We’re almost to the quarter mark of the season and though it hasn’t been a kind one to the Houston Rockets at 2-16 so far, this is a clear rebuild with player development as the team’s highest priority.
So let’s talk about that. My philosophy in building a team: I think you need guards that can shoot, wings that can defend and a center that can protect the rim. I want good spacing, which means rarely having more than one non-shooter on the floor.
Because cap space/payroll has its limits, it’s critical to constantly be making decisions well before you commit big dollars to players so here are thoughts on the key players and how they fit into the future of the Rockets.
Jalen Green – Jalen Green has shown flashes. His athleticism and quick first step are everything they were advertised to be. But let’s be brutally honest — he has not been that good so far. Exciting? Yes. Good? Not yet. Shooting under 40% from the field and less than 28% from three on high volume, Green has clearly struggled — and that’s saying nothing for his defense.
But this is a 19-year old kid. There are so many things about the NBA game that he has to experience to learn. Struggles are absolutely to be expected. Yes, so far Evan Mobley looks like the better pick but it’s way too soon to draw that conclusion for the long haul. Green is going to get more comfortable in the league. In fact, he’s already showing signs of improvement.
Until time proves him unworthy of it, the Rockets should be looking at Green as the centerpiece of their rebuild.
Kevin Porter Jr. – I don’t envy the Rockets front office having to go into extension talks with KPJ this offseason. There was a lot of hype about the third-year guard/wing this past summer and with John Wall put on ice, the Rockets handed the keys to the car to Porter Jr. However, until the shocking win over the Bulls, the KPJ experiment at point guard was not exactly going swimmingly.
The bottom line for me is the same concern I had at the Draft: Is KPJ the right fit next to Green? I don’t think so. Assuming Green is your centerpiece, you would ideally want his starting backcourt mate to be a strong defender, sharpshooter and/or good caretaker of the ball. Up to this point, that’s not KPJ.
It’s very early in this experiment and he will get better as a point guard, but chunks of salary cap space will soon be on the line. I like KPJ as a Sixth Man but not as the long-term starter next to Green. The rest of the season will tell us a lot about Scoot.
Daniel Theis – Theis is a solid role player. He is smart and does a lot of little things. But looking back, it’s mystifying why the Rockets signed him — even moreso because they gave him guaranteed money beyond 2023, when Houston is expected to have a ton of cap room. He moved CWood out of his most advantageous position and he keeps Sengun off the floor.
Can the Rockets easily move Theis? They don’t need to trade him soon but they can’t afford to get stuck with a negative-value deal into 2024. Right now, the Theis signing looks like an unwise move by the Rockets front office.
Alperen Sengun – Boy, was I wrong about Sengun before the Draft. It’s clear the Rockets have a gifted talent in the 6-foot-10 big man. He’s not intimidated by the NBA and despite being pretty bolted to the hardwood, he’s a special post scorer with outstanding footwork. But it’s his passing (wow!), range and even defense that have been better than expected.
So how do you build around a talent like this in the modern NBA? Is he your four or five? He’s not a traditional rim protector, for example. The good news is there’s no urgency to answer these questions right away as he’s 19 years old in the first year of a four-year deal. The Rockets just need to keep developing him and hopefully some of these answers will become clear along the way.
Christian Wood – CWood has been disappointing this season. It’s not just his points but his efficiency that is way down. Part of that is because he’s been playing as a forward with Theis at center. Coach Stephen Silas was clear last year that center is where Wood has his greatest advantage so it’s a bit confusing that the Rockets would go away from that.
Especially because now is the time that the Rockets should be making a decision about Wood.
There’s a year and a half left on his contract, so it’s imperative that the Rockets answer this while his trade value might be its highest: Is he the future four or five for the Rockets? I’m not convinced. He’s got excellent scoring ability and can stretch the floor, but he’s missing a lot of the intangibles, particularly on defense. If good returns are available, I would think the Rockets should be exploring trading him by the deadline.
Jae’Sean Tate – I love Tate. I love his hustle, his energy, his defense. But his lack of a three-point shot (23.9% this season) is just a killer. In a very close game late in New York, Tate got a wide open three and clanked it — and it was apparent he was so open that far from the basket by design. Tate would fit on so many contending teams with his defense, but until he proves he can knock down that open three, he’s a defensive specialist best used off the bench.
Eric Gordon – Gordon is so out of place on this team. Shooting 42% from three and showing that he’s still capable of being a solid defender, it’s amazing that Gordon hasn’t been traded already. I know his contract isn’t the easiest to move, but several contending teams should be calling the Rockets about EG.
KJ Martin – KJ has been a pleasant surprise, bringing energy and hustle to the court every opportunity he is given. His three-point shot has not been there this season like his rookie year, but he’s hitting near 68% inside the arc. I never felt there was a good NBA comp for KJ and wasn’t sure what his future role would be, but I like how he’s developing and think he’s doing enough to warrant more time.
Danuel House – House was huge in helping the Rockets end their 15-game slide, scoring 18 in the second half against the Bulls, but until that game, he was having a brutal start and drawing the wrath of fans. He’s a decent wing off the bench and can knock down the three, but I don’t see House as a part of Houston’s future. This situation is overdue for a trade.