Generally when a team wins a championship, they receive solid contributions from their role players. Here are the four best role players the Houston Rockets have ever had in franchise history!
This season, the Houston Rockets will be loaded with star power, as they will be the only team to have two MVPs in their backcourt and in the starting lineup.
But as always, the focus will be on the role players, or on “the others” as many like to phrase it, as a championship team generally needs contributions from their role players.
This is because the star players can and will only be able to do so much, not to mention every player will have an off night. During those bad games from the star players, the “others” are usually the ones that provide lift to the team.
This is especially the case for James Harden, as he will surely face double teams and even triple teams due to his innate ability to score at ease.
With the role players likely making all the difference for the team this season, it’s worth going back in Rockets history and ranking the top four role players the team has ever had. Its important to note that a true role player often goes unheralded and rarely makes an All-Star team. This is worth pointing out, as each of the players on this list didn’t make our earlier list of the top ten players in franchise history, in part because of this fact.
Let’s get started!
Next: No. 4
4. Shane Battier
Shane Battier was one of the Rockets’ fan favorites, as he was the true definition of a 3-and-D player. Rockets Nation was initially upset with the organization for trading away Rudy Gay for Battier, as Gay was the then eighth overall pick of the 2006 NBA Draft. Battier never shot less than 36.2 percent from three, and was relentless on the defensive end of the floor.
Unfortunately Battier’s Houston Rockets career only included one playoff series victory, which was the 2009 first round series against the Portland Trail Blazers.
In Battier’s first year in Houston, Battier led all Rockets’ starters with his 42.1 percent from downtown. The following season, which was the 2007-08 season, Battier also led all Rockets’ starters with 37.7 percent from deep. Over the course of the next three seasons, Battier would average 37.9 percent from deep. Over the course of Battier’s Rockets’ career, he shot 38.8 percent from deep. In addition, Battier ranks sixth in team history with the most 3-pointers made, ninth in blocks, and eighth in effective field goal percentage.
Battier made the All-Defensive team in two of his five seasons with the Rockets, as he played rugged defense and always requested to go against the opposing best scorer, which is why it comes as no surprise that Battier ranks fifth all-time in team history in Defensive Box Plus/Minus.
Battier vs. Kobe
A good example of Battier’s defense is his play against all-time great Kobe Bryant. During the 2006-07 season, Bryant faced off against Battier and the Rockets four times and averaged 37.25 points per game, albeit on 38 percent shooting from the field, 30.2 percent from distance and averaging 3.5 turnovers per game. During that season, Kobe’s field goal percentage and 3-point percentages against Battier were lower than his season averages of 46.3 percent from the field and 34.4 percent. The Rockets and Lakers split the four games they played, as the Rockets won two and the Lakers won two.
During the 2007-08 season, Bryant faced off against Battier three times, posting averages of 40.5 percent from the field, 24.4 percent from three and 4 turnovers per game. Each of those were lower than Kobe’s averages of 45.9 percent from the field, 36.1 percent from three and 3.1 turnovers per game. The Rockets won two of the three games they played that season.
During the 2008-09 postseason series when Battier and Kobe faced off, Kobe’s field goal percentage and 3-point percentage were both lower than his regular season averages. That series would be the only playoff series they faced off during Battier’s Rockets’ tenure and the Rockets were eliminated within seven games.
During the following season, which was the 2009-10 season, Kobe faced off against Battier three times, and shot 38 percent from the field, which was lower than his 45.6 percent from the field. Battier’s last season in Houston was the 2010-11 season, and Battier faced off against Kobe three times. Kobe’s field goal percentage was 44.5 percent and he shot 0-for-9 from deep, which was much lower than the 32.2 percent he shot from deep.
Next: No. 3
3. Mario Elie
The Houston Rockets landed Mario Elie in a trade with the Portland Trail Blazers prior to the start of the 1993-94 season. This proved to be a steal, as the Rockets traded away their second round draft pick of the 1995 NBA Draft to land Elie, who had been the Blazers’ leading 3-point shooter amongst all reserves in just the previous season. Elie would eventually earn the nickname “The Junkyard Dog” due to his tough, gritty style of play.
In Elie’s first season with the Rockets, he finished third in 3-pointers made and third in free throw percentage, despite only playing 24 minutes per game. Elie’s 9.3 points per game were the most amongst all Rockets’ reserves who played in at least four games or more. In addition, Elie averaged 14.8 points per 36 minutes, which were sixth best on the Rockets that season. Elie also shot 86 percent from the free throw line, which was 12th best in the league that season, and was a career best up until that point.
In the opening round of the 1994 playoffs, Elie averaged 6.3 points per game, which was the most amongst all Rockets’ reserves despite only playing 16 minutes per game. Elie shot a staggering 75 percent from deep also during that series.
The Rockets would go on to win their first NBA championship in franchise history, and Elie was one of the leading reserves for the team.
