The Houston Rockets have a few needs entering the offseason. Specifically a starting power forward and a back up center. With any luck the Rockets can find a starting power forward who is a serviceable scoring option to help alleviate James Harden's duties. There is an abundance of big men available on the free agent market this offseason. For purposes of this overview, let's go ahead and look at the players available who could warrant a payday from Houston.
The free agent crop we'll be looking at for this discussion includes: Al Jefferson, David West, Paul Milsap, Tiago Splitter (Dark horse, don't expect him to be available barring a large payday from Houston), and Josh Smith.
In a twist of fate that only Rockets fans could appreciate the team needs a starting power forward. They currently have three on the current roster when they could have fielded an entire team of fours in the off-season. As it stands we have: Thomas Robinson, Terrence Jones, and Donatas Motiejunas.
The Necessary Skills
Alright, so we're going to have to look at the kind of deficiencies the Rockets have since that should be the first thing you look at when assessing the potential addition of any player. The Rockets power forward position right now, aside from lacking clarity, is deficient when it comes to rebounding, defense, and scoring. With that broad a description you or I could fill the void at power forward. Specifically, though, we need a power forward that can score from the post or the midrange, crash the offensive glass, and provide help side defense and occasional shot blocking (The defensive needs are the reason that Patrick Patterson wasn't a viable long term option).
You may ask why (Because you are a very intelligent and attractive reader, of course) I would say offensive rebounding rather than all rebounding. The Houston Rockets struggled to create second opportunities for themselves off their own misses but were dominant on the boards overall. Don't believe me? Look at the numbers. Houston was 11th in the NBA in rebounding rate at 51% of available rebounds. 1st place in the NBA was the Pacers at 52.9%. Houston was second in the NBA in defensive rebounding rate at 75.2% of available boards coming their way. When it came to offensive boards Houston was 17th at 26.4%. It's well known in basketball that if you can prevent opponents from rebounding and make more opportunities for yourself, you'll win.
Offensively the need for a midrange scorer comes from two sources primarily. First, the Rockets consistently turned the ball over based on panic drives and skip passes. With a stable presence in the post or mid-range game the Rockets could run more of an offense that Rick Adelman used where high risk passes were minimized by a skilled big man holding the ball in the high post. Currently teams collapse because there is no credible reason to defend a Rockets center or power forward beyond 5 feet from the paint.
Rockets By Design
Houston's shot chart this season is very telling as to the personnel they had available and how Kevin McHale used them. The use of the personnel came from McHale's understanding of basketball and his willingness to listen to Daryl Morey regarding the use of advanced statistics. Houston ranked in the top five in the NBA in offensive efficiency, true shooting percentage, and effective field goal percentage. All of these stats in essence state something simple; the Rockets took high percentage and high value shots and converted those very shots. If you'd like to see the shot chart it's available here. The numbers break down as follows:
- 44.6% at the rim
- 4.8% in the paint
- 2.7% at the top of the key inside the three point line
- 12.7% inside the three point line on the wings/baseline
- 10.4% corner three
- 19.4% wing threes
- 4.6% straight on threes
What the numbers tell us is that Houston was effectively executing the pick and roll and the pick and pop. You have to ask yourself was this result that of an offense tailored to the personnel or the personnel tailored to the offense? Anyone who watched the Rockets this season should be able to tell you that the Rockets could have used a power forward that could effectively draw a defense out of the paint, finish at the rim, and hit the mid-range shot if need be.
Now, the mid-range shot is one that Morey is not a huge fan of but it's tough to believe that if you have a player like LaMarcus Aldridge available who hits those shots with a high frequency that the Rockets would pass. Under that reasoning we'll be looking at players who would open up a massive amount of the floor for the Rockets and provide their other needs.
Well, let's recap what the numbers suggest the Rockets are looking for right now; a power forward that converts at the rim and in the mid-range with a strong offensive rebounding rate and shoots a decent clip from the free throw line. As a baseline when discussing rebounding rate (Since it's a finicky mistress) Omer Asik posts a 12.8% offensive rebound rate, 31% defensive rebounding rate, 22% overall rebounding rate (All of which is good for 1st in the NBA).
Josh Smith - A slashing and athletic power forward with lock down defense and shot blocking sounds fantastic at first blush, doesn't it? Unfortunately once you get beyond that you look at his shot chart that shows an abysmal shooting percentage everyone that isn't the rim and a shot frequency chart that shows he likes to shoot. His strength is at the basket, which we all know but that congests the lane and kills the pick and roll scheme. Smith's rebounding rate (13.6%) and offensive rebounding rate (5.8%) puts him below the ideal standards as well.
