Apr 15 2013 11:26AM

Playoff Contention: Houston Rockets

In Playoff Contention, we spotlight the 16 playoff teams to see where they stand as they head into the playoffs.

Previous teams

EAST: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks, New York Knicks

WEST: Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies, Oklahoma City Thunder, San Antonio Spurs


Scott Halleran/NBAE/Getty Images

I've never seen anything like this before.

Only two players from last season's season-ending roster is on the Houston Rockets now.

And the Rockets got better.

And they made it to the playoffs.

Go figure.

It's not really surprising. After all Rockets genius GM Daryl Morey is our Executive of the Year pick for rebuilding a team on the cheap and actually improving things on only a $51 million budget.

It's all so awe-inspiring.

I mean, you tell me the last time you saw a team bring back only two returnees and improve its record.

Exactly!

Acquisition James Harden became an All-NBA player and an MVP candidate all in the same season.

Acquisition Omer Asik became a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, along with a consideration for the Most Improved Player award too.

Acquisition Jeremy Lin, even after Linsanity last season, is a legit MIP candidate too.

And you know Kevin McHale will get some Coach of the Year votes for his work.

We've long known the Houston Rockets are one of the smartest organizations in basketball.

But in 2012-13, we finally saw them become one of the smartest offensive teams on the court as well, especially considering they became a playoff squad on the lowest payroll in the NBA.

I mean, what other team took 73.4 percent of their shots in the NBA's most efficient zones--three-pointers and restricted area--than the young, bang-for-your-buck Rockets, who also ranked third in free throws made?

Nobody!

Closest team was the Knicks, who took an impressive 65.6 percent of their shots in the most efficient zones. But they only rank 20th in the free throws made.

We're all beginning to see the writing on the wall.

If the Rockets can be this good when they are prepping for the Summer of 2013 free-agency period, how great can they become afterwards? After all, they may be $20-plus million under the cap this summer and still retain every starter on the club, including five more subs at only $7 million, if they so choose.

Yes, it's going to be really scary in Summer 2013 when Morey takes this team up another level when he spends some of that free-agent cash.

If I was Dwight Howard, I would definitely pay a visit to Houston when they called me in July at the start of 2013-14 free agency.

And if the Rockets pull off a first-round upset this month, they'll be all the more appealing.

GO-TO LINEUPS
There is a new revelation in Houston, and that is, Greg Smith is an excellent power forward. He showed NBA pundits he was a very good center in limited time the past two seasons, but now Smith and the Rockets are taking their game to a new level since he was inserted into the starting power forward slot in place of Donatas Motiejunas. The stretch 4 Motiejunas did a good job as a Rockets starter since the team made their mid-season trade of Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris for Thomas Robinson and Francisco Garcia. But in six games with Smith at his new position, the Rockets are 5-1 while the quintet of Lin, Harden, Chandler Parsons, Smith and Asik has played three games and 23 minutes together for a net rating of +37.7 points per 100 possessions. Granted, it's a small sample size, but it does appear that this may be their playoff lineup the rest of the way. When Motiejunas plays with the main four, the Rockets have a +8.9 net rating in 222 minutes together--the most time any unit has logged since Patterson and Morris were traded away (Patterson was a -1.1 net rating in 522 minutes with the main four; Morris was a +4.6 net rating in 333 minutes with the main four). And for what it's worth, the quartet of Lin, Harden, Parsons and Asik are pretty good no matter who they play with (+4.4 net rating in 1433 minutes together).

THE 5,000 MINUTE RULE
The 5,000 Minute Rule says most championship teams have five-plus players together for at least 5,000 minutes before they win a championship, and believe it or not, the Rockets do have somebody in The 5G Club: Aaron Brooks, who logged 6864 minutes with Rockets teams from the past (from the 2007-08 to 2010-11 seasons). Brooks, who just recently joined this Houston squad in March, had not played with any of these Rockets in his previous stint in Houston.

LORD OF THE RINGS
Harden is the only Rocket to ever play in a championship series, logging 165 minutes in five games with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the 2012 NBA Finals.

CHAMPIONSHIP CHANCES
Hollinger Playoff Odds say Houston has a 4 percent chance to reach the 2013 NBA Finals and 2 percent shot to win the NBA championship; Basketball-Reference says the Rockets have a 3.3 percent shot to reach the 2013 NBA Finals and 0.8 percent chance to win the title.


