Whether you have an optimistic or pessimistic view on the Josh Smith signing, one thing is for sure: there are certainly going to be some major rotation shake-ups. All of the sudden, Houston is loaded at the power forward position with a developed Donatas Motiejunas, "J-Smoove," and Terrence Jones, who will hopefully return from injury soon.
All signs point to Josh Smith signing with the Rockets and becoming the starting power forward, especially this tweet from ESPN's Marc Stein.
Hearing today teams were told Josh Smith would ONLY consider teams offering him a starting spot, essentially reducing choice to HOU vs. MIA— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) December 24, 2014
Although "Donuts" has been terrific this season, Motiejunas will be moved to the second unit with newly acquired Josh Smith as the starting PF. Motiejunas has flourished in the past few weeks with an increased offensive role, so I think he will thrive leading the second unit.
In a staff email thread, TDS writer Allen Ojeda agrees that "DMo" will embrace his role with the second team because he will not only carry them offensively but also anchor the second unit's defense.
"This move will send Donatas to the bench and that might end up being the best part of this signing. Donatas is allowing the 4th lowest FG% at the rim this season, which nobody saw coming," Ojeda said. "Since he'll move into the backup center role behind Dwight it'll allow the Rockets to have a top rim defender on the court at the center position at all times."
Smith's versatility as a player will also affect the rotation. Although he is a much better power forward, Smith played small forward for the Detroit Pistons. He also played on the wing in high school as Dwight Howard's teammate at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy.
It's unclear what Smith's exact role will be, but it's possible that he will play some small forward in a super athletic lineup of Beverley, Harden, Smith, Terrence Jones (when he comes back), and Howard. That lineup would be extremely fun to watch if they get up and down the floor and Josh Smith doesn't jack up bad shots like he did in Detroit.
With that said, the most likely rotation will be as follows when the team is at absolute full strength.
Starters: Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Josh Smith, Dwight Howard
Bench: Isaiah Canaan, Jason Terry/Alexey Shved, Corey Brewer/Papa-Nick, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas
Note: When the team is completely healthy, Nick Johnson, Tarik Black, and/or Joey Dorsey (whichever one remains) will nearly fall out of the rotation. None of those players will play legitimate minutes if Howard, Jones, Motiejunas, and Smith are all on the team.
That second unit (when healthy) will be among the best benches in the league. Canaan and Brewer can get out on the break, Motiejunas and Jones are both more than capable scoring bigs in the half court, and the defense will be unstoppable.
TDS writer Matt Rothstein believes Jones and Motiejunas will work masterfully together.
"If Terrence Jones is ever going to play again, he fits with D-Mo pretty well in the second unit as the high post guy to Donuts' low post. Jones might have a bit of 3 in him in ultra-huge lineups that may never exist," he speculates.
Matt is pessimistic of the long term plan of rotating in-and-out three capable power forwards.
"If the deadline passes and all four of these guys are on the Rockets, I will eat my hat," Rothstein said.
Contrary to Rothstein and Ojeda, Dream Shake staffer BD34 is skeptical of Smith's impact on the rotation.
"He makes it worse. The second unit suffers from a lack of rim protection and rebounding, two areas which DMo is dreadful in," he said. "Who will be the primary back up big now? DMo. The second unit is going to be a gamble run and gun unit with Shved capable of stewarding some actual basketball, but at the end of the day, teams can drive and score at will while amassing tons of fouls."
Here is some hard, video evidence that proves, in fact, that Motiejunas can protect the rim. It also proves that Donuts and Superman are a really great team and it might be unwise to break them up.
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So now, the real question is, where do all the minutes go? Adding Smith doesn't change the fact that there are still only 48 minutes in a NBA game. The Rockets, with the recent acquisitions of Smith, Brewer, and Shved, are so much deeper than they were about a week ago.
With Josh Smith, it's unlikely Motiejunas will continue to play 28 minutes per game. That will probably be reduced to around 20. Furthermore, expect Ariza to sit more because of Corey Brewer's ability to provide a spark off the bench. Trevor Ariza, the 29 year old veteran, has played the fourth most minutes in the NBA.
Keep in mind that in signing Smith, the Rockets will have to make another roster move, either a trade or a cut, to clear a roster spot. From my vantage point, I predict that they will probably drop center Joey Dorsey, despite the recent spike in production. They will either waive him or try to trade Jason Terry. Who knows with Daryl Morey?
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Consider this table that I made. I took every Rocket's current minutes and adjusted them according to the new additions of Smith, Brewer, and Shved.
* = the player is currently injured
** = the player has only played in one game, so both the projection and actual minutes per game may not be accurate
The biggest changes include Kostas Papanikolaou, Terrence Jones, and Motiejunas. In the case of Papanikolaou, he is now behind Corey Brewer and whatever small forward minutes Josh Smith gets on the depth chart. Adding Josh Smith will surely create a speed bump in any organic development for young players like "Papa-Nick."
I also projected that Patrick Beverley's minutes will be reduced because of how impressive Isaiah Canaan was before he injured his ankle. He was so good, he earned an article explaining how he is the future of the Rockets' bench.
So exactly where will Josh Smith's minutes come from? Well, a variety of players will have their playing time reduced, most notably Papanikolaou, Jones, Motiejunas, and Jason Terry.
Although that chart is far from definitive, it is certainly indicative of how the Josh Smith signing will create an incredible ripple effect and alter everyone's minutes, regardless of what position or role he plays.