During Elie’s second season in Houston, which was the 1994-95 season, Elie averaged 13.5 points per 36 minutes while shooting 39.8 percent from downtown. The Rockets finished the season with the sixth seed in the Western Conference, drawing a first round match-up against the Utah Jazz. During that series, Elie finished with 6 points per game, which was fifth best on the team, while also shooting 40 percent from deep. The Rockets would defeat the Jazz and advance to a match-up with the Phoenix Suns during the second round.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals, Elie scored 10 points while shooting 40 percent from deep, but the Rockets fell to the Suns 108-130. The Rockets found themselves down 1-3 heading into Game 5 of the series, but were able to win the next two games to rally back and tie the series 3-3. During those two games, Elie had 15 points and 11 points respectively, and would help the Rockets take the series to seven games.
Kiss of Death
Game 7 of the Western Conference Semifinals would prove to be a tight one, as the score was tied 110-110 late in the fourth quarter. Elie would get the ball with roughly 11 seconds left in the game and would nail a wide open 3-pointer, which was the go ahead basket for the Rockets. After making the basket, Elie blew a kiss to the Phoenix Suns bench, which was later referred to as the “kiss of death”. This is arguably the biggest shot in team history, as it helped the Rockets continue their quest to defend their title and advance to the Western Conference Finals. Because of how significant the shot was for the Rockets franchise, it’s worth watching the sequence of events again.
The Rockets would go on to win the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs, and would advance to their second consecutive NBA Finals appearance. During the 1995 NBA Finals against the Orlando Magic, Elie would become a starter and would average 16.3 points per game while shooting 57.1 percent from 3-point range and 90 percent from the charity stripe. Elie had a big part to play in the Rockets winning their second NBA title.
During the 1995-96 season, Elie played a then career best 30.8 minutes per game, and averaged a then career best 11.1 points per game. During the playoffs, he averaged 9.8 points per game on 37.5 percent from deep. The following season, which was the 1996-1997 season, Elie became a starter for the Rockets, as he averaged 34.4 minutes per game, which were the fourth most on the team that year, and were also a career high for Elie. In addition, he averaged a career best 11.7 points per game while shooting 42 percent from deep, which led all Rockets starters.
In the 1996 playoffs’ Elie averaged 11.5 points per game while shooting 40 percent from deep and 83.9 percent from the free throw line, which were both best among all Rockets starters.
Elie would leave the Rockets and sign with the San Antonio Spurs in the summer of 1998 and would win another title that season with the Spurs.
Next: No. 2
2. Vernon Maxwell
Vernon Maxwell is a favorite of Rockets Nation, as he played with an edge that the Houston Rockets had never seen prior to his arrival. Maxwell’s time in Houston spanned for six seasons, and he was a key contributor for the Rockets.
Maxwell led the league in 3-point field goals made in both the 1990-91 season and the 1991-92 season, which partly earned him the nickname Mad Max. Maxwell also scored 30 points within one quarter during a 1991 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which has only been accomplished eight other times in NBA history. Maxwell would go on to score 51 points that night, and average 17 points per game that season. Although the Rockets were swept during the first round of the 1991 playoffs, Maxwell averaged 18.7 points per game, which were the second best on the team during the lone series against the Los Angeles Lakers, behind only Hakeem Olajuwon.
During the 1991-92 season, Maxwell averaged a career best 17.2 points per game, which was the third highest scoring average on the Rockets. During the 1992-93 season, Maxwell was the second leading scorer on the Rockets, as he had 13.8 points per game. In addition, he had the most 3-point field goals on the team, and the eighth most in the NBA. During the 1993-94 season, Maxwell had 13.6 points per game, finishing third in scoring on the team. In addition, Maxwell had the most 3-point field goals for the Rockets that season.
During the 1994 opening series of the playoffs, the Rockets faced off against the Portland Trail Blazers, Maxwell averaged 16.8 points per game, second on the Rockets behind Olajuwon. In addition, he averaged a team high 5 assists per game, as the Rockets eliminated the Blazers within six games.
The Rockets would eliminate the Phoenix Suns in the following round and face off against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Finals, as he averaged 13.4 points per game. In addition, Maxwell shot 41 percent from deep on the series, and made it to the NBA Finals.
Maxwell averaged 13.4 points during the 1994 NBA Finals series against the New York Knicks, the second highest scoring average on the team, and he helped carry the Rockets to their first NBA title in franchise history. All in all, Maxwell averaged 13.8 points per game during the 1994 postseason, which was second best on the Rockets.
That would prove to be Maxwell’s only championship with Houston, as the Rockets and Maxwell agreed on a leave of absence in April of the 1994-95 season, which was the end of the season. It was said that Maxwell was upset with the Rockets’ acquisition of Clyde Drexler, whom they acquired in February of that year.