Bill Baptist/NBAE/Getty Images
2012-13 ROCKETS (.557)

C OMER ASIK: 79 games, 30.1 mpg, 10.2 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 15.0 PER, +6.3 Net, +2.0 On/Off

C Greg Smith: 67 games, 15.4 mpg, 5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 16.4 PER, +5.7 Net, +1.4 On/Off

C Tim Olbrecht: 3 games, 4.0 mpg, 1.0 ppg, 0.3 rpg, -6.1 PER, -33.4 Net, -38.5 On/Off

PF DONATAS MOTIEJUNAS: 42 games, 12.4 mpg, 5.8 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 12.3 PER, +3.7 & +0.0

PF Thomas Robinson: 69 games, 15.2 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 10.9 PER, -0.7 Net, -4.6 On/Off

PF Terrence Jones: 16 games, 13.3 mpg, 4.9 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 15.6 PER, -2.4 Net, -6.8 On/Off

PF Royce White: 0 games

SF CHANDLER PARSONS: 73 games, 36.2 mpg, 15.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 15.1 PER, +3.4 & -0.1

SF Francisco Garcia: 55 games, 18.1 mpg, 5.7 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 11.1 PER, +4.5 Net, +0.5 On/Off

SG JAMES HARDEN: 75 games, 38.3 mpg, 26.0 ppg, 5.9 arpg, 23.2 PER, +3.3 Net, -4.0 On/Off

SG Carlos Delfino: 64 games, 25.3 mpg, 10.5 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 13.1 PER, +6.3 Net, +2.3 On/Off

SG James Anderson: 37 games, 10.5 mpg, 3.9 ppg, 1.9 rpg, 13.7 PER, +8.2 Net, +4.1 On/Off

PG JEREMY LIN: 79 games, 32.2 mpg, 13.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 15.1 PER, +2.7 Net, -3.9 On/Off

PG Patrick Beverley: 38 games, 17.4 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 15.6 PER, +7.9 Net, +9.0 On/Off

PG Aaron Brooks: 52 games, 19.1 mpg, 7.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 11.9 PER, -2.6 Net, -5.7 On/Off

2011-12 GONE ROCKETS (.515)

PG Kyle Lowry: 47 games, 32.1 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 18.9 PER, +1.8 Net, +0.5 On/Off

SG Kevin Martin: 40 games, 31.6 mpg, 17.1 ppg, 2.8 apg, 16.5 PER, +0.4 Net, +0.7 On/Off

PF Luis Scola: 66 games, 31.3 mpg, 15.5 ppg, 6.5 rpg, 15.4 PER, +1.8 Net, +3.8 On/Off

SG Courtney Lee: 58 games, 30.3 mpg, 11.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 12.6 PER, +1.4 Net, +2.0 On/Off

PG Goran Dragic: 66 games, 26.5 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 5.3 apg, 18.0 PER, +2.3 Net, +3.3 On/Off

PF Patrick Patterson: 64 games, 23.2 mpg, 7.7 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 11.5 PER, -1.6 Net, -2.7 On/Off

C Samuel Dalembert: 65 games, 22.2 mpg, 7.5 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 16.9 PER, +2.7 Net, +5.1 On/Off

SF Chase Budinger: 58 games, 22.4 mpg, 9.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 14.9 PER, +0.0 Net, -1.2 On/Off

C Marcus Camby: 59 games, 22.9 mpg, 4.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 16.2 PER, +1.5 Net, +0.4 On/Off

PG Earl Boykins: 8 games, 13.9 mpg, 4.9 ppg, 2.1 apg, 10.3 PER, -8.6 Net, -9.4 On/Off

C Hasheem Thabeet: 20 games, 7.0 mpg, 1.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 12.4 PER, -35.6 Net, -33.9 On/Off

PG Courtney Fortson: 10 games, 9.5 mpg, 3.5 ppg, 1.5 rpg, 9.9 PER, -3.6 Net, -2.8 On/Off

* Rockets that did not play in 2012 NBA Playoffs; returning players in boldface

SOURCES: Team's Net Rating and Team's' On/Off Net Rating from NBA, Player Efficiency Rating from ESPN; other advanced statistics from Basketball-Reference.