Each season, at least early on, the team getting most of the attention is the one making the boldest offseason moves. Their year, it’ll obviously be the Houston Rockets, adding Dwight Howard to James Harden, Jeremy Lin, Chandler Parsons and Omer Asik and a team that made the first round of the playoffs last year, in an attempt to turn them into contenders.
There’s a good chance that it’ll take more than one season to make everything to workout. The Rockets aren’t sure that this is the roster they want to see around Harden and Howard, and if things don’t go according to plan by the trade deadline, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Lin or Asik or both of them be moved, although there’s not a bad chance we might see it work to a certain extent.
In any case, the potential is there. More than it was for Howard and the Lakers, as he was entering a group of old players, and a system that didn’t really fit his style. Howard isn’t built to be complementary player. He needs to be in the focus of the offense, and a happy Howard is also a motivated one on defense, and when that happens, he’s the best in the NBA when it comes to blocking the paint.
So eyes will be on the Rockets, just as they began to turn there when they added James Harden from the Oklahoma City Thunder, enjoying him becoming one of the best scorers in the NBA (5th in the league) in his first opportunity to be a starting player and leading man. Now, it’s back to sharing that lead, or maybe even playing a secondary one to Howard. Depends on how Kevin McHale plays it, and how the two stars work it out between themselves.
And where does Jeremy Lin fall in? That’s an interesting question because it’s not quite clear what his role will be on the second year of the Rockets’ rise to the top tour. He averaged 31.7 minutes a night last season, but the Rockets were very pleased with what Patrick Beverley did last season, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him eat away at some of Lin’s minutes.
Lin becomes a lot less of a problem defensively with Howard. Omer Asik is a good defensive player, but Howard is an excellent one, and a much better and more reactive shot blocker. It doesn’t all come down to him. The Lakers, with an 80% Howard, were pretty bad on most nights, especially against teams that can run, but he has better perimeter defense around him now, or at least more of an effort from its players.
Lin actually did slightly better than Harden when it comes to individual defense last season, although numbers can be skewed, allowing 0.87 points per play last season while Harden allowed 0.92. Guarding the better offensive player most of the time probably had something to do with it, in Harden’s defense.
But how they move and share the ball on offense is the key. Harden likes playing with Lin, but it doesn’t always show when most of the plays are set up for Harden to have the ball and act as the beginning and ending to the play. That’ll have to change with Howard on the floor, and we’ll get to see Harden moving off the ball a lot more. To operate Howard, Lin might be the better choice of the guy handling the ball. Again, it’s going to be interesting to see how the Rockets work out that issue.
NBA contenders? Not yet. Not before we see work in progress for 30 or 40 games. Not before we see that Harden-Howard isn’t another Howard-Bryant case of ego battles doomed to destroy the team from within. Not before we see who is the Rockets’ point guard de facto, and how much their slightly improved bench can contribute.