Maxwell missed the next eight games following the acquisition of Drexler that season, but returned for the duration of the regular season. The Rockets would part ways with Maxwell at the end of the season.
Although Maxwell’s exit was unceremonious at best, he still averaged 13.3 points per game and led the Rockets yet again in 3-point field goals that season.
All in all, Maxwell averaged 14.9 points per game during his six seasons with the Houston Rockets, the most he averaged out of any of the eight teams he played with over the course of his 16 year career. In addition, Maxwell’s six years with the Rockets were more than he played with any other team. Maxwell has the third most 3-pointers made in team history.
Next: No. 1
1. Kenny Smith
Kenny “The Jet” Smith arrived in Houston in 1990 and played a full six seasons here in the Space City, and was a part of both Houston Rockets championships. Smith shot 36.3 percent from distance during his first season with the Rockets, and finished second on the team in scoring with 17.7 points per game. In addition, Smith led the Rockets in assists with 7.1 per game and finished 13th in the league in total assists during the 1990-91 season.
During the 1991-92 season, which was Smith’s second season with the Rockets, he shot 39.4 percent from distance and averaged 6.9 assists per game, which both led the team. In addition, Smith’s 3-point percentage was 13th in the league and played a large part in him averaging 14 points per game.
During the 1992-93 season, Smith averaged 13 points per game while shooting a blazing 43.8 percent from deep. Smith’s 3-point percentage was the most on team amongst players who appeared in all 82 games and was fourth best in the entire league. In addition, this was also another season in which The Jet led the team in assists. In the postseason that year, Smith shot an astonishing 50 percent from deep.
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During the following season, which was the 1993-94 season, Smith averaged 11.6 points per game, while shooting 40.5 percent from deep, which was the most on the team amongst players shooting 20 or more 3-pointers. Smith’s 40.5 3-point percentage was third in the NBA that season amongst players with at least 200 3-point attempts. During the postseason, Smith shot 44.7 percent from deep, which led all Rockets’ who had 10-plus 3-point attempts.
Smith stepped up for the Rockets during the 1994 Western Conference Finals against the Utah Jazz, finished second on the team in scoring during the series with 14.8 points per game, which was behind only Hakeem Olajuwon. In addition, Smith shot a blazing 52.6 percent from deep, which was best among all players from either team. Not only that, Smith led the Rockets in assists that series with 4.6 assists per game. Needless to say, Smith was a big reason the Rockets made it to the NBA Finals.
During the 1994 NBA Finals, Smith shot 35.7 percent from deep, which was the best amongst all Rockets starters with two or more 3-pointers attempted.
During the 1994-95 season, Smith would average 10.4 points per game, which marked his fifth consecutive season in which he scored in double figures for the Rockets. Smith shot 42.9 percent from deep, which was the most amongst all Rockets starters. In addition, Smith’s 3-point percentage was eighth best in the entire league during that season. During the opening round of the 1995 playoffs, the Rockets faced off against the Utah Jazz, who they had previously defeated in the Western Conference Finals on the road to their NBA title in 1994.
Smith averaged 17.4 points per game during that series, which was third behind only Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler. In addition, Smith shot a scorching 63 percent from deep, which led all Rockets yet again. The Rockets were able to eliminate the Jazz within five games and would go on to face the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Semifinals. During that series, Smith had 11.3 points per game and had 4.9 assists, which tied with Drexler for the team lead.
The Rockets would eventually defend their title as they defeated the Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals. During that series. Smith shot 42.9 percent from distance.
All in all, during the 1995 playoffs, Smith averaged 10.8 points per game and led the Rockets in 3-pointers made while also shooting 44.2 percent from deep.
The 1995-96 season was Smith’s last season in Houston, and was the fifth consecutive season he had a reduction in minutes with the Rockets, although he remained a starter. His minutes reduced to 23.8 per game, due to the emergence of Sam Cassell. To put that in perspective, this was Smith’s fewest minutes during his entire time with the Rockets. Due to this, Smith had his only season under double figures in scoring of his six years with the Rockets. Despite that, he still shot 38.2 percent from deep, which was lower than his previous four seasons.
During the opening round of the 1996 playoffs against the Los Angeles Lakers, Smith shot 50 percent from deep, which was the most on the Rockets.
The Rockets were eliminated in the Western Conference Semifinals by the Seattle SuperSonics, but Smith’s 6.3 assists per game led all Rockets players that series. During the 1996 playoffs, Smith shot 38.7 percent from three, which was second behind only Robert Horry, who had become “Big Shot Bob” by that point.
Interestingly enough, the Houston Rockets would lose Cassell, Smith, and Horry at the end of that season. All in all, Smith averaged 12.6 points per game and 5.3 assists per game while shooting 40.7 percent from deep throughout his six year Rockets career. Smith ranks eighth all-time in franchise history in three pointers made and sixth in total assists.