It has been less than five days since Damian Lillard ended the Rockets season. Here is what I believe we learned in watching them play 88 games over the last six months.
Dwight Howard is still really good
Not only did Howard play great in his first season as a Rocket, he did so while for the most start staying injury-free. He only missed 11 games, all towards the end of the season, but the missed time was due to an ankle injury. The back that he had surgery on 2 years ago, and the rotator cuff that he tore last season weren’t issues. He averaged 18 and 12 with 2 blocks and was the Rockets best player in the playoffs against Portland. He’ll never be able to carry an offense for an entire game, but he can do so for long stretches of one. Defensively, he’s still as good as it gets.
James Harden didn’t get better
He only missed nine games, but he played through a few nagging injuries that affected him early in the season. His numbers were pretty similar from a year ago, and he finshed fifth in MVP voting, but at no point did I feel like he was a better player. His shot selection can be bad, and when he’s struggling he takes more bad shots in an attempt to get himself going. That was quite evident in the six-game series against Portland where he was simply bad for most of the first five. When he’s going good he’s one of the best, most creative offensive players in basketball, but when he’s bad, he’s bad, and defensively, he was dreadful. That was what was most frustrating about Harden this season. After seemingly every game he preached defense, but yet took no ownership of his own. At some point, he has too. You can’t be considered a star if you have to be hidden on one end of the floor.
Jury’s still out on Kevin McHale
McHale was fine this season, his third as Rockets coach. Winning 54 games in the Western Conference while integrating Dwight Howard into your lineup and dealing with injury upon injury shouldn’t be overlooked. His offense could get bogged down at the end of games, but that happens to most teams. Still, they had their share of fourth quarter comebacks, and they had one of the five most efficient offenses in the NBA. If you blame him for the Portland series you also have to give him credit for changing his starting lineup during series, and for not being afraid to turn to an unknown D-Leaguer with his season on the line. Without those changes, the series likely ends in game four, not at the buzzer in game six. He hasn’t done enough to deserve a contract past next season just yet, but I’m glad he will get the opportunity to prove himself. He’s earned that right.
Omer Asik will have trade value, Jeremy Lin will not
Asik bounced back from a bad, unhealthy, unhappy first four months of the season and played well down the stretch and in the playoffs. He’ll never be a reliable offensive option, but he proved that he’s a great rebounder and can anchor a defense. Teams might not be in love with paying him over $15 million next season, but since only $8 million of that will count against the cap the investment should be easier to stomach. Lin showed he can be guy that can carry an offense for stretches, but he also had plenty of moments where he simply disappeared in games. He’s a bad defender and might make worse decisions. Like Asik, he’ll only count a little more than $8 million against the cap, but I’m just not sure how many teams will want to pay him more than $15 million.
Patrick Beverly might be the toughest man to ever play basketball
In the span of 88 games, Patrick Beverly tore a rib cage muscle, fractured his hand, broke his nose, tore his meniscus, and caught a nasty flu. He missed a lot of time, but when he played, he did so with the same reckless abandon that has made him a fan favorite. He was their best perimeter defender by a mile, and the Rockets were a much better team with him than they were without him.
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