With how well the Houston Rockets have been playing, it’s hard to justify making many changes. They’re not perfect, though, so the Space City Scoop team took a look at what could make them better.
The Houston Rockets have now won 4 of their last 5 games and seem to be righting the ship. Their stats over that span haven’t matched December’s wild output by a longshot, though. Obviously, the most important stat is wins, but there is plenty of room for improvement for the Rockets to get back to being a top 5 team in scoring, rebounding, assists, and other categories.
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One thing that will most assuredly help the team get back on track is the All-Star break. Houston runs with a pretty short, 8-9 man lineup on most nights, and they’ve played far more games on the road than at home. The fact is that the Rockets are tired. A week-long break could significantly improve the mood and morale in H-town.
At the end of the All-Star break is the trade deadline. With that coming up, there will likely be roster shakeups all across the league. Even if the Rockets don’t make any moves, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to make some lineup switches to start the second section of the season. Three writers from Space City Scoop’s team took a look at some ways that Houston could change to make them even better in preparation for the playoffs.
1. If you had to move one non-starter to the starting lineup and one starter to the bench, who would you move and who would you bench?
The obvious answer is to move Eric Gordon into the starting lineup in place of Patrick Beverley. The Houston Rockets always seems to lift when Gordon enters the game, which makes him the obvious choice to start. However, I like what Gordon provides for the second-unit, which makes me think the team should take a different approach.
With the way that Mike D’Antoni structures his bench units (staggering Beverley’s minutes as a backup PG), there are more options off the dribble on the second unit that there are on the first. The bench combination of Gordon, Beverley, and Dekker provides multiple options to create, whereas James Harden is essentially the only competent creator against opposing starters (Beverley is more effective as a backup PG). While that’s partially by design, I personally believe that some of the second-unit creation would be better suited in the starting lineup.
Because Gordon fits so well as the sixth man, I would lean towards putting Sam Dekker in the starting lineup, whose fit alongside Harden has been excellent in limited minutes.
Dekker is the team’s most efficient slasher, and he brings a different dynamic to the offense than Trevor Ariza (who I would replace him with). He’s much better off the dribble and his athleticism makes him a much more dangerous threat in transition. With Ryan Anderson providing so much spacing, Dekker’s ability to attack the basket would be a welcome addition to the starting lineup.
Defense could be a concern with this move, but I don’t believe the drop-off would be as big as Ariza’s reputation would have you assume.
If I had to move one non-starter to the starting line up, Eric Gordon would be my choice. The way he has played this season, he should be suiting up for the All-Star game. However, since I picked a guard, that means the starter I’d move to the bench would be Patrick Beverley. I have nothing against Beverly, but I would be foolish to send James Harden to the bench.
Other than changing the line up due to injury, I wouldn’t make any changes to the current rotation. I would love to see K.J. McDaniels, Kyle Wiltjer, and even Bobby Brown get more run, but not at the expense of the starters’ chemistry. I think Coach D’Antoni, who runs a short 8-9 man rotation, has shown only minor trust in the younger guys.
But, if need be I can see K.J. taking some of Ariza’s playing time. McDaniels is almost the same type of player, albeit with a more inconsistent shot. However, that can be fixed in the offseason by working more with the Rockets’ shooting coaches. Of all the bench guys who could be thrust into the starting lineup, my answer would be Sam Dekker. We all saw what he was able to do when being given the opportunity, but with these young players, their inconsistency is the issue.
2. Clint Capela, Nene, and Montrezl Harrell have been been splitting minutes pretty evenly. If you had to declare a definite starter, which one gets the nod right now?
All three have done a phenomenal job playing the role of Houston Rockets big man this season. However, if I had to declare one definite starter, I would go with Nene, only because he is more physical on the defensive end than the others. Sure, Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell are more athletic and younger. But, when Nene is on the court, his presence makes a huge difference on the defensive end.
As much as I love what Trez brings to the starting lineup, I feel as though his energy is best suited for off the bench. That is not to say he wasn’t a beast when Capela was out, but his energy in the second unit is contagious.
And, while Nene would be a serviceable starter for a number of NBA teams, his age restricts his effectiveness. The Rockets began the season limiting his back-to-backs in an effort to save him for the playoffs. At this point in his career, Nene is more of a situational starter.
This leaves the obvious starter as Capela. Prior to his injury, Capela was putting up a double-double and his pick-and-roll with Harden was unstoppable. Barring injury or setback, I think Capela is still the starter at the five.
This is an easy one for me. Right now, Clint Capela is the best player of the three and he’s also the best long-term fit. He should be seeing 30 minutes a night and building confidence as a long-term starter and hopefully, a future star.
Clint’s ability to protect the rim and rebound is the most advanced of the three and he still has a lot of room for growth. The vertical spacing he provides the team is also an underrated factor in making the offense hum. It makes James’s job easy and forces a lot of teams to send a third defender at the Harden/Capela pick-and-roll – which opens up shooters.
Montrezl Harrell is an excellent offensive player, but as an undersized 5, his long-term fit is shaky due to his inability to grab a defensive rebound. And while Nene has been extremely effective for the Rockets, at his age he should be limited to 15-20 minutes a game to help maximize his output.
3. What would you change about the Houston Rockets’ offensive scheme if you could? If you’d change nothing, why?
The Rockets’ offensive scheme shows how much the game has evolved. The “video game” type of offense, which is driven by the three, has all but eliminated the need for mid-range buckets. The theory is that if you just take a step back, you will be rewarded with one more point for your effort.
Now in saying this, the Rockets still thrive on feeding their big men. But, the shooters on the floor have opened up the court and allowed for more floor spacing. Today, over 30% of NBA shots are three point attempts. So to answer the question, no I wouldn’t change anything about this offense. It is the next evolutionary step from the offense Rudy T and Hakeem Olajuwon ran to perfection.
Considering the fact that the Houston Rockets have the number three ranked offense, it’s hard to complain too much. In general, most of the concerns I have come down to personnel issues. I believe Mike’s done a great job of getting the most out of sub-par talent, which is truly a credit to him. This team was projected to win 42.5 games before the season (based on talent) and they’re up to 38 with three games to go before all-star break. However, I do believe there are some tweaks that can be made to increase the effectiveness of the offense.
An over-reliance on three-point shooting is my biggest concern, but there’s little you can do systematically when teams are shutting down penetration in the pick-and-roll. Sometimes you have to live with open threes, and if they don’t fall, so be it. That’s where it comes down to personnel for me. Finding –or developing–a guy who can run an effective pick-and-roll on the weak side could work wonders for this squad. It would give the defense more to think about and could open Harden up for more catch-and-shoot looks.
I would change the amount of three-pointers the Rockets take and have them create an inside-outside offense. If the Rockets can acquire a gifted big man who can score on the low post, then they may become a sold threat to the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
With that said, there is little hope that Daryl Morey takes a chance on trading for one of the available bigs in the league. If he passes on that option, it still wouldn’t hurt to take more mid-range shots just to keep defenses guessing.