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Houston Rockets preview: The Beard comes to Dallas

The last time James Harden was in Dallas, he was helping put the finishing touches on a first-round sweep of the Mavericks.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Jeff Chao is a college basketball writer who covers recruiting, as well as Texas and Kentucky basketball, for a few different sites on the SBN network. Since he also lives in the Houston area, I figured it would be a good opportunity to squeeze some NBA draft talk into our preview series. For those of you looking to bone up on your college hoops knowledge, follow him on Twitter at jc_hoops.

Where does James Harden rank among NBA SG's? Have you been surprised with how well he's played as a first option?

OK, let's start with the disclaimer. I'm a Rockets fan, but certainly not to the level of the good folks at the Dream Shake or ClutchFans. Now that that's out of the way...

On Harden, what's that Inception quote? "Don't you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone." It only feels like Rockets fans have been waiting a lifetime for Daryl Morey to land a superstar. There certainly was a "leap of faith" involved when it came to Harden and hoping he would thrive as a #1 option. I was extremely bullish on the trade when it happened, but even I'm surprised by how well he's playing. Right now, he has to be considered All-NBA first team, right? Especially given the struggle of Kobe's Lakers? So, amongst SG's: #1 with a bullet.

How do Rockets fans feel about Jeremy Lin? Has "Linsanity" translated to Houston or is he just another player now that he's out of New York?

The large Asian-American population in Houston loved it, but there has been a general sense of disappointment due to Lin's early season struggles. If anything, Harden's arrival was bad news for Lin, who needs the ball in his hands to thrive. Lin isn't a spot up shooter nor an off-the-ball slasher; that's not his game. Consequently, he has become offensively redundant when paired with Harden in the backcourt. Short of Lin dramatically improving his shooting, I'm not sure there's an easy answer for what to do with Lin over the life of his contract. Though expect Houston to continue to market the hell out of him.

Do you think the pieces are in place for the Rockets to become a legitimate contender down the road? Or does Morey still need to make a few more moves to shore up the supporting cast?

The Rockets don't have to look very far for the one-superstar championship recipe. The Rockets rode Olajuwon to an NBA Title way back in the 1994, and more recently, your Mavs put some very good complementary pieces around Nowitzki to defeat the fightin' LeBron's. Still, I get the sense that in this era of superstar teams, the Rockets still need one more perennial All-Star to reach the top.

The position most are clamoring for is power forward, where Patrick Patterson and Marcus Morris are JAGs. There's hope that one of this year's draft picks, Terrence Jones or Royce White, will become that guy. If not, maybe the Rockets can pry a LaMarcus Aldridge or Kevin Love down the road. Hey, I can dream.

Speaking of White, what's your take on his situation? Will he ever play in the NBA?

It's bad. If I publicly called my boss and company out on the Internets, I'd be knee deep in the want ads. So at least White still has a job. My outsider perspective: White won't play at all this year, and the two sides will revisit things in the off-season. While understanding that White is afflicted with a serious disorder, I don't think he'll ever play in the NBA if he keeps on this path. What's going to be different about the Rockets' requirements compared to the other teams in the league?

It's been a very long time since Mavs fans (and apparently the front office too) have had to worry about the NBA draft. As a college basketball writer, who do you think are some players worth keeping an eye on? Is there a guy projected in the latter stages of the lottery whose stood out for you?

Outside the top few picks, there's two schools of thought. Either draft to address a specific roster deficiency if you're a title contender, or draft for potential of superstardom to contend for titles down the road. A pick like Rajon Rondo (21st overall in 2006) is the barometer example I often use.

In the latter case, it's best to look for elite athletes that were once highly ranked as high school prospects. Throw in some off-the-court issues, and you're looking squarely at mid-lottery to late first round (helloooo, Perry Jones III!). The poster child may be North Texas' Tony Mitchell, a talented combo forward that leaves scouts salivating and scratching their heads at the same time.

But if I'm Dallas, I might look long and hard at a trio of combo guards in Marcus Smart (Oklahoma St.), Michael Carter-Williams (Syracuse), and Archie Goodwin (Kentucky). There's questions about whether any of the three will be able to hand the NBA PG position, but we could be talking about, say, the next Russell Westbrook here.

As someone who watches a lot of Kentucky basketball, what have you made about their struggles this season? As usual, they have four highly-regarded freshman (Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein and Goodwin); do you expect all four to declare for the draft?

It's often unrealistic to expect the immediate greatness that the 2011 class of Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist provided. At least, until next year's banner recruiting class arrives (but seriously, look out for the Harrison twins from the greater Houston area).

Right now, Noel and Cauley-Stein look like locks to declare. You can't teach size. I think Goodwin will leave too. He has struggled at times playing the lead guard role, but like I alluded to above, front offices are already trying to position him as a Westbrook clone. Poythress is the wild card to me. He has a lot of Terrence Jones to his game, and his combo forward style of play may leave him without a position in the draft.

Best of luck tonight. In Texas, the NBA is always more fun when the Lone Star teams are good.