After Wednesdays trade of Trevor Ariza for Courtney Lee, one thing I have been hearing a lot is about just how deep this Rockets team is. And I really have no argument to be made against that statement. In fact, they were already deep before the trade. But this trade puts them two deep (or more) at every position on the roster.
Looking over this roster, it would appear that the plan is to beat teams with your depth and bench. With no one knowing how Yao will play upon his return from a year off, this team has no bonafide superstar. Hell, they don't even have an All-Star (no matter how many of us think Aaron Brooks was ripped off last year). But what they do have is very good and talented players on every spot on the roster this year. Seriously, every year since I can remember being a Rockets fan there has always been one or two guys that I was always quite the critic of and I was pretty rough on. But after the departures of Trevor Ariza and David Andersen, there isn't one guy on this roster I have a problem with. But that is just my personal opinion.
With that said, let's take a look at every position and just how deep it really is.
AFTER THE JUMP
Point Guard - Aaron Brooks & Kyle Lowry
When you have a speedster starting who is eating alive some of the bigger and more physical (and sometimes old. Cough, cough, Derek Fisher, cough) point guards, they're usually worn out by the time his backup comes in. And said backup, Kyle Lowry, is such a change of pace type of player than Brooks that it tends to keep teams out of rhythm. We saw it last year how the pace would change, but be incredibly effective when Lowry entered the game. And a full year (hopefully) of an inside presence that commands a double team should help Aaron Brooks shoot even better from three this season with all the open looks he'll get. There have been rumblings of the team wanting to add a third point guard to the roster, but unless an injury occurs I wouldn't expect him to be a factor over these two.
Shooting Guard - Kevin Martin, Courtney Lee & Jermaine Taylor
Probably the biggest critic of the Courtney Lee acquisition was Jermaine Taylor. JT had a terrific summer league and looked as if he would finally force his way onto the floor this season for Houston. But with Kevin Martin playing the lions share of the minutes at the two and Lee likely getting the rest, it's hard to see where Taylor fits in. Because while he has improved his game a great deal, it's hard to imagine him rising above either of those guys on Coach Adelman's depth chart.
But as far as the guys who will play, Kevin Martin has to be the most underrated player on this team. Yes, he has had a serious injury history and even I have criticized him for it. But I'm not ready to label him injury prone just yet (but it's close). But regardless, when he is on the floor he produces. Just like with Aaron Brooks, having Yao possibly pulling an extra defender away leaves a lot of open shots and ability to slash to the basket for Martin. I'm expecting quite a big season from him. And I think we've been over what Courtney Lee brings to the team enough the past couple of days, so there is nothing more I could add there.
Small Forward - Shane Battier & Chase Budinger
One of the biggest reasons I liked the Ariza trade was because it allowed Shane to slide back into the starting lineup. It also keeps Coach Adelman from ever having Ariza and Battier on the floor at the same time anymore, which made me want to rip my hair out sometimes. I know a lot of people say Shane has lost a step defensively and he is declining, which may be true. But until Chase Budinger learns to play solid enough defense the starting spot at the three is Shane's to lose. As far as Bud goes, the team showed a tremendous amount of confidence in the second year man by trading Ariza. Which I love. Some of the most exciting moments from last year were made by Chase and any opportunity to get him some more minutes on the floor is a good move in my opinion.
Power Forward - Luis Scola, Jordan Hill, Chuck Hayes, Jared Jeffries & Patrick Patterson
Here is the position that will probably give Coach Adelman the biggest fit in trying to figure out how to distribute minutes. Obviously Scola is your starter, and rightfully so. How he stepped it up after Carl Landry was traded last year solidified that. And with the payday he just got, there is no way he loses that spot for his entire tenure here, however long that is. Jordan Hill showed flashes last year of being the real steal in Daryl Morey's fleecing of Donnie Walsh. The guy has probably the highest ceiling of anyone at this position on the team. But I am still in the camp that thinks trying to play him at Center would just be setting him up to fail. I'd like to see him get the backup minutes to Scola, but he has serious competition and he'll have to earn it. Chuck Hayes, while doing a masterful job in stepping up last season will likely go back to being a specialist on defense this year. Or stepping in when someone gets in foul trouble early. I'd be shocked to see Jeffries even get on the floor this year unless the team is in a pinch. He is a good defensive option and doesn't suck to have as your fourth or fifth guy at the position. But I simply view him as a trade asset with his large expiring contract likely being moved by the deadline. He is versatile enough to play and guard small forward's, so I could see him stepping in at the three if needed before he gets playing time at the four. Then you have rookie Patrick Patterson who may get the treatment that Carl Landry once did where he will just have to sit and wait for his opportunity. Then, like Carl did, he has to take full advantage of it. Some have talked about him playing the three, but the team has said time and again that they drafted him to play power forward and he will play power forward. So I wouldn't hold my breath on him sliding over this year. Wow, this position is deep. Perhaps too deep. But, as the Celtics showed last year, you can never have enough size on the roster. So I think this is a good problem to have.
By the way, I fully expect Mike Harris and Alexander Johnson to be let go after training camp. So I didn't factor either of them in here.
Center - Yao Ming & Brad Miller
There is nothing I can add about Yao Ming that hasn't already been said. Of course we all hope he returns to form and stays on the floor, but by now we have to have all learned to be cautiously optimistic. Do I think it's impossible for him to stay on the floor all season? Of course not. In fact, by now the basketball gods should have mercy on us. I have just learned not to expect it. Which is why the signing of Brad Miller was so important. He can play a significant role in the quest to reduce Yao's minutes this season, he knows the playbook inside and out and he can get physical with the best of them. I think this may end up being one of the biggest moves of the summer by Daryl Morey in bringing in Brad.
So there you have it. A pretty ridiculous amount of depth. When your second wave off the bench (Lowry, Lee, Budinger, Hill/Patterson, Miller) is good enough to start for lesser teams, well you have to be considered one of if not the deepest team in the league. Orlando and Boston also have very deep teams, so it is obviously debatable. But Houston HAS to be in the discussion. Especially when you consider that they may be the deepest team in the league when it comes to trade assets as well. Just for good measure, let's take a quick look.
- The right to swap 1st's with New York in 2011 NBA Draft
- The rights to New York's 1st pick overall in the 2012 NBA Draft
- $6.3 Million Trade Exception from the Trevor Ariza trade
- Expiring Contracts of Jared Jeffries and Shane Battier
- Young talent
- If need be, Houston has their first overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft to throw in as well
That's the kind of trade package that nets you a superstar. It still remains to be seen if one will become available by the trade deadline this season, but I think it is a safe bet that one will. Teams that are proclaiming a player untouchable right now (like a Danny Granger or Carmelo Anthony) may become available at the deadline if a team bombs the first half of the year or realize they won't be able to retain him after the year ends.
This could only make arguably the NBA's deepest team in the league even deeper. And launch them from a "team no one wants to play in the first round" to a legitimate title contender. Regardless of what Jeff Van Gundy says.