As I peruse over much of the discussion in the Rockets part of the internets I see one major recurring theme when draft topics, free agency, and trades come up. The common thought amongst Rockets fan is consistently that we need some sort of dominant or transcendent force in the middle. This makes me step back and wonder a few questions. Why do we feel the need for a dominant big man? Do we truly need a dominant big man? Would it make sense for us to draft one? Are any available? Do we have the answer on our roster already? Is my title for this article adequately suggestive? This is the first part in a series I’ve been turning over in my mind for a while. Tonight, we will answer a couple of those questions. We’ll look at production and composition in the first series.
First, we have to look over the subject of dominant big men in the NBA. Centers who force a team to game plan around what they offer. The fact of the matter is when you look over the NBA the only team with a center worthy of that consideration is the Orlando Magic. Take your time to look over NBA rosters to find a transcendent big man that can adequately be called a game changer. Not an X-Factor, not a sleeper, but a game changer. Dominant, for purposes of this discussion, will be framed as a center who either completely dictates the offensive OR defensive end OR has such a well rounded game that his production requires respect and game strategy to address it. The Rockets are not the Magic and the Magic are not a championship team, far as I can tell. It would stand to reason then, that it's not necessary to have a dominant center to succeed in the NBA today. I feel as though the extreme attachment to a dominant NBA big man comes from Rockets history more so than legitimate need today.
Next, we have to determine the power forward spot on an NBA team. Most teams that are successful have a quality power forward. We can see this clearly in the success of the Memphis Grizzlies and the Dallas Mavericks. Luis Scola puts up 18 and 8 per game on his season averages. Respectively Randolph and Nowitzki average 22 and 11 and 28 and 8 (Rounding). These guys are the focal point of their offenses. It's crucial to keep in mind Luis isn't the centerpiece of this team as constructed, it's Kevin Martin and the offenses were run differently. It's difficult to pin down a team that can be compared to the Rockets that model success without a marquee big man.
The playoffs imply you need a quality big somewhere but my question to you out there is "Why do you need a great big man?" The modern NBA seems to me to be quite the guard's game. Elite wings seem to dictate the pace of the game, the calls, penalty possessions, and game flow much better than big men. Kevin Martin is certainly not an elite wing but he is definitely in the tier just below them. Teams constructed around quality wing players saw success in the post season as well. The Atlanta Hawks, the Chicago Bulls, and the Oklahoma City Thunder all saw playoff runs worth paying attention to and they are constructed around a wing. Let's look at these teams. For comparison's sake the teams that give us the best glimpse into why I'm questioning size in the modern NBA are the Hawks (A SG/PF team) and the Thunder (A SF/PG tandem).
The Hawks are centered around Joe Johnson who averaged a full five points per game less than Kevin in as close as makes no difference minutes. The Hawks secondary player is Josh Smith. Josh comes out averaging about 17 and 9 a game (Rounding again) and this production resembles our own Luis Scola nicely. Smith provides shotblocking and lock down defense. Assuming we jettison Luis, Patterson would have to produce quickly and in short order to give us production but Patterson did show great positioning and timing defensively this last season.
Kevin Martin produced at a clip of 23 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists per game at 33 minutes per game. Kyle Lowry played out of his mind in the second half for a season total of 14 points, 4 rebounds, and 7 assists per game. In Oklahoma City Kevin Durant (28 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists per game) and Russell Westbrook (22 points, 5 rebounds, 8 assists per game) stand to show that if you're going to build without a second tier big man you're going to need a lot of production from your wings. In Houston we have that available to us but in a spread out fashion. Combined the Rockets backcourt combination gives up 13 PPG, 5 RPG, 2 APG to the Thunder tandem.
What I am most intrigued by is that I feel that Patrick Patterson can provide that in extended minutes as a starter for the Rockets and we would laud him as our next franchise savior. 13/5/2 is by all means not transcendent, it's not game changing, it is not even marquee status. Consider that Chase Budinger didn't start until after the trade deadline and left behind 10 points, 2 assists, and 4 boards per game. That's taking spot bench minutes reducing his legitimate production as a starter. This argument does require some projection on a player's capabilities but we're also not anticipating a challenge for the NBA title any time soon. The pertinent issues to discuss here is, how drastic is 13/5/2 to make up? When spread amongst a team that should be running corner set offenses (McHale has been interviewed as liking what Adelman did offensively and let's face it, corner set offense is big on that, there's a video breakdown posted in the FanShots) and predicated around player movement, which translates half court or open court, how far is the gap between a quality Rockets team and some of the top talent in the NBA?
The Thunder and the Hawks stand to show your big man need not be much better than Scola if you want the SG/PF tandem. The Thunder demonstrate that you'll need more to go with a two wing system but if your center can intimidate some shots AND provide some offense you ease the burden on the backcourt.
Series two will be up in a few days in which I will go into discussions of the Free Agent market, trade options, the draft, and staying put.