It's been tough for the Rockets just past the halfway point of the 2015-2016 season.
They sit at the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference after a(nother) demoralizing loss to the Spurs. If the playoffs started today, they'd have to try to take four out of seven games against the same in-state nemesis.
Defense all around has dropped off, as has effort. The team overall would hardly muster a C grade (they didn't take notes in the offseason, now they're clamming up during the exam). But not everyone has been bad. Here are their grades so far.
Trevor Ariza: C
Offensively, Ariza is having a solid year. His scoring is roughly the same as last year, both his field goal percentage and three-point percentage are up on the season, and a recent run of white-hot shooting from downtown helped lead the Rockets on a three-game win streak (that was unceremoniously stopped last night in San Antonio).
Defensively, however, Ariza has regressed. His rebounding is down, his steals are down, and he has a negative defensive plus-minus for the first time in his career. The versatility is still there, but we may be seeing the start of the 12-year veteran's decline athletically.
Patrick Beverley: C
Like Ariza, Beverley has also been a mixed bag this season. His shooting, both from the field (42.5 percent) and from deep (41.7 percent) are at career highs. And he stayed ready when the Ty Lawson experiment mostly fizzled and Bev was pushed back into the full-time starting gig.
But his defense has slipped this season as well. It seems he's lost some of that je ne sais quoi that got in the heads of opposing point guards, some of those intangibles that made him such a pest on the perimeter. He's still fiery and one of the team's emotional leaders, but he's been a negative defensive player for the first time in his career.
Corey Brewer: D-
Brewer's rebounded a bit from an absolutely awful first two months of the season, but in a testament to just how bad those first two months were, Brewer is still shooting a career-worst 36.7 percent from the field, is averaging just 7.0 points per game (his worst since his second NBA season) and has been a negative player for the Rockets both offensively and defensively. Combine that with the expectations that come from signing an offseason extension for 3 years, $24 million, and there's no other way to see Brewer's first half than as a colossal disappointment. Only some recent tolerable play has saved Brew's first half from being a total catastrophe.
Clint Capela: B+
One of the few Rockets who have exceeded expectations this season, the Swiss Roll has been somewhat of a revelation for such an inexperienced player, starting 35 games in the first half next to Dwight Howard in a Twin Towers lineup and filling in for him when injured or resting.
Capela's averages of 7.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks on 56.8 percent shooting are better than what most could have anticipated for the 21-year-old big man (and we were plenty optimistic). He's been a positive player for the Rockets on both ends of the court. The only major knocks on the youngster are his poor free throw shooting (42.2 percent, oof) and his inability to space the floor, but the Rockets have been a better team all season when he's been on the floor.
Sam Dekker: INCOMPLETE
The Rockets' rookie is ungradable due to the extended time he's missed due to back surgery. Not only does he have just 2 total minutes of court time, he also has no D-League stats to speak of. He was sent down on Nov. 13, and 4 days later it was announced he'd be out indefinitely. Provided he fully recovers from the procedure (which is expected), Dekker looks to be back after the All-star break, though it's uncertain how much he'll be able to contribute this season (likely not much). For now, there's only one possible grade for the youngster out of Wisconsin.
James Harden: B-
Ah, the Beard. What to do with his grade? His shooting percentage, assists and steals are down, and his turnovers are up. In fact, after leading the league in turnovers last season, he's on pace to crush those numbers he put up last year. And his defense? Where do we begin? It's not only been poor, but the explicit lack of effort demonstrated at times has had a negative, infectious effect on the team as a whole.
But the other side is, where would the Rockets be without James? His overall scoring is up over last season, he leads the league in minutes, solidifying his spot as one of the game's true iron men, and he can still take over a game in a multitude of ways.
If his shot is falling, it's going to be a long night for the other side. If it's not, he can beat you by getting into the paint. He once again leads the league in free throw attempts and makes. For all his faults and the unfulfilled expectations for the season, the Rockets are a lottery team without James Harden. Still, we all expected more from the man who claimed he should have won last season's MVP.
Montrezl Harrell: B
The rookie big man came into the season with an uncertain role, but he's stayed ready when called upon despite several trips back and forth between the D-League and the Association. Harrell is certainly not without his faults, and his raw numbers definitely leave something to be desired, even for a rookie with limited court time. But his energy, enthusiasm and willingness to do the dirty work have pushed the Rockets to a few victories this season, even if he doesn't always show up in the box score.
