Rating the New Rockets Acquisitions at the Quarter Pole

James Ennis has, overall, been a solid pickup for the Rockets.
James Ennis has, overall, been a solid pickup for the Rockets. Photo by Jeff Balke
As crazy as it may seem, the Rockets have already gone through 25 percent of their games this season. It's particularly frustrating when you consider just how rough those games have been. Despite a couple recent wins, they remain in the lower tier of the Western Conference and a distinct work in progress.

Some of that is owed to the new faces on the roster. Sure, when James Harden, Chris Paul and Clint Capela are healthy and on the court together, this can be a very good team. But they have not been and there is no reason to think they will remain injury free the rest of the year. As such, they need help and much of that was thought to be coming in the form of trades and free agent acquisitions in the offseason. The feast or famine nature of the play of those guys mirrors the team as a whole, so it's worth taking a look at where we are so far.

Carmelo Anthony
Acquired by: Free Agency
Grade: F

No matter what you think about the deal that brought Anthony to Houston — whether you see him as simply a replacement for Ryan Anderson, who has been beyond bad in Phoenix, or as a starter — the experiment has been an abject failure. It's hard to remember a time when a player was summarily dismissed from the team for just not being good enough despite having been believed to be a missing piece when signed a couple months prior. Anthony was supposed to help prop up (offensively anyway) a mediocre bench. He's not even good enough to play mop up duty. It's been a total mess and has left the team scrambling early on.

James Ennis
Acquired by: Free Agency
Grade: B+

Like the rest of the team, Ennis has been up and down. He's missed a few games to injury, has shown flashes of brilliance and struggled mightily. Ultimately, what the Rockets want from Ennis is a guy who can run the court and knock down threes while playing tough perimeter defense with hustle and energy. Ennis is hitting 38 percent of his shots from distance and has shown a bit of that second gear the Rockets expected in the open court, but the team hasn't run enough to maximize it and Ennis has been just OK defensively. Still, overall, a positive addition and better than what Trevor Ariza brought them at the position last year.

Michael Carter-Williams
Acquired by: Free Agency
Grade: D

Many fans and followers of the Rockets were skeptical at the signing of Carter-Williams primarily because he didn't really seem to fit the team's system. Carter-Williams is an old school point guard with size. He can't really hit shots from the outside and is a ball handling guard on a team where the ball is already being handled. He's something of a very poor man's Shaun Livingston, which would be fine if he had Livingston's athleticism. As a lot of people predicted, he hasn't fit in and has been relegated to a rarely-used reserve on a team that has been pretty terrible bench overall.

Brandon Knight
Acquired by: Trade with Phoenix
Grade: Incomplete

Knight, who came into camp with an infection from off-season knee surgery, has become almost a mythic figure among some fans who hope his few good seasons will translate into scoring punch off the bench when he is finally healthy. When he has been good, Knight has demonstrated a very quick first step and deft shooting touch, but that has been nearly three seasons ago. Since, he's been beset by injuries and questions of his willingness to lead. It was hoped he could come to Houston and act as an offensive spark off the bench. His 16 points with the G League Vipers last week notwithstanding, so far there hasn't been much to cheer about.

Marquese Chriss
Acquired by: Trade with Phoenix
Grade: C-

Chriss has battled some injuries early, but the truth is his upside has not come close to materializing in Houston any more than it did in Phoenix. His limited offensive skills and inability to be in position on defense have kept him mostly glued to the bench. He's seen a few more minutes in recent games as Coach Mike D'Antoni has expanded his bench slightly to take some weight off his starters (it helps that those games were mostly blowouts), but it's difficult to see Chriss gaining much traction.

Gary Clark
Acquired by: Free Agency (rookie)
Grade: B

Perhaps the second biggest surprise of the early season after the disappearance of Anthony is the emergence of rookie swingman Gary Clark. He has been needed with the early season injuries and Clark has come through as best he can given his lack of experience. He plays very solid defense and is an excellent rebounder for his size. His three-point shooting has tailed off over the last week or so, but there is clearly room there for improvement. He may not be in the plans for big minutes as the team gets healthy and possibly makes a deal or two to shore up their depth, but he is an interesting project who, with those early season minutes under his belt, could pay dividends down the road.

Isaiah Hartenstein
Acquired by: Brought up from the G League
Grade: B

Essentially, Hartenstein beat out Chriss in the battle for back up big man minutes while Nene recovered from injury. Anyone who watched him in the summer league probably wasn't that surprised. Hartenstein isn't an athletic specimen, but he's hard nosed and tough. He rebounds and runs the floor well and can hit the occasional outside shot. He's also smart, having spent time as a pro in Europe, giving him an edge on the floor. It's unlikely he will get extended minutes this season barring an injury, but like Clark, he offers an interesting project for down the road. No one thought much of Clint Capela a few seasons ago either.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke