DEVELOP AN EVEN DEEPER BENCH
Houston has so much talent on its roster that it can be daunting to a newcomer. Swingman K.J. McDaniels found that out last February after he was acquired from the 76ers; after averaging 25.4 minutes in Philadelphia, he played just 33 total the rest of the season. Then over the summer the Rockets only got longer, stronger and more athletic by landing point guard Ty Lawson and drafting 6'9" Sam Dekker out of Wisconsin with the 18th choice.
Nevertheless, Houston rewarded McDaniels with a three-year, $10 million contract in the off-season, and he needs to be part of the rotation. Taken by Philly with the 32nd pick in 2014, the 6'6" 205-pounder from Clemson has the same tools—energetic defense, hard cutting, heady transition play—that have served Corey Brewer so well with the Rockets. McDaniels, 22, also possesses a skill most NBA wing players don't have: He can block shots. Last year with the Sixers, McDaniels had a higher block percentage than everyone but center Nerlens Noel, and opposing shooters saw their field goal percentages drop by 2.1% when they faced him.
There's much work to be done on McDaniels's jumper (39.6% from the floor) and his handle (105 turnovers against just 72 assists). But if Houston wants to sustain its run as a title contender, it will have to offset its high-priced talent with players who can outperform their contracts. Developing a prospect like McDaniels will preserve the depth that has been such a vital ingredient in the Rockets' resurgence.
A rival scout sizes up Houston
There were times last year that you saw James Harden and Dwight Howard play well together. But it was in spurts. I don't see a ton of synergy there—they're Stockton and Malone. I don't think Dwight is ever going to be a 20-point-per-game guy again. It's not like he has developed any new skills.... They were a pretty good team defensively. Harden was a little more attentive. He was good on the ball. He anticipated well and got steals. But you still try to attack him to wear him down.... [Harden] was the MVP. It shouldn't have even been close. When Dwight was out, he carried them. You knew who he was, you knew what he could do, and he still did it. He gets called selfish, but he averaged seven assists.... Every year I think Trevor Ariza is a little overrated, that he is slowing down, and he just keeps playing. He's still in the top five defensively at his position. He is really good at reading the ball, playing off the ball, creating steals.... They will be fine without Josh Smith. Donatas Motiejūnas can give them more consistent three-point shooting. Clint Capela affects games by blocking shots and getting to the boards. Terrence Jones gets two or three easy scores just by sprinting the floor every time and has improved his three-point range.... They didn't give up any contributors to get Ty Lawson, who can get seven, eight assists per game pretty easy. He's an excellent penetrate-and-pitch guy. He understands angles. He will get guys open looks. He is fine defensively. His offense is his best defense. He puts pressure on you to run the whole game.
COACH KEVIN MCHALE
(5th season with Rockets)
2014--15 RECORD 56--26
(1st in Southwest)
PG PATRICK BEVERLY
10.1 PPG; 3.4 APG; 38.3 FG%; 35.6 3FG%
SG JAMES HARDEN
27.4 PPG; 7.0 APG; 44.0 FG%; 37.5 3FG%
SF TREVOR ARIZA
12.8 PPG; 5.6 RPG; 40.2 FG%; 35.0 3FG%
PF TERRENCE JONES
11.7 PPG; 6.7 RPG; 1.8 BPG; 52.8 FG%
C DWIGHT HOWARD
15.8 PPG; 10.5 RPG; 1.3 BPG; 59.3 FG%
PG TY LAWSON*
15.2 PPG; 9.6 APG; 43.6 FG%; 34.1 3FG%
SG COREY BREWER
11.9 PPG; 3.6 RPG; 42.9 FG%; 28.4 3FG%
PF DONATAS MOTIEJŪNAS
12.0 PPG; 5.9 RPG; 50.4 FG%; 36.8 3FG%
Shot attempts of more than 10 feet by Dwight Howard in 58 games (including the playoffs) last year, out of 605 total tries. Howard made two of them.
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
GREG NELSON FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED
CASE IN POINTS Harden finished second in the scoring race in the most consistent way imaginable: He averaged 27.4 at home, on the road, before the All-Star break and after it.