Power Ranking Every Key Houston Rockets Player Before Season's End

Jake Lapin@lapin_62094Correspondent IMarch 20, 2014

Power Ranking Every Key Houston Rockets Player Before Season's End

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    James Harden and Dwight Howard lead the surging Houston Rockets.
    James Harden and Dwight Howard lead the surging Houston Rockets.Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

    With the playoffs right around the corner, the Houston Rockets are in the thick of a tight race out West. Coach Kevin McHale has all but finalized his rotation as the regular season winds down.

    Houston basically runs a rotation that is nine players deep. You have the starters (James Harden, Dwight Howard, Chandler Parsons, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley) and four role players coming off the bench. Jeremy Lin backs up Beverley, Omer Asik backs up Howard, Jordan Hamilton adds depth to the wings, and Donatas Motiejunas adds size. Rarely anyone else plays.

    These rankings are based on a player's importance to the Rockets. Each guy has a specific role for the team, and if somebody were to go down with an injury, the guys near the top would be nearly impossible to replace.

    Here are the player power rankings for Houston as the seasons comes to a close.

10. Francisco Garcia

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    Garcia's playing time has decreased dramatically this season.
    Garcia's playing time has decreased dramatically this season.Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Points: 5.8

    Rebounds: 2.2

    Assists: 1.1

    Considering the Rockets only have a nine-man rotation, the 10th spot was up for grabs. It was basically a toss-up between Francisco Garcia and Omri Casspi, but Garcia gets the nod because he has played slightly more than Casspi recently.

    After a disappointing start to the season, Garcia found himself on the bench quite often. He did not play in several games throughout the year as a result of his lack of productivity. When Houston acquired winger Jordan Hamilton at the trade deadline, that took an even bigger cut into Garcia's minutes.

    Recently, he has expressed his desire to play to the coaches, and they have given him a second chance. After nine straight DNPs, Garcia got in a road game against the Oklahoma City Thunder and produced. He went 4-of-5 from the field, nailing three long balls for 11 points in just 17 minutes.

    Even though he is out of the rotation, he has proved that he can hit some threes in a close game. His veteran leadership and three-point shooting, streaky as it is, will come in handy once the playoffs roll around.

9. Jordan Hamilton

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    Hamilton was a nice pickup at the trade deadline for Houston.
    Hamilton was a nice pickup at the trade deadline for Houston.Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    Points: 8.1

    Rebounds: 3.7

    Assists: 0.6 

    General manager Daryl Morey made the right move in exchanging Aaron Brooks for Hamilton. The former Longhorn is a great fit in the Rockets system.

    He is an athletic wing with slashing ability and a solid three-point shot. His shooting has been streaky lately, but his 35.9 percent with the Rockets is right on par with his career average from behind the arc.

    The Rockets needed an extra athletic wing on their bench, and giving up a third-string point guard to get one was a no-brainer. Hamilton is a decent perimeter defender who happens to excel at blocks in transition; he has a couple of big ones already with Houston. He has filled the void that Garcia's subpar performance created.

    Hamilton is a valuable role player coming off the bench for the Rockets, and hopefully his three-pointers will fall in the postseason.

    The stats above are Hamilton's stats as a Rocket.

8. Donatas Motiejunas

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    D-Mo has developed into a nice role player with the Rockets.
    D-Mo has developed into a nice role player with the Rockets.Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Points: 5.1

    Rebounds: 3.3

    Assists: 0.6

    Earlier in the year, Motiejunas was upset over his lack of playing time, and he was even sent down to the D-League for a while. Eventually, he got his chance to get back in the rotation.

    "Sometimes when you’re a 20-year-old kid, you have to earn your time," McHale said to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle. "He worked hard. Now, he’s reaping the benefits.”

    D-Mo is now a key contributor in the second unit for Houston. McHale loves his style of play and will often put him in when the offense is struggling. He is great at moving the ball around with quick passes, and his improving three-point shot helps space the floor.

    He's only shooting 27.5 percent from deep this season, but his percentage is slowly rising, as he has shot much better after the All-Star break. He shot 41.2 percent from three in the month of February.

