Houston Rockets: Previewing The Playoff Rotation

With the 2017 NBA playoffs getting ready to start, what type of rotation can fans expect from the Houston Rockets this postseason?

Since Mike D’Antoni hasn’t coached in a playoff game since the 2012-13 season (and hasn’t won a playoff game since the 2008 NBA Playoffs), it may be hard to remember his use of rotations in the postseason.

Well, I’m here to jog your memory. Mike D’Antoni has notoriously used an extremely short playoff rotation throughout his career. Take, for example, Game 5 of the 2005 Western Conference Finals. In a 101-95 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, D’Antoni played just seven players, with only six of them receiving more than 15 minutes of game action.

Four of his starters played 41 minutes or more in that game, which begs the question: how short will D’Antoni’s rotation be in this year’s playoffs?

Looking at the Houston Rockets‘ bench, D’Antoni has a plethora of weapons and quality players at his disposal. There’s Eric Gordon, a favorite for the Sixth Man of the Year Award, Lou Williams, a capable scorer and ball-handler, a physical presence and great roll man in Nene, and Montrezl Harrell, an athletic bruiser who provides countless energy.

However, will all four receive consistent playing time this postseason? The short answer is no. Gordon and Nene are assured of receiving their usual amount of minutes throughout the playoffs, as they have been the two best players off the Rockets bench this season.

Gordon’s three-point shooting has fallen dramatically recently, as he finished at just 37.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. However, he is still a capable scorer who can get hot in an instant, something the Rockets need off the bench.

Meanwhile, Nene has had somewhat of a resurgence this season, playing fewer minutes off the bench than previous seasons. Nene has been a great fit in Houston, providing physical defense and excellent hands on offense, making him a desired roll man with James Harden. Nene’s 3.11 defensive real plus-minus this season highlights his good defensive play this season, something that is crucial for an extended playoff run.

Turning our attention to Lou Williams, it may be easy to think he will receive his consistent load of minutes during the playoffs, but to that I would say: not so fast. Williams has struggled during his stint with the Rockets this season, shooting just 38.5 percent from the field and 31.5 percent on three-pointers.

Also, saying Williams has struggled in the playoffs during his career would be an understatement. For his career, Williams has shot 36.2 percent from the field, and a ghastly 23.8 percent from beyond the arc. Also, Williams owns a 12.6 Player Efficiency Rating, 43.3 true shooting percentage, and an effective field goal percentage of just 40 in the postseason.

Those are some bad numbers, which leads me to believe that if Williams were to perform similarly this postseason, D’Antoni would be willing to pull him in favor of extended minutes for his starters or for Gordon. Williams is a defensive liability, making his performance on the offensive end of the floor crucial when determining his playoff time.

Finally, Montrezl Harrell struggled to receive consistent playing time during the regular season, making it likely he receives the same fate during the playoffs. Being the third center behind both Clint Capela and Nene makes it extremely unlikely Harrell will consistently see the floor unless there are injuries or foul trouble to the two big men ahead of him in the rotation.

That’s not to say Harrell won’t see the floor if the Rockets advance further in the playoffs, as he could be a good matchup against a small-ball lineup from the Golden State Warriors. However, focusing solely on the first round, I would expect Harrell to be mostly glued to the bench.

While it’s possible D’Antoni has evolved in terms of playing a longer rotation in the playoffs, it may not be necessary for him to do so. The best seven players for the Rockets can handle the majority of the minutes, with an eighth man receiving some time here or there depending on the situation or matchup.

In the end, whether or not D’Antoni extends his rotations during this year’s playoffs, one thing is certain: the Houston Rockets will have an advantage over the Oklahoma City Thunder (and most of their potential playoff opponents) when it comes to their bench unit.

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