For the first time in years, the Rockets were extremely active in free agency, adding Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik, and Carlos Delfino in a $53 million spending spree. As mid-season approaches, the returns on those moves are certainly looking good, as the Rockets find themselves at 21-14, the presumptive sixth seed in the playoffs after being forecast as a lottery team for the fourth year in a row.
Obviously adding the top young wing in the league in James Harden has helped, but how much have the free agents added? To get a better idea, let's look at each one of them.
We all heard the jeers. $25 million for a big with more foulouts (2) than double-doubles (1)? For a player that had yet to eclipse 3.1 PPG in a single season? Silly, right? Through 35 games, the returns certainly are good. Going into Tuesday's contest against the Lakers, Asik was averaging 10.6 points and 11.4 rebounds per game, a remarkable feat for a player who had notched just a single double-double in his career.
More importantly, Asik is anchoring a defense that is outperforming expectations. With a back court pair with poor defensive reputations, many wrote off the Rockets chances defensively, but Asik has been playing tremendously inside, blocking 1.1 shots per game and intimidating countless others. Though he has blocked a decent number of shots, Asik is tremendously fundamental defensively, not leaving his feet for shot fakes and that has kept him out of foul trouble.
Additionally, his running of the floor has helped the Rockets become one of the top transition attacks in the league. In contrast to Marcus Camby and Samuel Dalembert, Asik looks like a gazelle as he shoots down the floor ahead of opposing centers.
In essence, the Rockets have found themselves with one of the top three or four centers in the West and they have him under control for three years at a reasonable rate. To consider that anything but a huge win wouldn't be fair to Daryl Morey.
As free agency started to wrap up, the Rockets had a load of cap space and Carlos Delfino was teamless. For a roster that had just been gutted in an apparent attempt to begin a rebuilding project, Delfino's presence was seen as nothing more than Daryl Morey picking up a trade asset for down the road.
After the James Harden trade, it all made sense. No longer was Delfino just a cog in a mediocre machine, now Delfino was a stabilizing veteran force of a playoff team. Though his chucking has at times been frustrating, having a consistent shooter and scorer off the bench has been key for a team that lacks another consistent wing outside the starting lineup.
His defense has been much improved over the past month or so, and his hot shooting has won the Rockets more than one game. After going out for a couple of games with food poisoning, his combined 12-15 effort from behind the arc on his way to a pair of 22 point outings propelled the Rockets to wins against Atlanta and Milwaukee on nights where the offense sputtered at times.
His name will come up in trade talks as the season goes on, because, well, he plays for the Rockets, but expect him to stick around. He's simply been too valuable to this team to give away for a 2nd round pick like they might be forced to do if they move him. For a move that flew under the radar, this acquisition was one that looks like it has paid much bigger dividends than expected.
Welp. Here we go.
Seemingly the most polarizing acquisition of the off-season, Jeremy Lin certainly has inspired a lot of discussion around NBA fans. Some contend that 25 games is far too small a sample size to judge a player's career arc, while others say that playing at an elite level for any sort of sustained stretch shows an ability to do so and bodes well for Lin's future.
The Rockets are certainly in the latter camp. Personally, I'm cautiously supportive of the move. In a pick between Jeremy Lin and Goran Dragic at their respective contracts, I would pick Dragic because I think his play would be better suited for this squad, but that's not necessarily fair to Morey. Lin was signed to a roster devoid of playmakers where he would have free reign to score as he pleased, essentially a roster suited to his skillset. After the Harden acquisition, things got more complicated.
As I wrote earlier in the season, the two have shown that they can work it out and play as a strong back court, so there is hope for the future. Lin's improvement as the season has continued gives credence to the belief that he can play at an elite level again, and as he continues to get stronger with his knee, there is no reason why he can't be an above-average point guard in this league.
Is he a steal at $8 million a year? Far from it. But if he continues on the track he's headed on, that salary will be pretty fair for what he gives the Rockets.