    When his shot is falling and he adds that to his already impressive post game, D-Mo becomes a talented offensive weapon for Houston. He should continue to get good minutes.

7. Omer Asik

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    Asik blocks the former slam dunk champion Jeremy Evans.
    Asik blocks the former slam dunk champion Jeremy Evans.Bill Baptist/Getty Images

    Points: 4.3

    Rebounds: 6.2

    Assists: 0.4

    After all of the injuries and trade rumors revolving around Asik this season, he is finally healthy and starting to look like his old self.

    He is playing terrific defense coming off the bench behind Howard, and his offensive game is slowly coming back as well. He still struggles at times to catch passes and finish layups, but he is getting better each game.

    It's tough to come back and play at NBA speed right away after sitting out for two months without any activity because of a swollen knee. He is slowly adjusting to the pace of the game, finishing more plays on offense and playing tougher defense as well.

    It's about time!

    It's good to have the Asik from last year back and playing well. He is a great option off the bench; he and Howard giving the Rockets 48 minutes of elite rim protection on defense. He can also fill in for Howard as a starter, like he did against the Utah Jazz when Howard missed his first game of the season with a sore ankle.

    Now that Asik is here to stay with the trade deadline in the rearview mirror, he can focus on getting better and fulfilling his role as a bench player with Houston.

6. Jeremy Lin

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    Lin is playing much better now that he is healthy once again.
    Lin is playing much better now that he is healthy once again.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Points: 12.5

    Rebounds: 2.6

    Assists: 4.1

    Lin goes through some good stretches and some bad ones, as many players do, but I think a big factor is his health.

    He has been dealing with a sore back for a while now, and it has affected his game negatively. However, since his back has gotten better, his game has drastically improved.

    In recent games, he has been playing much better. His quickness is back, and he is able to penetrate the lane with ease. He can finish creatively around big men and can also kick it out to the open shooter. His defense still needs work, just like most of the Rockets, but he has become a talented offensive player.

    His three-point percentage still needs to go up a bit from 33.5 percent, but he is definitely better than he used to be from long range.

    Lin is particularly valuable because he ignites a spark for the Rockets as part of the second unit. Often, McHale chooses to play small ball by putting in Lin alongside Patrick Beverley to pick up the pace. Lin is a fast-pace player, which sometimes results in excessive turnovers but also can put up quick points.

5. Terrence Jones

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    Jones has had a terrific sophomore season for the Rockets.
    Jones has had a terrific sophomore season for the Rockets.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Points: 11.7

    Rebounds: 7.1

    Assists: 1.1

    Terrence Jones fits in the Rockets starting lineup nicely alongside Dwight Howard. As a stretch 4, he can play big on defense in the post and small on offense to stretch the floor.

    He has tremendous athleticism that helps him on both ends of the floor. He averages 1.3 blocks per game to help Howard defend the rim, and he can slash well and attack the basket on the other end. He is terrific in transition and often finishes off alley-oops as a reward for running the floor.

    Jones is shooting just 33.3 percent from deep but 53.3 percent since the All-Star break, which forces defenders to pay attention to him behind the arc.

    His biggest issue is consistency. He will go on stretches where he gets several double-doubles, and then he will have a stretch of games where he doesn't get to double figures in any category.

    Sometimes, McHale is forced to leave him out near the end of games if he is in a slump. Jones has star potential; we just need to see it on a nightly basis, especially in the playoffs.

4. Chandler Parsons

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    Chandler Parsons is an important piece to the Rockets puzzle.
    Chandler Parsons is an important piece to the Rockets puzzle.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Points: 16.0

    Rebounds: 5.5

    Assists: 3.9

    Even though he has been struggling a bit as of late, Parsons is a vital part of the core. His shooting and athleticism are crucial to the offensive flow, and his perimeter defense is much needed for a team that struggles in that regard.

    His 40 percent three-point shooting is down to just 37 percent after the All-Star break. Despite his drought, he is still a great slasher to the hoop and a terrific passer for his size. He stuffs the stat sheet in several categories, not just threes.

