Lacking a star prior to the start of the regular season, James Harden made quite the impression for the city of Houston. The fifth-highest scorer in the NBA with an average of 25.9 points, Harden was the main reason Houston was able to reach the postseason.
With the roster’s biggest names locked up for the foreseeable future—including Harden, Jeremy Lin and Omer Asik—the rest of the league has had a chance to see just how dangerous this group can be.
And as well as Harden played through the course of the season—he earned the right to take 1,337 shots—he’s going to need his surrounding cast to step up and help carry the load.
Those increased roles will come with maturation and comfort level. As we prepare for the 2013-14 season, the minimal expectations from a year ago will become lofty. The talk will not be reaching the playoffs but rather how far can this team get in the playoffs.
We don’t know the answers. Roster tweaks will be made through the summer, and the entire Southwest division will be highly competitive in the coming years.
In order for the Rockets’ successes to continue into the 2013-14 season, there are a few players with guaranteed contracts who must command a bigger role.
With no clear-cut power forward heading into 2013-14, the Rockets need a player who is capable of providing quality minutes.
On the current roster, the player with the most upside at power forward is Thomas Robinson. After a breakout year in 2011-12 for the Kansas Jayhawks where Robinson averaged a season double-double with 17.7 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, he was selected fifth overall by the Sacramento Kings.
The 6’10” big man was acquired by the Rockets at the trade deadline and played just 13 minutes per game during the 19 games he was in Houston. He managed to score 4.5 points for the Rockets and grabbed 4.1 rebounds per contest.
Through a season of growth and adversity, Robinson was able to flash some of his potential, playing at his best when involved offensively. His value, though, comes from his ability to dominate the glass. Playing alongside Asik will bolster the Rockets frontcourt.
In his most productive game, March 3 against the Dallas Mavericks, Robinson grabbed eight rebounds, stole three passes, got to the foul line and ran the length of the floor for a dunk in transition. He also displayed his ability to get to the rim with the ball in his hands. You can see the highlights below.
Though he didn’t start a single game, Robinson, as the power forward position currently stands, could very well be burst into a starting role next season.
His value on the boards alone is enough for him to be considered. His offensive rebounding rate of 14.9 was ninth-best in the league for players with over 15 games played, per HoopData. Robinson had a total rebound rate of 18.1.
The 22-year-old has tremendous potential, and McHale needs to utilize his athleticism on the inside. Robinson himself needs to use the summer to polish his game and put in the necessary gym time to have a bigger role next season.
With a very high ceiling, Robinson could be general manager Daryl Morey's answer long-term.
Starting all 82 games, by no means did Jeremy Lin have a bad season in 2012-13.
Sure, he struggled with injury and ineffectiveness against Oklahoma City in the playoffs, but that performance was not indicative of his regular season production.
Looking at his stats, you see a player who was on the floor 32.2 minutes per game, averaged 13.4 points, 6.1 assists and three rebounds per game. This seems like a pretty large role under McHale.
Well, Lin’s a point guard—a floor general. He needs to facilitate the offense and create plays with his ball-handling abilities. Yes, he likes to shoot, but his shifty movements enable him to find quality looks at the basket.
Most importantly, with a salary of $8,374,646 next season, Lin needs to be more consistent. He looked like an All-Star one game and a bench player the next.
The biggest area he needs to improve is his turnover rate. He turned the ball over 236 times, the 10th-most in the NBA. Lin had a 13.5 turnover ratio—the percentage of a player’s possessions that end in a turnover.
He struggled to adapt with Harden as the primary ball-handler at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. There was a lot of isolation offense and not much ball movement—making Lin more of a decoy than a contributor.
The difference between the two guards is when Harden controls the tempo, Houston relies on long-range shots, thanks to his drive-and-kick, whereas, when Lin controls the offense, there is much more movement off the ball, leading to higher quality shots.
Take a look at this clip to see the court vision and ball movement that Lin creates.
As the season progressed, so too did Lin.
He shot 45.5 percent (37.5 three-point percentage) after the All-Star break. His best month of basketball came in April, as he scored 17.3 points per game adding 6.9 assists.
Still, there’s more progression to be made. From David Barron's article for The Houston Chronicle, Lin remarked:
I can talk about anything, and it would be something that I would want to be better, whether it’s defense, jump shots, making decisions, being quicker, being more explosive, being more consistent. I think I’m as motivated now as I’ve been my whole life.
With improvement comes more responsibilities. It starts with controlling the ball. If Lin takes a bigger role in facilitating, structuring and controlling the offense, the Rockets will be tough to beat.
Terrence Jones is another young power forward who must take a bigger role. After excelling for two seasons under John Calipari at Kentucky, Jones was selected by the Rockets with the 18th overall selection in 2012.
He spent his rookie campaign up and down from the D-League at Rio Grande Valley, finding it difficult to prove himself in the young Rockets front court.
The 6'9" 21-year-old can serve as a combo forward and come off the bench to give Chandler Parsons or the starting power forward—let’s say Robinson— a breather.
Appearing in 19 games this past season, Jones scored 5.5 points and added 3.4 rebounds in 14.5 minutes. While fellow rookie Robinson didn’t play at all in the playoffs, Jones saw time in two games, scoring eight points and grabbing 15 rebounds in 35 total minutes.
Jones has the talent to put the ball on the floor and make plays with his ball-handling. He has a long-range jumper (perfect for the Rockets' style) and grabs his share of rebounds.
Though it came in the last five minutes of a blowout, you can see the energy that Jones brings and the type of player he is on the offensive end in this highlight:
He received his chance with the Rockets after completely dominating the D-League. He scored 19 points per game on 47.9 percent shooting and added nine rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.3 blocks in his 24 games at Rio Grande Valley.
Jones had a strong April in a Rockets uniform, where he played over 23 minutes per contest. He scored 8.8 points for the month, blocked nearly two shots per game and grabbed almost six rebounds in his eight games played.
If he is able to do that consistently next year, his role will undoubtedly increase.
Jones has the court vision to play great help defense. In this next clip, you get a glimpse of his ability to leave his man and help on defense at the 2:10 mark.
It was beneficial for Jones to spend the majority of the season in the D-League where he was able to see almost 31 minutes a game while working on his craft. When he returned in April, McHale went with the “hot hand” and gave Jones extended minutes.
A full offseason with the team will help to further develop Jones as an effective NBA player and as the 2013-14 season rolls around, he will be able to contribute in a bigger capacity for the Rockets.
The future looks bright, and if these three players can take on a bigger role next season, we'll see the Rockets play deep into the playoffs.