playoffs.
Joey Dorsey Position: Forward/Center Strengths: Defense, Rebounding Weaknesses: Offense
The once and current Rocket, Dorsey is a bruising hulk of a forward who was brought in to help provide depth in the low post. He has little offensive game and lacks one stand out characteristic, but he can bang in the paint and grab rebounds, something the Rockets are emphasizing this year.
Nick Johnson Position: Guard Strengths: Athleticism, Passing, Scoring Off the Dribble Weaknesses: Defense, Experience
If there was one player who has the potential to be a bigger contributor in the spring than in the fall, it's Johnson. Taken by the Rockets in the second round of this year's draft, he dazzled at the Las Vegas summer league (see poster dunk video above) with tremendous athleticism and flashed some next level passing and scoring skills. He lacks size for a two guard, but with his handles, he could get time at the point. Expect him to get plenty of time in the D-League this season and be poised to make a bigger contribution next year. But, don't be surprised if he makes a run at the rotation as March and April approach.
End of the Bench
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Francisco Garcia Position: Small Forward Strengths: Outside Shooting, Leadership Weaknesses: Speed, Defense
Garcia, a perennially good outside shooter, saw his skills fall off last season thanks to injury. The Rockets brought him back in part for his outside shooting, but mostly because he is an excellent locker room guy and a leader on the team.
Clint Capela Position: Center Strengths: Defense, Rebounding Weaknesses: Low Post Scoring
The Rockets were hesitant to bring this young player over from Europe, preferring to stash him there one more season, but Capela demanded to come to the U.S. He has freakishly long arms and is a legit 7-footer, but he is extremely raw at both ends of the floor. He will spend most of his time this season in the D-League honing his skills.