    He also is a solid defender. The Rockets need him to guard the Durants and LeBrons, because they don't have many other options. He has proved that he can contain some of the best scorers in the league.

    When Houston had an opportunity to trade a 38th overall pick for an All-Star and champion in Rajon Rondo and chose not to, you know just how important Parsons is for the Rockets' present and future plans. He will ultimately become the third star for this team along with Harden and Howard. Hopefully he can continue to prove that notion this year during the playoffs.

3. Patrick Beverley

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    Beverley doesn't back down from anyone, which is something that the Rockets will need down the stretch.
    Beverley doesn't back down from anyone, which is something that the Rockets will need down the stretch.Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    Points: 9.9

    Rebounds: 3.7

    Assists: 2.7

    Patrick Beverley has become a household name recently but maybe not for the right reasons. He has been exposed in the media as a dirty, relentless player with a chip on his shoulder after getting cut and playing overseas.

    Sometimes he may cross the line, like many think he did in the clash against Russell Westbrook in their first rematch since Beverley injured the Thunder player's knee in the playoffs last summer. However, his intentions aren't bad. In fact, they are quite good.

    Every time the team gets on the bus, Beverley says, "If your mind’s not on winning, get off of the bus." He has a loud voice in the locker room, and his mentality is all about winning for the team.

    He made his way into the NBA from overseas by playing hard-nosed defense. He does an excellent job of getting under the opponents' skin, and he often is able to shut down elite scoring guards because of it. His all-out hustle and persistence keep players from getting comfortable or finding any sort of rhythm.

    Jason Friedman at Rockets.com describes him as a "Junkyard Dog," which may sound familiar to longtime Rockets fans. Back in the championship years, Houston had Mario Elie, who was similar in many ways to Beverley. He was an all-out, in-your-face kind of player. He was the enforcer that every championship team needs to make a deep run in the playoffs.

    That is Beverley. He will be important in the postseason because of his defense and tough mentality. He just needs to make sure that he doesn't misplace his aggression, which can sometimes cause him to take bad shots or fouls.

2. Dwight Howard

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    Howard is a leader for the team both on and off the court.
    Howard is a leader for the team both on and off the court.Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

    Points: 18.6

    Rebounds: 12.4

    Assists: 1.8 

    We all know Dwight Howard is returning to his dominant form with Houston. He is a beast in the paint on defense and is showing an improving post game. He is among the league leaders in rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage.

    There is no argument as to whether he is an elite player.

    However, what makes him even more valuable is his leadership. He likes to have fun, but he also knows how to lead a team at the same time. He may not take the Kobe Bryant no-smiling approach, but his way seems to be working too.

    McHale said about the team: "They’re bonding as a group and you can feel it. That’s what makes sports special when you get around guys that are bonding and fighting together."

    This special bond is because of Howard's leadership and outgoing personality.

    Early in the year, Omer Asik was upset over getting benched behind Howard. Now, every time Asik gets in the game, Howard is his biggest fan. He is the first one off the bench to congratulate Asik on a good play. That kind of team attitude makes the Rockets unique.

    Howard's dominance as a player and as a leader will make this Rockets team a force to be reckoned with for a long time. 

1. James Harden

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    James Harden is a special player.
    James Harden is a special player.Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

    Points: 24.6

    Rebounds: 4.7

    Assists: 5.6

    Who else but the Beard?

    In the Rockets' recent stretch of difficult games, Harden proved that he is the real deal. He averaged nearly 27 points per game in that stretch against teams such as the Miami Heat, Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder.

    When Harden starts to heat up, he is lethal offensively. His three-pointers fall, and his dribble drives create points either at the rim or the free-throw line. He is nearly impossible to guard some nights.

    Sure, he needs to work on some areas like his defense and turnovers, but Harden has proved this season that he is clutch down the stretch. He leads the league in player clutch, which is scoring in the final five minutes of a five-point game or less. He can hit the big shot, which is something the Rockets have been lacking the past several seasons.

    The Rockets will only go as far as Harden will carry them in the playoffs—that is for sure.

    All stats are from ESPN.com unless otherwise noted, and are accurate as of 3/19/2014.