As of January 7, James Harden led the Rockets with 38 minutes per game. Chandler Parsons (36), Jeremy Lin (33) and Omer Asik (30) joined Harden with at least 30 minutes per contest. Patrick Patterson (27) is the lone starter seeing less than 30 minutes of action a night.
Carlos Delfino, Marcus Morris, Toney Douglas and Greg Smith are all reserves seeing at least 10 minutes a night.
McHale has formed a nine-man rotation to lead Houston to a 20-14 record.
Harden is deserving of every minute he gets. If McHale could play him all 48 minutes every night, he would probably try to. Harden has handled the load of being "the guy" about as well as anyone could have dreamt.
There are no glaring changes to make. Just a few minor tweaks here and there.
This is not a knock on Parsons as a player. Parsons may very well be the second most talented player on the Rockets behind Harden and ahead of Lin.
He has only missed one game this season. But, Parsons has been nicked up a bit with various bothersome ailments.
And he seems to be showing signs of slowing down.
In his first 23 games of the season, Parsons scored in double figures 17 times. In the last 11 games, he has hit that figure just six times.
After averaging 16.1 points in the first full month of the season, Parsons' scoring averaged dipped to 13.8 in December. In January, he has averaged just 7.3 points in three games.
Parsons' minutes should diminish a bit, if only to save him from burning out. Instead of 36 minutes a night, he would be better suited for the same 30-32 minutes Lin receives.
If the Rockets want to replace his minutes directly with another small forward, Carlos Delfino should see a slight bump in his minutes. The Argentinian has tallied two 22-point efforts in Houston's last five games.
Or, the Rockets could go small and insert Toney Douglas at the point, push Lin to the shooting guard spot and move Harden to the three periodically. Douglas thrived in Mike D'Antoni's up-tempo system in New York (10.6 PPG in 24.3 MPG in 2010-11). Douglas could stand to play a few more minutes than the 20 a game he is averaging so far in 2012-13.
In late November and early December, Patterson notched three straight games of 20 points or more and was looking like he was breaking out and becoming a consistent offensive threat.
Then he missed seven games in December with a bruised foot.
Second-year forward Marcus Morris filled in during Patterson's absence. The former Kansas Jayhawk averaged over 12 points a game in nearly 31 minutes a game. The day Patterson returned, Morris went for a career-high 24 points (including four 3-pointers) and six rebounds in 32 minutes.
Patterson averages nearly five minutes a game more than Morris through the first 34 games. McHale should be playing these two the same amount per game.
In all likelihood, if the Rockets are to make any sort of trade, either Patterson or Morris (or maybe both) will be one of the bigger pieces moved. The power forward spot is the one that most needs improvement to raise Houston's chances of competing in the playoffs.
The organization needs to see what it has in both these players. Can Morris handle an increased role, something he adjusted to nicely in Patterson's stead? If he can, then Patterson is an expendable piece that can be used along with some of the youngsters and draft picks to bring back a bona fide power forward.
Like I said, it is not much. McHale has no reason to reinvent the wheel. For one, a change in minutes is to preserve a valuable commodity in Parsons and keep him fresh. The other is a fact-finding mission to better assess two comparable players in Patterson and Morris.
And by all means, ride Harden as far as he will take them.
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