It's amazing what a little winning streak for a team likely incapable of competing for a conference title can do for one's spirits. Some could call the Rockets' recent winning ways a waste and unnecessary given their position in the standings, but that philosophy serves to ignore the tons of miniscule positives that slowly break the surface in that period. Suddenly, we're seeing what Patrick Patterson can do. We're seeing the best of Kyle Lowry. It's not as if we're sacrificing development for winning in the way that the Astros have many times before. No, what's so great about this recent surge is that it is the young, developing players who are leading the way.
I'm going to start a list. A very optimistic yet reasonable list. You can add to it in the comments. Let's see what we can come up with.
1. Kyle Lowry is developing into THE point guard of the future, the first the Rockets have truly had in quite some time. He won't be reckoned with the bigger names such as Rose, Wall, Paul or Williams, but I'll be damned if the Rockets are at a significant disadvantage when he takes the court opposite any guard. For his contract and his work ethic, this is fantastic. He's also turning into a late-game ballhandler and "closer" more than I ever thought possible. If he doesn't take the final shot, I'm confident that he'll be able to make a sound decision and hit an open man in the final seconds if necessary.
2. Kyle Lowry is developing a year AFTER he made his money.
3. Patrick Patterson is ahead of schedule. Did I not call him the "overlooked gem of the 2010 draft class" in my season preview? I believe I did. Cha-ching.
4. Jordan Hill suddenly doesn't have near the expectations that we once placed upon him. Could he still develop into a very serviceable backup or be turned into a decent trade trip? Abso-freakin-lutely. That's almost a worst-case scenario.
5. Kevin Martin is still around. Still scoring 30 points every so often. Still super efficient. He hasn't even gotten hurt yet. I couldn't be more opposed to the philosophy that a team can't win with Kevin Martin. He can't be the sole source of offense, and now that the Rockets have gotten more out of their supporting players, we're seeing the results of what a team featuring Martin can really do. Get him some help, and - like any other great player - his value will skyrocket to those who somehow managed to miss it early on.
6. Chase Budinger has shown improvement, both in his physical talents and in his mental makeup. He's attacking, and I think a lot of that has to do with his new role as a starter. He's no longer afraid to make a mistake in fear of losing playing time. By and large, Budinger has surpassed expectations that we had for him over the first half of the season.
7. We're still a young team. Very, very young. And yet, we're not a bottom-feeder. This is encouraging.
8. Goran Dragic and Courtney Lee. Who knows how much better they'll be by next season? Who says they can't develop in the same way that Lowry has?
9. Terrence Williams and Hasheem Thabeet won't even matter until next season. Wipe them from memory. You can consider them to be off-season acquisitions from this upcoming summer if you like.
(Note: To add bulk to this line of thought, the Rockets have just signed Mike Harris. Seriously, Terrence. Go away and come back next year or else you're going to have some rough mental obstacles to elude).
10. Chuck Hayes is becoming a much better player with the minutes he has seen over the past two seasons. Once he is relegated to a backup role -- assuming the Rockets can ever find a competent starting center above 6'10 -- he'll be THAT much more valuable to the team.
11. Luis Scola is our super play-dough. He can be turned into all sorts of valuable things -- draft picks, other players, etc. -- and even if he isn't, he's still fun and incredibly useful by himself. And that statement doesn't near do him justice. He's a borderline All-Star.
12. For a team completely screwed over by the health ailments of its two franchise players, the Rockets aren't in bad shape AT ALL as a franchise. If a high lottery pick or a first-round playoff exit is our floor, our ceiling must be fairly high and ultimately reachable within a few years or so. And who knows, perhaps we'll bring Yao back next season for a much smaller price and he'll go 10 and 7 for us in limited minutes. That would be just fine.
13. Money does not appear to be a problem. That's something that a good portion of teams cannot boast about.
14. Our organization, top to bottom, remains one of the best in the business. Period.