Houston Rockets Have Holes They Could Fill Before Deadline

Jan 10, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) and Houston Rockets forward Ryan Anderson (3) head to the bench after a timeout against the Charlotte Hornets during the second quarter at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

With the NBA trade deadline right around the corner, what moves can the struggling Houston Rockets make to shore up any weaknesses?

It’s that time of year again, the time of year when lottery-bound teams are looking to sell off unwanted pieces to contenders hoping for a shot at playoff success. The Houston Rockets certainly fit the latter category at 36-16 and third in the Western Conference.

The Rockets have been the surprise of the NBA season and currently hold the front-runners for several awards, including Coach of The Year (Mike D’Antoni), Sixth Man of the Year (Eric Gordon), and Most Valuable Player (James Harden).

The team has also benefited from solid contributions from role players such as Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley and Nene, while also receiving surprisingly consistent contributions from young players such as Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell.

However, the Rockets do still have flaws on their roster that could be fixed with potential moves before the trade deadline.

While these flaws aren’t preventing the team from winning games in the regular season, solving those flaws now could go a long way to achieving meaningful playoff success.

Rim protection & rebounding

While the Rockets do have an abundance of players at the center position, none of the present options defend the rim at optimum levels.

Whether Nene, Harrell or Clint Capela are on the floor, the Rockets are not defending the rim or rebounding well enough to sustain at least league average defense.

For the season the Rockets are 19th in the league in blocks per game at 4.6, and only Capela averages more than a block per game at 1.4. Speaking of Capela, since his return from a fractured fibula, he has simply not been a good defender.

In January Capela posted a 114.9 defensive rating and when coupled with his season-low 101.9 offensive rating, he was a net negative (minus-13.1) when on the floor.

Now on to the second issue with the Rockets’ big men: they aren’t rebounding. While the Rockets are 11th in the league in rebounds per game over the entire season, they have been 24th in the league in the New Year.

Harrell is simply too undersized to rebound well enough at the center position, Nene is posting a career-low in rebounds per game (3.7) and Capela hasn’t been an elite rebounder since coming back from his injury. The Rockets surely need some help defending the rim and cleaning the class.

In terms of possible trade targets, Jusuf Nurkic could be had for cheap seeing as though he has essentially fallen out of Mike Malone’s rotation in Denver. Per-36 minutes, Nurkic averages 12 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game and boasts a career 2.4 defensive box plus-minus.

Nurkic would provide the Rockets with a rim protector and rebounder to shore up their frontcourt.

Other candidates could include Kosta Koufos, Tyson Chandler, Aron Baynes

Wing depth

At this point Rockets fans would probably want to see any player besides Corey Brewer come off the bench for 15-17 minutes per game at small forward.

Brewer has been nothing short of a train wreck this season and is the other clear position to upgrade for the Rockets.

I won’t spend too much time on potential moves the Rockets could make to upgrade their wing depth because I wrote about it here.

Common targets include P.J. Tucker and Thabo Sefolosha, but other players such as Robert Covington (who leads all small forwards in defensive real plus-minus) and Jared Dudley could emerge as under-the-radar trade targets.

The question is what it will cost to upgrade at the backup wing position (and center for that matter). Are the Rockets willing to give up a first-round pick? Will any team take back Brewer’s relatively expensive contract?

These are all questions to monitor as rumors come up as the trade deadline inches closer.

What the Rockets end up paying for an upgrade at either center or on the wing will go a long way in shedding light in to what general manager Daryl Morey and ownership believe the potential of this current team is.

As currently constructed, the Rockets are a solid playoff team that could pose a threat to the San Antonio Spurs, but are probably an afterthought to the Golden State Warriors. One or two trades could certainly change the Rockets’ playoff fortunes.

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