May 2, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) reacts after Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) hit a last second to win game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center.Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
For a team that has subtracted several key members of its 2013-14 squad, questions abound as to whether the Rockets can match the production of last year’s squad.
…Gone is third-leading scorer Chandler Parsons, who went on to sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Dwight Howard already insisted losing Parsons “would have no effect on the team.”
Now, James Harden further echoed those sentiments to Dimemag.
“Dwight Howard and I are the cornerstones…the rest of the guys are role players or pieces that complete our team…I think we’ll be fine next season.
That is to say, Harden fails to acknowledge the games in which Jeremy Lin played instrumental roles, when he stepped up in light of Harden’s injuries. That is to deny that it was Omer Asik who put the clamps on LaMarcus Aldridge after he averaged 43.5 points per game against Terrence Jones.
May 2, 2014; Portland, OR, USA; Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard (12) reacts after being fouled against the Portland Trail Blazers during the fourth quarter in game six of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Craig Mitchelldyer-USA TODAY Sports
And it was Parsons who steadily provided an alternative scoring source when Harden was off, Howard was in foul trouble, or if Parsons was just red hot.
It’s not as though those three players were invaluable. Did they complete the Rockets, as Harden said? Absolutely. So what would then make their subtraction inconsequential?
What can be insinuated easily here is that it is a lot of bravado on the parts of both Howard and Harden. Each is not as egotistical as the comments may represent, but it is not as though either is going to say the team is the worse off for its subtractions.
The Rockets ultimately struck out on free agency, but there are a number of guys who should be able to step up and provide the production that departed.
The Rockets could have benefitted from signing a guard to a mid-level contract, but instead will rely on a battle between Troy Daniels, Nick Johnson and Isaiah Canaan to somehow spell the 12.5 points and four assists per game.
Per-36, Lin averaged 15.6 points per game and 5.2 assists per game while shooting 49.2 percent from two-point range and 35.8 percent from behind the arc. While Daniels certainly can hit at a higher clip than Lin did, It’s arguable as to whether any Rockets guard can provide the fast break ignition. Lin played passing lanes well and averaged 1.6 steals per game in consecutive seasons before falling off to 1.0 last year.
Jan 8, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets point guard Isaiah Canaan (1) enters the game during the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports
Canaan looked good in stretches, but he does lack experience. He has natural leadership skills, and is also a natural scorer. He averaged 21.8 points per game in his senior season at Murray State. He has had his troubles shooting as a pro, hitting just 35.6 from the floor in his rookie season. Still, with per-36 numbers of 14.1 points and 3.1 assists, there is room for hope with Canaan. He was selected 34th overall in 2013, and if he eventually becomes the third guard in a rotation or even just a solid backup at the 1-spot, he was worth the price.
Nick Johnson is a wildcard. Daryl Morey already displayed immense confidence in the former Arizona Wildcat by signing him to a three-year guaranteed contract. Johnson is the nephew of Boston Celtics legend Dennis Johnson, and he is every bit as athletic as his kinship.
Johnson frequently throws down electric dunks, and is a great player in transition. That style
Mar 27, 2014; Anaheim, CA, USA; Arizona Wildcats guard Nick Johnson (13) celebrates against the San Diego State Aztecs during the second half in the semifinals of the west regional of the 2014 NCAA Mens Basketball Championship tournament at Honda Center. The Wildcats defeated the Aztecs 70-64. Mandatory Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports
appealed to Rockets management because he is a perfect fit for the current system of Kevin McHale. It’s very conceivable that he is the first guard off the bench by later in the season, if not by December.
While none of these options off the bench could by themselves match the production of Lin, it is possible in tandem or trio that the added energy off the bench equates to roughly Lin-like production. Each guard brings a different skill set, and Johnson should be able to get time at both guard spots.
At this point, Johnson may have the highest ceiling, although it is difficult to ignore Troy Daniels heroics in the 2014 playoffs. Daniels has shown a cold-blooded willingness to take shots late in games, and he’s a sharpshooter to be sure. The Rockets’ reliance on three-point shots suggests Daniels is nearly guaranteed to get minutes. Instant offense off the bench is his first career assignment as an NBA player.
While many may lament the loss of Parsons, Trevor Ariza and Parsons put up nearly identical PERs last season, while both falling roughly at the league average. While Parsons may have been a valuable component, Ariza comes at nearly half the price tag at just $8 million per season.
Parsons would have hampered the Rockets cap-flexibility, and if he didn’t continue to ascend to All-Star status, considered a failure; or at the very minimum a guy who was never worth his contract.
So, while Howard and Harden may sound arrogant in saying the subtractions won’t matter, it may not be far from the truth. Howard may get more touches this season. The Western Conference is definitely going to be a dogfight in the postseason, but the Rockets will have the tools to slug with the best if the team gels again.