It remains to be seen how effective he will be with added court time over the long term, but for now, Harrell's play has been a nice surprise.
Dwight Howard: B
D-12 started off the year a little rocky, with minutes and back-to-back restrictions severely limiting his effectiveness. But once declared fully healthy, his numbers and minutes took off on a steady trajectory upward, including a recent stretch of 10-straight double-doubles that featured a 36-26 game.
He's no longer the complete neutralizer defensively he was earlier in his career, but he's still a beast on the boards (12.6 for the season), and he's still an effective scorer when an effort is made to get him involved in the offense. There have been rumblings all season of Howard's unhappiness, and who knows if Dwight is in a Rockets uniform next season, but when he's been on the court, he has not been part of the problem this year in Houston.
Terrence Jones: F
Jones has the raw talent, he just can't seem to put it all together and find some consistency. One night, he looks like he deserves the big contract he's likely to receive in the offseason, while the next night, his head is in the clouds and he appears completely disengaged. Even when he's looked good, he's lost defensively.
On the season, his numbers are down across the board, he's shooting the lowest field goal percentage of his career, and he's been a negative on both ends of the court. Now with Josh Smith back in the fold, he'll likely be playing less than ever moving forward. If he makes it past the trade deadline, don't expect the Rockets to be the ones to ante up for Jones in the offseason, even with the major cap increase and restricted free agency. In what is a make-or-break season in Houston for Jones, a true opportunity to prove his worth in red, Jones has mostly failed.
Ty Lawson: F
Lawson's been a major disappointment. Going into the season, he was thought of as the potential missing piece in a Rockets' title run, the dynamic point guard and ball-handler needed next to James Harden to help make the Beard more efficient and push the Rockets over the top. Sadly, it hasn't quite worked out that way.
Lawson, has yet to find any sort of comfort zone on the court, either in his 12 starts or when he comes off the bench, and despite a few minor flashes of the Lawson the Rockets thought they were getting, his numbers are at career lows across the board, and he's been a negative player on both offense and defense. It was a risk worth taking, even in retrospect, but it just hasn't worked out, and the Rockets are likely to move on from Lawson at the first legit opportunity.
K.J. McDaniels: D
There was some hope McDaniels would be able to contribute this season, especially on the defensive end, but even for a team that's mostly struggled to guard anyone on the perimeter, McDaniels just can't seem to get on the court and has spent chunks of the season in the D-League.
There's still time for the second-year man to turn things around, and to do so, he'll have to seriously work on his shooting (32 percent on the year), but for a team that badly needs a young, athletic defender that doesn't absolutely kill the team on the offensive end, McDaniels' season has to be considered a disappointment so far.
Donatas Motiejunas: INCOMPLETE
The 7-footer was supposed to be one of the Rockets' biggest contributors this season, but he too has missed the majority of the year thus far due to his recovery from back surgery, appearing in only 14 games. In the contests he did appear in, D-Mo looked slow, out-of-shape and like a shell of his former self.
There have been hints of his return coming in the near future, but at the moment, there's still no official timetable for his return to the court. For now, there's also only one possible grade for Motiejunas, though it's certainly a disappointing one.
Jason Terry: B
JET wasn't supposed to play much this year with the arrival of Ty Lawson and was mostly brought back in the fold as a veteran locker room presence, but with the team's struggles in general and Lawson's struggles in particular, Terry has played in 40 games this season, including seven starts. Terry's only averaging 6.1 points per game, but he's shot it well from deep as usual (37.1 percent on the year, down from last year) and has remained the consummate professional and always ready when called upon.
He's played the type of defense expected from a 38-year-old guard who was never a great defender to begin with: poor. But defense has never been the reason for JET's presence on the roster. We've gotten mostly what we've expected from Terry.
Marcus Thornton: B-
Thornton's been a little better than expected. He was never slated to play a ton of minutes, and his gunner's attitude and play style can sometimes have a negative effect if the shots aren't falling, but that all comes with the Marcus Thornton package.
He's stepped in and knocked down some big shots for the Rockets this season, and his play earlier in the year when asked to step into the starting lineup helped wake the Rockets from their season-opening funk. He's regressed since then to more of the player we expected, and defense has never been his calling card, but Thornton's given the Rockets more than anticipated overall, and for that, he gets a passing grade.
How'd we do on our midterm grades? Sound off in the comments below.