Since coming back to Houston, Trevor Ariza has been the second option offensively for the Rockets. And while he’s a fine player and has an effective role to play on a potentially contending squad, therein lies the issue with his second stint in H-town (much like it was in his first stint).
Ariza makes a great piece for the back half of a starting rotation. Instead, he’s had the second-most shot attempts of any Rocket in each of the last two seasons, next to only James Harden. For all the things Ariza does well offensively — knock down open triples, run the floor, slash to the bucket — he’s simply just not a second-option-type player. He never has been. But the Rockets have been utilizing him as such.
He’s also played the second most minutes (again, next to Harden) of any Rocket in each of the last two years, running at 35.5 minutes per game in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 seasons combined. The year before, as a member of the Washington Wizards, Ariza averaged 35.4 minutes per game. Oh, and he’s also 31 years old and has been in the Association since he was 18, meaning he’s now entering his 13th season of run in the NBA. That’s a lot of tread.
To top it off, he’s not only been the second option offensively, he’s also been the Rockets’ premier defender, capable of guarding four positions, oftentimes in the same game. He was working his tail off on both ends of the court. Every. Single. Night. He’s played in and started 163 out of a possible 164 regular season games the last two years.
We saw the end result of that kind of wear on Ariza’s tires last year in the postseason. In the five games against Golden State, Trev tallied just 6.6 points, 4.2 rebounds and 0.8 assists while shooting an abysmal 25.5 percent from the floor and a downright ugly 4-28 from the beyond the arc. Ariza’s shooting legs were gone, done. Ground up and spit out by the huge workload and lack of any better options.
Thankfully, for the sake of Ariza’s legs and for the good of the Rockets’ fortunes, that should change this season.
Ariza will still be the premier defender in H-town (arguably the only very good defender, depending on how Patrick Beverley’s knee heals). He’ll be asked to lock down the opposition’s best perimeter player many of nights, and he’ll also continue to show his versatility by guarding three positions.
But where we’ll finally see Ariza’s load lightened is on the offensive end. No longer will he carry the burden of the second scoring option. Ryan Anderson will step into that role behind Harden, and fellow newcomers Eric Gordon and Nene Hilario will also be asked to flex their offensive skill.
Ariza likely falls this season into the third or fourth choice offensively for the Rockets, which is much more in line with his skill set and age. It’s the appropriate pecking order on a team that wants to contend. If you have aspirations of competing for a title, you want Trevor Ariza on your team. You don’t, however, want him as your second-best and second-most-active offensive piece.
That isn’t to say he won’t do his damage from that end of the court. He’ll still run the floor with abandon and be a key piece of the Houston break, and he’ll still have plenty of opportunity to cash some threes. Ariza’s been a 36.1 percent shooter from beyond the arc since he’s returned to the Rockets. Keeping him active from downtown is both something he’s good at and fits perfectly into the Houston system.
So far this preseason, in just 25.4 minutes per game of action, Ariza has shot 26 threes. He hasn’t quite found his stroke yet, making just 7 of them, but it’s only a matter of time before he does. It’s obvious he still has the steady green light for shooting from deep. He’ll start hitting them soon enough in the regular season.
Ultimately, it appears the Rockets have done exactly what was needed to keep Trevor Ariza at optimum effectiveness: They’ve brought in some additional pieces to help carry the load offensively, bumping Trev a peg or two down in the pecking order.
They’ve added a healthy Sam Dekker to the rotation, seem intent on giving K.J. McDaniels some opportunity for additional burn and still have Corey Brewer on the roster to spell Ariza’s minutes. We should see them go down this year. Lower his court time to 28-30 per night instead of 35 and his legs are likely still fresh for a playoff run.
And perhaps most importantly, he’ll still be asked to be a defensive force with his length, versatility and smarts.
The job of any good coach and any good organization is putting its players in the best position to succeed. The Rockets look to be finally doing that with Trevor Ariza and expect it to pay off for both the team and the individual.