It was recently reported by the Houston Chronicle that Rockets forward Trevor Ariza would be entirely absent from Houston’s current three-game road trip with a sprained left foot.
There is currently no timetable for his return, and he’ll be re-evaluated when the Rockets return to Houston. According to the Chron’s Jonathan Feigen, his foot is improving quickly:
Also included with this, Nene a game-time decision tomorrow in Memphis, Ariza improving quickly. https://t.co/80S9FFDsks— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) October 27, 2017
Despite his injury coming along, don’t be shocked if Ariza misses a little more time next week as well. The Rockets want him fully healthy before coming back. None of that initially sounds good for a team also battling injuries to starting point guard Chris Paul and backup center Nene.
Ariza’s been a mainstay of this organization since coming back for his second stint in 2014. He hasn’t missed more than two games in a season during his second tour with the Rockets until now, and he’s averaged 35 minutes per game in each season back in Rockets red.
He’s also the perfect fit for Moreyball and in the Mike D’Antoni system, as his quintessential three-and-D style allows him to effectively spot-up off the opportunities created from James Harden. When Ariza is playing well, the Rockets usually play well.
But that’s where his loss to injury might not be all that substantial for the Rockets right now. Because here’s the hitch: before going down with that foot sprain, Ariza wasn’t playing well at all.
In fact, he was in the midst of one of his worst stretches as a Rocket that I can remember. After a scorching hot preseason in which he was 17-30 from beyond the arc, Ariza came out equally as cold to start the regular season. In the four games before injury, Trev was averaging just 5 points per game on 22 percent shooting from the field, and he was a rock-bottom 3-19 from three. His offensive plus-minus sits at -3.8.
Perhaps the only comparable stretch I can recall from Ariza was the 2016 playoff defeat to the Golden State Warriors, in which Trev quite literally shot the Rockets out of the series, shooting 25 percent from the field and going just 4 for 28 from deep.
The difference between that Rockets team and this one, however, is that this year’s squad is much more fit to deal with a loss of its top wing. Both P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute are capable of filling in at small forward in Ariza’s stead, while Troy Williams can play spot minutes off the bench if needed.
So far, it’s been Mbah a Moute filling in as a starter. And while he’s been no better than Ariza from downtown, going just 2 for 13, he’s been absolutely stellar on his twos. His 48 percent shooting from the field reflects the 13-18 he’s shot from inside the arc, and he’s averaging three more points per game on the year than Ariza on less minutes. His offensive plus-minus also isn’t great, but at least he’s hitting some shots.
Tucker is shooting 39 percent from three, and the combination of him and Mbah a Moute bring many of the same things Ariza does to the lineup, including tough, hard-nosed defense. Both guys played well against the 76ers, with Tucker racking up 4 steals and Mbah a Moute swatting three shots and going 4-8 from the field.
Ariza’s absence also gives the Rockets a chance to incorporate these new faces a little faster than if Ariza was still gobbling up so many minutes. Despite my repeated calls for Ariza to play fewer minutes to keep him fresh, he’s still averaging over 35 per game so far this season, and played 40 minutes in his last healthy game (apparently Mike D’Antoni does not read my stories, imagine that).
With Ariza hurt early for the first time in years, is it possible all those games and minutes are finally starting to pile up for the 32-year-old, 14-season veteran? This could be an opportunity to bump those minutes down around the 30 range upon his return.
In addition, with Ariza’s shot slumping so badly, hopefully he’ll return from his time off ready to get hot again. I mean, let’s face it, he can’t really come back shooting worse than he already has this season.
Combine that with the presence of two capable fill-ins, and this absence from Ariza doesn’t hurt the Rockets anywhere to close to how it would have in years past. In fact, if it forces the team to re-evaluate Ariza’s minutes allocation in an effort to keep him fresh a playoff run, it could even help the team in the long run.