NBA Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets: 5 Players Who Must Step Up in 2013-14

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5 Players Who Must Step Up For Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets Who Must Step Up
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

After a noisy offseason, the Houston Rockets will accept nothing but championship contention in the 2013-14 season. Dwight Howard is in the fold to pair with the league's newest superstar, James Harden, and form what will be one of the league's most dangerous and exciting teams.

But until they prove it on the court, one must question Howard's ability to coincide with established scorers Harden, Jeremy Lin and Chandler Parsons, and capitalize on the promise he seemed destined for in his Orlando Magic years. This team, one that averaged 106 points per game en route to the playoffs last season, is built to win now and win big.

Howard and Harden will form the league's best guard-center combination since Kobe and the Lakers a decade ago. You can already pencil them in for the marketing campaigns, SportsCenter highlights and All-Star shenanigans. However, not until the playoffs begin will these two stars will be pushed to prove the real chemistry developed with complementary stars Parsons, Lin and Omer Asik, one of last year's most improved players.

For the returning Rockets, the time to build a legacy is now. Howard is past due to start a new one. Follow on to find out who needs to step up in order to make the Rockets' championship dreams a reality.

Alexander Diegel is a columnist for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @ItsaDiegel, "like" him on Facebook or add him to your network on google

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5. James Harden

James Harden Rockets
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It is hard to expect anything more from James Harden in regard to a statistical standpoint. After all, Harden was in truly elite company with his 25/5/5 production from last season.

The addition of Howard, however, could mean minor but substantial adjustments to Harden’s game in order for the Rockets to fire on all cylinders. Harden should work to be more of a distributor, especially in the game’s early stages. He should get the Big Fella involved early, bide his time until the fourth quarter, then when the double teams come a little quicker and the Hack-A-Howard effect comes into play, that is when Harden should attack the basket with the authority that led him to be the NBA’s fifth-leading scorer in his first year with Houston.

One other adjustment Harden could make in order to welcome his new star counterpart is to raise his three-point shooting just a bit. If he can flirt with the 40 percent mark as he did in his final season with Oklahoma City, Harden and Howard could become the perfect complement to one another.

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4. Chandler Parsons

Chandler Parsons Rockets
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Always listed as a small forward, Parsons could do his team a big favor by stepping up and playing the stretch four next to Howard. Parsons would be a more talented and athletic version of Ryan Anderson, who proved to be a great complement to Howard in Orlando.

We know Parsons has the offensive skill set for the job, but it is on the defensive end where the 24-year-old from Florida will have to earn his paycheck. Playing power forward will mean he has to bang with Kevin Love and even Zach Randolph down low. If he can hold his own on the block, he will make for nightmares on the offensive end when slow-footed fours try to check him.

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3. Omer Asik

Omer Asik Rockets
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The ironic part about Asik’s immediate request for a trade after the Rockets signed Howard is the “Turkish Hammer” does not now how integral he is to Houston’s championship aspirations.

Howard has never had a big man complement like Asik. Howard, never a tough guy, could do well with a seven-foot enforcer. But more than that, imagine the defensive possibilities with two guys that averaged 24.1 rebounds and 4.1 blocks between them in their respective 2012-13 campaigns.

That is not to say we should pencil in Asik for 35 minutes per night as the team’s power forward (more on that later), but 10-12 minutes per game of a “Big” lineup with Asik and Howard would be a defensive force to be reckoned with.

Plus, centers with back problems are never a good thing, so the more minutes and game’s Asik can spell Howard, the better the Rockets are in the long-term. Surround them with three shooters (See: Harden, Parson, Lin) and the offense would be able to carry itself in spurts.

Add the “Big” minutes as well the time we can expect Asik to spell Howard, plus the spot starts, and there should be a way to keep the young big man with high aspirations happy.

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2. Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin Rockets
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We have heard all offseason how Howard-Lin pick-and-roll combination will be “deadly.” Now it’s time for Lin to step up and make it true.

With a low shooting percentage and high turnover rate, Lin was largely a bust in his first year in Houston. And in this writer’s estimation he was largely bailed out of criticism by the brilliance of James Harden.

Lin must improve his decision-making and ball security. With Howard in town, anything less than eight assists per game is unacceptable, and if he truly turns the corner, could average upward of 10-12. Lin must also improve his three-point shooting, where he did make strides last season, in order to become an automatic when Howard kicks back to him out of the double-team.

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1. Dwight Howard

Dwight Howard Rockets
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Howard has everything he could ask for now: A talented team full of shooters around him, and a big-time scorer that can take the load off his shoulders in the late-game stages when the doubles and fouls come his way. He has a Hall of Fame mentor with the sweetest big man moves the game has ever seen that, if he puts the work in, can make him a more polished and consistent offensive threat. With Howard, the question has never been talent. It has always been motivation.

As the smaller, more athletic of the two big men, it is Howard who must man up and play some power forward when Asik enters the game in the aforementioned “Big” lineup. It is something that will be new to Howard, but for the sake of the team and his own longevity, it is simply what he must do.

In short, anything less than a hard-fought Western Conference Finals appearance will be seen as a failure for this team and make Howard look like a fraudulent, petulant child.