2013-2014 NBA Preview: Southwest Division

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Sep 27, 2013; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets shooting guard James Harden (13) and center Dwight Howard (12) pose for a picture during media day at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Houston Rockets (56-26)

It’s a new era in Houston, and the Rockets suddenly have one of the best duos in the entire league. Dwight Howard arrives after a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles, and while that didn’t go well, he’s still one of the best big men (and overall players) in the league when healthy. In a “down” season in 2012-13, Howard averaged 17 points and 12.5 rebounds per 36 minutes while shooting nearly 58% from the field, and that is absolutely outstanding. Admittedly, the big man wasn’t quite the same defensive force as he has been in previous years, but with a change of scenery and another year to rehab his back injury, I think the old Dwight will be back this season.

Of course, Howard isn’t the only “star” in Houston, as James Harden carried the Rockets last season in his first year with the organization. The crafty left-hander averaged nearly 10 free throw attempts per game in route to an extremely efficient scoring profile (23.0 PER) that saw him average 24.4 points per 36 minutes despite getting the great majority of defensive attention. Harden isn’t a very good defender at this point, but his offense more than makes up for that deficiency, and the Rockets have 2 undisputed top-15 players in basketball.

Surrounding that dynamic duo, GM Daryl Morey has assembled an interesting cast. I am fully in the tank for big man Omer Asik, who is one of the best rebounding and defending big men in the league, but with Howard on board, there isn’t a defined role for Asik other than pure backup, and at almost $9 million per year, that won’t get it done. On the wing, Houston will feature Chandler Parsons (who everyone loves) as the counterpart to Harden, and he is a do-everything wing with efficient offensive talents. Behind him, however, the cupboard is fairly bare with a combination of Francisco Garcia, Reggie Williams, Ronnie Brewer (if he makes the team), and Omri Casspi. Fortunately, Parsons Harden will both likely see 36-38 minutes per night when they’re healthy.

The biggest question surrounding Houston is definitely the point guard position. Jeremy Lin is the incumbent starter and “Linsanity” is entering his 2nd full year at the helm in Houston. However, he was seriously pushed for playing time at various points during last season, and this year, Patrick Beverley is right on his heels. Lin wasn’t awful last year, but he had a league-average PER (14.9), shot only 44% from the floor, and managed less than 7 assists per 36 minutes, even in a wide-open offense. There is serious concern about whether he’s the long-term answer, but at the same time, he’s almost assuredly better than Patrick Beverley. Keep an eye on this one.

I love the Rockets on the surface, but this new experiment is going to live and die with Dwight Howard. If he’s the “peak” Dwight from Orlando, he can make it work with almost any supporting cast, but if he’s the more limited, vexing presence that he was in LA, Kevin McHale will have his hands full.