At the beginning of the season, even after the trade for James Harden, I was convinced this was not a playoff team. Right before the season started, I wrote this in a blog post: "With youth comes athleticism, energy and excitement. It also brings inexperience, inconsistency and the occasional train wreck. All of the above will no doubt be on display for the Rockets this season." Not an inaccurate assessment, but they were certainly better than my predicted 35-47 record (and substantially better than the Las Vegas betting line of 30.5 wins).
All in all, it was a move forward for the young Rockets, setting them up for a critical offseason that could catapult them from upstart to legit contender. But until the draft and free agency are settled, it's a good time to look back at the year that was and hand out some grades.
Jeremy Lin: C+
The nature of sports fans and their "what have you done for me lately" mentality has been rough on Jeremy Lin. He struggled to start the season and again to close it, but had very solid numbers throughout the heart of the schedule. Anyone who thought Lin would be anything more than an average point guard was fooling himself, but there are also far too many people who think he is a terrible player. Lin's biggest failing was that he was, at times, a liability on the floor. When he was struggling with turnovers or his shot, it was just tough to see him out there. He MUST improve his shooting and cut down on turnovers if he expects to be a worthy backcourt mate for Harden. He was supposed to be the second best player on the team, but it could be argued he might not even be the fourth right now.
James Harden: A-
The Beard gave fans and teammates all they wanted and more. He clearly began to wear down as the season progressed and it showed in his shooting percentage. He has a tendency to take too much on his shoulders, shooting too much and forcing passes, but so much was put on his shoulders, it is hard to blame him for that. If there is one thing he must improve on for next year, it is his defense. Too often, he took defensive possessions off. While that may have been necessary because of the load he had to carry on the offensive end this year, he has to get better if he wants to be mentioned with the best of the best.
Chandler Parsons: A-
Parsons made another big leap from his rookie year and, at times, was the best player on the roster. He plays hard on nearly every possession, improved his shooting percentage and continues to play tough defense. His athleticism allows him to get the basket on just about any defensive opponent, and he runs the floor with the best of them. He will need to continue to improve his shooting touch and not go stretches of games with scoring droughts. Like most young players, he can take defensive possessions off and that will have to change. But, besides Harden, Parsons may be the only untouchable on the roster.
Carlos Delfino/Francisco Garcia: B
Since both started at power forward down the stretch and that rotation was so hampered by trades and rookie inconsistencies, I figured they should share this spot. Delfino provided solid leadership and was an outstanding distance shooter. He struggled with some injuries and ultimately had to miss the last couple playoff games with a broken foot. Garcia, who came over in the trade for Thomas Robinson, was known for his shooting and didn't disappoint in that regard, but who could have expected the kind of tenacious defense he would play on Kevin Durant in the postseason.
Omer Asik: B+
For a guy who averaged 3 points and 4 rebounds his first two seasons, it is safe to say very few expected Asik to be one of the league's best rebounders and have the most double-doubles for the Rockets since Hakeem Olajuwon the year of the first championship. Asik still needs to improve his hands -- he fumbles away too many passes -- and he can be a bit of an offensive liability, but the team went from below average to absolutely hideous on defense when he went to the bench. If he can improve his stamina and get better at catching the ball in the post this offseason, the Rockets may reconsider going after Dwight Howard in free agency.
So many changes throughout the season made it almost impossible to grade this in any meaningful way. By the playoffs, the bench had shortened to basically two players. The rookies struggled with inconsistent playing time, but that is to be expected. The eye-opener was Russian league find Patrick Beverley, who eventually started in the playoffs. His speed and toughness, particularly on defense, were a breath of fresh air.
Kevin McHale probably deserves Coach of the Year honors. He took a squad most believed would be lottery fodder and found a way to make them seriously competitive. He didn't try to give them too much, choosing instead to let them play to their strengths and grow slowly. This strategy not only endeared him to his players, but will benefit them as they develop. He even managed to keep the team in it despite losing his entire starting power forward rotation to trades. Most important, he struggled through what must have been one of the most difficult times in his life after the death of his daughter. He came back and was an inspiration to his players and fellow coaches. I did not think he was a good choice to replace Rick Adelman. Good thing I'm not in charge.
Daryl Morey: A
What can you say about the Wizard except that after some struggles finding a legit star to build the team around, he pulled nearly all aces from his sleeve starting last offseason. He got Harden for Kevin Martin and Jeremy Lamb. He plucked Beverely out of Russia. He managed to land the fifth pick in last year's draft for Patrick Patterson. He did all this and still kept enough cap room to sign a max dollar free agent and enough flexibility to practically sign two. It makes you wonder if when other GMs see his name on their caller ID, they think twice before picking up the phone.
MVP: James Harden
There's no question here. He became one of the best guards in the NBA and is poised to be a star for years to come.
Rookie MVP: Terrence Jones
It's tough to pick one guy here given the inconsistent playing time, but Jones, after bouncing back and forth from the D League all year, emerged as the one rookie McHale could use with regularity. He often looked like a deer caught in the headlights on defense, but his athleticism was startling and he could find a place on this team moving forward.
Most Improved: Omer Asik
He came in fifth in balloting for NBA Most Improved Player, but he is number one on the Rockets. Most were concerned about signing Asik to the deal he got. Now he looks like a steal.
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Biggest Surprise: Patrick Beverley
To go from Russia to starting in the playoffs in four months is less surprising than the manner in which Beverley did it. He was fearless, quick and tough. He was nothing short of a revelation and a legit challenge to Lin's starting spot going forward. He would look extremely good as the backup to someone like Chris Paul.
Biggest Disappointment: Royce White
The #AnxietyWarrior spent most of his season on Twitter wishing everyone #BeWell. Unfortunately, the hyper-talented but equally troubled young forward did nothing to dispel the notion he is not meant for the NBA. From his battles with management to his taunts of Kevin Durant during the playoffs to his numerous children with multiple women, White has become an increasingly complicated liability for the Rockets.