Oct 13, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard Isaiah Canaan (0) drives the ball as Phoenix Suns guard Archie Goodwin (20) defends during the fourth quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
The Houston Rockets currently still have eight guards on the roster. Roster cuts are still to come, as are D-League demotions, but the backcourt will be a tight fight for minutes, and at this point it’s anyone’s guess as to how the rotation will shake out.
James Harden is the heart and soul of the Rockets, and he’ll clearly get the lion’s share, and a very fat lion’s share, of the minutes at 2-guard. Last season, Harden took the court for an average of 38 minutes a game, ranking 5th in the NBA in minutes played.
The league leader, Carmelo Anthony played 42 seconds longer per game on average. Considering the breakneck pace of the Rockets’ offense, it almost becomes palatable that Harden takes plays off on defense; and I did say almost. He’s playing too many minutes, but maybe that can be reduced with the plethora of options Kevin McHale has at his disposal now.
Behind Harden on the depth chart is seasoned veteran and former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry. While Terry is aging, he’s still going to be capable of knocking down shots. A jumper just never leaves a player. Will Terry be able to see 20-plus minutes a game?
That’s highly dubious at this point, but Terry is capable of playing both guard slots, and the Rockets always will have the option of three-guard lineups, which have become more and more common in recent years in the Association.
Because of Harden and Terry’s experience, it leaves youngsters Troy Daniels and Nick Johnson in a precarious situation.
Third-year former Raptors guard Jordan Hamilton may also be in the mix. Hamilton comes at the price of less than a million per season, which is a decent value for a player capable of hitting the triple (35.4 percent last year) and hitting the boards a little (3.2 rebounds per game in just 17 minutes a night).
Johnson may have the highest upside. He’s received props from Las Vegas, given stronger odds to win the rookie of the year than six first round picks. He has the pedigree as the nephew of Celtics’ legend Dennis Johnson. Johnson also packs TNT level explosiveness on the break and can put on a sideshow of dunks that will keep fans on their feet. He’s a great fit for a fast-paced offense having already run one at Arizona.
Oct 14, 2014; New Orleans, LA, USA; Houston Rockets guard Troy Daniels (30) shoots over New Orleans Pelicans guard Eric Gordon (10) during the second half of a preseason game at the Smoothie King Center. The Pelicans defeated the Rockets 117-98. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Then, there is the clutch shooting of Troy Daniels. Daniels was cold blooded in the 2014 NBA playoffs, showing a willingness to take and hit big shots. He’ll need to demonstrate better playmaking abilities and help create shots within the offense, but a few sources have indicated that he has better skills in that area than we’ve been privy to. If that is the case, he may be the first guard off the bench.
The point guard situation is just as murky. Terry, as mentioned, can run the point. Johnson will see a lot of minutes as a floor general too, if he continues to impress.
And then, there is the outstanding play of second-year point guard Isaiah Canaan. A late first rounder, had Canaan went to a bigger school than mid-major Murray State, he may have been a mid-first round pick. He’s lightning quick, just as the starter Patrick Beverley is, and Canaan has a knack of scoring the basketball.
That’s an area Beverley has been heavily criticized in, so Canaan will be a refreshing spark plug when he comes in to rush the show. If he shares the ball enough (only two assists per game in the last two preseason contests), he has a very outside chance at eventually starting.
Daryl Morey is still searching for a point guard that pleases him long-term, and his pursuance of Kyle Lowry and Rajon Rondo have demonstrated this. Canaan is four years younger than Bev, so he may be ready to eventually take the reigns next season. But we’re definitely getting ahead of ourselves here.
Ish Smith will only see time if there is an injury and he could spend much of the year in the D-League. He’s great when he’s at his best, but due to his lack of experience and lack of minutes he often looks unready to play and nervous.
There’s not really a place for that kind of weakness, and that is something neither Canaan nor Johnson will have a problem with, and certainly not a seasoned vet like Terry.
Harden may see less minutes if this group of guards can solidify themselves as solid options off the bench. Even if Harden saw a reduction of only two to three minutes a game, it may make a difference his defense and effort levels when covering guys on the perimeter. Harkening video footage of his days in Oklahoma City proves he is a far better defender than what he’s demonstrated of late.
Kevin McHale has some decisions to make, and none of them will be easy. With three young promising guards and Terry, it’s going to be difficult to find minutes for everyone. Beverley may or may not be here to stay, but Harden is a fixture. How these guards function with No. 13 on the court will play a vital role in determining how many minutes each will be allotted.