It was a very interesting year for your Houston Rockets. They struggled early, hit an incredible hot streak at the start of the new year and rode it all the way to the fourth seed in the playoffs. They battled through injuries and lack of experience playing with one another, nevermind an extremely tough Western Conference. Unfortunately, it came to a heartbreaking end last week in Portland.
There will be plenty of questions as to what they will do now as the draft and free agency loom. There are complications with the contracts of Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin as well as deals that will likely have to be made with Chandler Parsons. But, for now, we look back at the year that was and drop some grades on the boys in red including the rotation players, bench, coaching and front office.
Patrick Beverley B-
It is tough to give a guy like Beverley, a lunch pail player who brings it every night, anything lower than the best grade possible. He is the type of player you want on your team but hate if he plays for someone else. Still, he was a below average three point shooter this season and had fewer assists per game than his backup. His defense was, as always, stellar, but he probably should be the second best point guard on a very good team.
James Harden B+
Harden had a terrific season on offense. He is one of the elite scorers in the league and the team's most electric player. He also is the best facilitator on the floor most nights, but he had brutal struggles in the playoffs and his defense all year was abysmal. His lack of effort on the defensive end of the floor is so bad, when he isn't hitting shots, he is nearly a liability on the floor. He has the skill to play defense but just seems to zone out far too often, even in the biggest games of the season. If he truly wants to be among the elite, he must learn to play both ways.
Chandler Parsons B
Perhaps the most enigmatic player on the roster from night to night was Parsons. He could have huge offensive outbursts and also have games where he was barely visible on the floor. But, his numbers remained consistent from last year and he had some very big moments throughout the year despite battling some injuries. He is the Rockets most reliable three point shooter and an above average defender most of the time. Like the rest of the team, he needs to mature, but there is no reason he can't continue to improve and be a very valuable part of the Rockets championship aspirations.
Terrence Jones B
Out of nowhere, Jones emerged as the starter at power forward. The Rockets toyed with a "Twin Towers" lineup that lasted about a dozen games, but once Jones grabbed the starting job, he didn't relinquish it...until the playoffs. Jones is a magnificent athlete who hustled on both ends of the floor and was a surprisingly consistent offensive threat. He averaged nearly 12 points and 7 boards, one season removed from playing in the D League. Still, he became a defensive liability against LaMarcus Aldridge (who wasn't?) in the playoffs and must improve defensively (as they all must) if he wants to keep his spot and improve. The good news is that the progress Jones made looks encouraging.
Dwight Howard A-
Howard was everything the Rockets had hoped he would be. He was a terrific post player -- he even showed improvement throughout the years thanks in large part to the tutoring of Hakeem Olajuwon -- even becoming dominant at times. He was one of the league's best rebounders and a tremendous defender. Most importantly, he was healthy virtually the entire season. Other than free throw shooting, which appeared to gradually improve throughout the year, the Rockets couldn't have asked for more from Howard.
Omer Asik C+
Going from a starting center, considered by many to be one of if not the best defensive big man in the NBA, to a backup has got to be tough. After a failed experiment at power forward, Asik slumped back to the bench and, it was suggested, pouted quite a bit about his demotion. When he finally got healthy and agreed to put his ego aside, his and the Rockets fortunes changed. Not only did he afford them the opportunity to rest Howard, he gave them a great defensive option on a team that played very little D. It's a shame he had to spend so much time sulking. I might have given him a better grade.
Jeremy Lin C
There is no question that Lin struggled much of the year. He seemed content in his role as backup despite cries from his legion of fans, but the truth is, he just wasn't very good this season. His shooting was down, he turned the ball over way too many times and just looked out of sync much too often. He was at his best when playing the two guard with Beverley manning the point, but even then his ability to play with Harden became a question. Even setting aside his disastrous moments in the playoffs, this was not a great season for Lin and his future as a Rocket (considering that $15 million dollar price tag) is in question.
Omri Casspi D
For a guy who began the season as a bit of a pleasant surprise, no one took a nose dive like Casspi. He was one of the cast of many that tried his hand at power forward when it was determined Asik and Howard weren't well suited to play together and he played his usual small forward spot, but despite some better than advertised athleticism and a penchant for running the floor, Casspi didn't do much for the team after the first month of the season. Eventually, he was permanently attached to the bench.
Francisco Garcia D
Garcia joined the Rockets midway through last season and demonstrated a reliable shooting touch and surprising defensive skill, particularly against Kevin Durant in round one of the 2013 playoffs. Maybe it was the injuries early on, but Garcia was not the player we saw last year. His shooting percentage cratered, particularly beyond the arc, which is the one thing the Rockets really needed from him.
Donatas Montejunas C-
In the mix early as a potential starter, Monte just didn't seem to have enough to warrant keeping him on the floor for extended minutes this year. The Rockets envisioned him as a "stretch four," a guy who could play the power forward spot but hit the occasional outside shot. Unfortunately, he shot only 25 percent from deep. He was also a defensive liability against the league's better power forwards. It was rumored his agent wanted the Rockets to trade him, but I'm uncertain as to what he thought would be a better spot for his player. The truth is that Montejunas is a fun guy with lots of energy, but he doesn't appear to be a regular rotation player in the NBA.
Bench Overall D+
On a team that shoots a lot of threes, it is imperative to have a group of bench guys who can knock them down with regularity. Aaron Brooks was that guy until he was traded. Eventually, they discovered Troy Daniels, who could contribute next year, but everyone else was a bust. It also didn't help that they did not have a reliable defensive stopper. Jordan Hamilton, who came over in the trade of Aaron Brooks, started strong, but fizzled shortly thereafter. The only reason they get a + on that D is because of the play of Asik. The Rockets will need to shuffle the bench quite a bit this offseason if they expect to improve.
Kevin McHale deserved one more year. I feel confident in that. But, things are definitely going to need some changing. This was not a good defensive team before assistant coach Kelvin Sampson left to take the University of Houston job. After, they were a train wreck. Their signature star looks lost on defense far too often and the team makes too many mental mistakes. On the final play of the season, it was clear no one was on the same page and they paid for it with their playoff lives. The players like McHale and he clearly has gotten them to buy in to what he is selling, but the product must improve, particularly defensively, or next year will be his last.
Front Office A
As usual, GM Daryl Morey worked his magic all season long. The biggest get obviously was Dwight Howard last offseason. But, his experiments with young, D League players have panned out and it is clear his threes or shots in the paint philosophy works, at least in the regular season. I'm not sure if another blockbuster is in order this offseason, but he will definitely need to work some more wizardry to get the Rockets over the hump and deeper in the playoffs next season.