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How to solve the Rockets’ depth issue

Moving forward, what will the Houston bench look like?

Golden State Warriors v Houston Rockets - Game One Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Rockets held a buffet last night. The team force fed all their haters and doubters and media members saying the team was done with all of their words like a baby in a high chair. It was delicious.

It’s hard to find flaws in the Rockets’ 127-105 victory over the Warriors in Game 2. The Rockets shot 51 percent from the floor and 38 percent from three by knocking down 16 of 42 triples. After poor Game 1 performances, Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Eric Gordon rebounded, scoring 19, 22, and a team-high 27 points, respectively.

However, it’s time to get grouchy and complain about the negative aspect of the Rockets’ near-perfect victory: Luc Mbah a Moute.

Mbah a Moute entered the game with 6:52 left in the first quarter and missed two gimme layups and had his three-point attempt (easily) thwarted by Draymond Green. I’m not sure if LMAM’s struggles in this series are linked to his shoulder injury he suffered in mid-April, his playoff jitters, or a combination of both, but no matter what the cause of his struggles is, it has deemed him nearly unplayable in this crucial Western Conference Finals that has now turned into a best-of-five showdown.

In Game 1, Mike D’Antoni gave 10 players rotation minutes. Originally, Ryan Anderson played five lackluster minutes and his lack of success prompted MDA to give his second-half minutes to Nene.

In Game 2, MDA failed to give Anderson or Nene any meaningful minutes, which shrunk the rotation to eight. After Mbah a Moute checked out in the first quarter, he was not seen again until garbage time.

That leaves seven people in Houston’s rotation: Chris Paul, James Harden, Clint Capela, Ariza, Tucker, Gordon, and Gerald Green.

D’Antoni is famous (or infamous?) for his short playoff rotations, but this is even a new level for him. It’s possible that the reason why he felt more comfortable playing seven was the fact that the Rockets have three full days of rest between Games 2 & 3, but the Rockets are about to enter a stretch where they are about to play, potentially, five games in nine days.

I believe Coach D’Antoni played the seven best players on the roster yesterday, but if the Rockets are going to win this series, someone outside of the seven is going to have to step up as well.

Here is a rundown of his potential options:

Keep the seven and hope for the best.

The best thing about running the seven-man rotation is that it worked. The entire team was in complete rhythm last night because there weren’t as many guys needing to touch the ball. Everyone in the rotation, maybe with the exception of Green, has played very well in the series and has confidence in their shot, but Green already inherits that in his game and his personality. His grit is enough to make him a valuable Rocket.

The con about this is the amount of pressure this will put on the team. All of the Rocket rotation players, minus Green, played 31+ minutes last night, and would have played more had three minutes of garbage time not taken place. It’s early in the series, and the amount of strain on the team is already at a high level. Putting even more pressure on the main six guys would not be wise.

Put Luc Mbah a Moute back in the rotation.

When Rockets fans thought they would never see the day where LMAM would make another layup, he did just that in the fourth quarter. Luc needs a stretch of play that will allow him to regain his confidence, and maybe, hopefully that comes in Game 3.

This is probably the scenario that the Rockets hope will happen the most simply because LMAM offers the most potential from a defensive standpoint and he has been the best player of the potential 8th-man options this season.

It’s clear though that Mbah a Moute is not 100% and if he can’t sink the easiest of lay-ups or box out on defense, I don’t see how playing him makes sense. It’s unfortunate because I like LMAM, and he’s been huge for the Rockets this season. But all that matters in this season right now is the next five games, and LMAM hasn’t proven that he is healthy enough to play.

Put Anderson or Nene back in the rotation.

This is a less likely option, but it is certainly possible given that both saw minutes in Game 1. Of the two, Nene had a better run in Game 1, but not by much. The roughest stretch in Game 1 occurred when Anderson was playing in the first half alongside Gerald Green. Anderson looked like he simply lacked confidence on both ends of the floor, once on offense when he passed up a wide open three, and once on defense when he let the corpse of David West fly by him in the paint.

The benefit of playing Anderson is that when he is good, he is good. And he’ll add another wrinkle to a Rockets offense that could use a different look. The only issue with Ryno is that he has not played well in the playoffs and there is no sign that he will reverse his fortunes in the future of this series.

Nene provides a defensive presence that the Rockets desperately need. We saw Nene match up with Kevin Durant often in his six Game 1 minutes, and the Rockets were actually a +1 with him on the court. However, Nene disrupts the flow of the offense and takes the Rockets away from the brand of basketball they know best.

The lineup that has worked the best is the Tuckwagon lineup, which would mean both of these guys at the five would be deemed useless. Smallball is the name of the game, and these two guys are too big to fit in.

NEW IDEA: Give Joe Johnson some minutes.

ISO Joe got his first taste of the Conference Finals last night in 12 years. The last time he made it to the West Finals, he played sparingly as he suffered an injury midway through the Suns’ 2005 Playoff run.

The Rockets love to live up to Johnson’s name with the isolation offense, and Johnson is not by any means the guy he was in Phoenix and Atlanta, but he’s got shades of the man he once was. It was part of the reason the Rockets signed him after he bought himself out with the Kings.

The problem with playing Johnson is that he is too similar to Gerald Green. Both players are secondary scorers that are below average on defense. At this point though, Johnson would not be a guy looking to defend, but simply a guy that can give Harden, or Gordon, or Green some rest.

However, it may be costly to place Green and Johnson on the floor together given their stark similarities and their ineptitude on defense. If the Rockets are just looking for some fresh legs, it might come in the form of Johnson. However, defense is not where you look to go.

There are many different directions the Rockets can go, but what do you think the Rockets should do?


Who should the Rockets play past their seventh man?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Luc Mbah a Moute
    (565 votes)
  • 13%
    Ryan Anderson
    (124 votes)
  • 6%
    (56 votes)
  • 9%
    Joe Johnson
    (89 votes)
  • 7%
    None of the above. Leave it at 7.
    (64 votes)
898 votes total Vote Now