Tiago Splitter - This was a tough scratch to have to make. Tiago's shots are predominantly from the rim and he is reticent to expand that game much beyond it. Tiago's overall rebounding rate is 14.9% and his offensive rebounding rate is 8.8%. Sadly, Tiago's presence next to Asik would merely encourage defenses to collapse on our favorite Turk. Defensively Splitter knows where to be and is strong enough to tax his man and that makes him my toughest scratch from the qualified list.
Donatas Motiejunas - It's early to write off the Lithuanian (Lord of Donuts/Dinosaur Motorcycle/whatever my friend Rahul is calling him these days) as a potential fit but a look at his shot chart and early numbers leaves a lot to be desired. Motiejunas converts his mid-range shots well but he fails to take these shots in exchange for three's effectively wasting his best chance to be what the Rockets need. His rebounding rates leave a lot to be desired at 9.8% overall and 7.7% offensively. Additionally his defense left a lot to be desired.
Terrence Jones - Another one of my tough cuts. Jones is still too young to write off as well but when you look at the shot charts he excels at the rim but struggles in the mid-range game. Rebounding-wise he posts an 11.6% offensive rebounding and 13.4% total rebounding rates that make him very tempting but his lack of threat away from the rim moves us towards disqualification. Add to it that he has an NBA ready body for the three and not the four and we move further from the "ideal" territory.
David West - Carl Landry before Carl Landry Carl Landried his way into our hearts. West is extremely skilled in the mid range game and takes advantage of his strengths frequently. The majority of his shots are from where Houston is deficient and his field goal percentage is beyond ideal for those zones. The question mark on West is his 12.9% rebounding rate and 6.8% offensive rebounding rate. Defensively West leaves a bit to be desired but as he ages his game is slowly trending towards knowing how to use his strength and positioning better.
Al Jefferson - Exceedingly skilled in the mid-range game and in the post. He pulls his defenders away from the rim, which frees up room for the pick and roll and prevents defenses from collapsing on Omer Asik. Jefferson posted a rebounding rate of 16.3% and 7% offensive rebounding rate. Out of the group of qualified candidates Al Jefferson is far and away the best help side defender although his one-on-one defense leaves a lot to be desired.
Paul Milsap - This is a tough inclusion truth be told. 50% of Milsap's shots come at the rim and took twice as many shots at the rim than he did from mid-range. His saving grace is that he converts at a fair rate everywhere the Rockets are currently not putting shots up from. Milsap posts a 13.7% rebounding rate and an 8.6% offensive rebounding rate which when combined with his conversion percentage gets him in the door. Defensively Milsap manages to keep his man honest and plays a gritty and tough game that is always attractive.
Thomas Robinson - In the same way it's too early to write off Motiejunas it's too early to write in Robinson but we all know he was acquired to be the future power forward here in Clutch City. Robinson's shot chart is bare and his frequency occurs at the rim but he converts the shots in the mid range at a high percentage. He's the only player who posts a rebounding rate that makes your eyes pop, as well. Robinson's offensive rebounding rate (13%, let that sink in, better than Asik) and overall rebounding rate (17.1%) along with a powerful and athletic frame could come together nicely. Defensively he's a player who loves to block shots and is strong enough to man handle other fours.
Thomas Robinson is the best "cure for what ails the Rockets" but Al Jefferson should be signed for three years.
Looking at the rates and the numbers it would seem that the Rockets have the player they need on the roster in Thomas Robinson. Some people talk about Thomas as trade-bait but his early returns show you everything the Rockets are looking for in a body that just screams prototypical for his position. Thomas is too unrefined for the time being and would be better served by coming off the bench behind a player who can hold down the position for a few years before moving on which brings us to...
Al Jefferson allows for Robinson to season behind a highly skilled big man who can pull down rebounds to help Asik's effort. Jefferson has the added bonus of being able to slide over to the center when Asik needs a breather. Jefferson converts the mid range game at a rate that forces defenses to acknowledge his presence and dedicate a big man to him. This keeps the lane clear for the pick and roll to operate with Omer Asik and any ball handler you wish. Subsequently the fact that Jefferson forces a player to honor him at all points inside the three point line allows his use in the pick and roll without collapsing the lane on Asik or cutting off the ball-handler's lane. Big Al brings the perk of 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 1 block per game on his career.
Feel free to agree, disagree, or put forth a different player who wasn't considered. Tweet mean things at me @QuestionablyBD and remember, folks, keep the conversation informed, fun, and constructive.