The Houston Rockets Media Day concluded a couple of days ago, and now they are in Galveston for the start of training camp. Some new information came out of Media Day regarding players' off-season workouts, focus going into this season, and excitement for the new year.
There was also a comment made by Stephen Silas when speaking about Eric Gordon. He talked about the importance of having a veteran on the team like Gordon and mentioning Gordon could finish games for the Rockets this season. This comes as no surprise considering Gordon is one of the few players with any experience, especially in close games.
The question going into the season is how will the Rockets handle different in-game situations from the starting lineup to the end of quarters and what lineup they will use to end games. The lineup to finish games is more important than who starts, as it more times than not determines what team will pull out a victory. So let's take a look at what the Rockets’ different lineups could look like once the season starts.
When asked about what the starting lineup could look like, Coach Silas didn't give a definite answer. Coach Silas was still to be determined, and that Rafael Stone and himself will make that decision after training camp.
Considering that the Rockets and John Wall agreed well before training camp, it's almost certainly what the backcourt will be this season. Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green are locked at the starting guard positions. With Wall sitting out until a trade or buyout occurs, Porter Jr. will be the point guard next to Green.
Since the Rockets don't have to run a three-guard lineup, Jae'Sean Tate should slot in at the starting small forward position. There may be some debate between KJ Martin Jr. and Tate, but I think Tate’s ability to guard multiple positions is why he is the starter on day one.
This is where it gets tricky, though I think we are getting a better sense of where Wood will be playing on opening night. I believe there is value in having Martin Jr. at the power forward position, but more than likely coming off the bench. On the other hand, Christian Wood will start at the four, which is his more natural position. This would help Wood, who struggled at times against larger centers who would use their size in the paint to push Wood out of position down low. With Wood at power forward, he would guard players more on the perimeter instead of banging down in the paint.
With Wood likely starting at power forward, that means Daniel Theis is the probable starter at center. Thies provides the Rockets something they didn't have last year, which is a bigger center who can handle fives like Joel Embiid and Nikola Jokic ( at least slow them down). Theis is 6’8”, 245 pounds and is a more natural fit at center than Wood. Also, Alperen Sengun is still learning the NBA game, so he is not ready to take on a full-time role at the center spot.
Lineup to close out quarters
The end of a quarter or half can sometimes swing momentum and change the course of a game. With the Rockets having so many young players, figuring out what lineup works in what situation will take some time. To end quarters, the Rockets’ lineup may look like this on offense and defense.
The optimal lineup for the Rockets on offense to end quarters should have a backcourt of Porter Jr. and Green. With Armoni Brooks or Eric Gordon at small forward, Martin Jr. at power forward, and Wood at center.
This gives you multiple players who can score around the basket, shooters to spread the floor, and players who can score above the rim if the play breaks down. KJ Martin Jr. and Wood on pick-and-rolls are ideal since both players can score around the basket against any defense.
Conversely, if the Rockets are looking for defense, the lineup will look a lot different. The backcourt should comprise a combination of Porter Jr. and Eric Gordon. Porter Jr. isn't a lockdown defender, but he did improve as the season went on. Eric Gordon, even in his 30s, is still a good on-ball defender. Tate should be the small forward, but the power forward and center positions are fluid.
If you are facing a team playing small ball to end the quarter, having Danuel House at the four position and Wood at the five makes the most sense since you would switch all picks. Bigger lineups would have Theis at center and Wood back at power forward.
End of the game lineup
This leads us back to the beginning of this article and what would be the best end-of-the-game lineup. As I mentioned earlier, the end-of-the-game lineup is more important than who starts because it determines who will be on the court in close games. For the Rockets, this lineup will look the same as the starting lineup minus one player.
Tate should be the starting small forward, but you would be better served to have a player like Gordon on the court to end games. Gordon is still a good defender, and even though his three-point percentage has fallen the last few years, he is still a better option beyond the arc than Tate at this point. Gordon also will provide much-needed leadership at the end of games since he has been through those situations as much as any player on the team.
We all know the Rockets will at some point trade Gordon, not because of any lack of skills, but because he is at the stage of his career where he wants to compete. But until that day comes, Gordon will still be a big part of what Coach Silas and the Rockets do game in and game out. Having a two-way player like Gordon on the floor to end games is what the Rockets will need this season.
The Rockets are a young and rebuilding team, so as I mentioned earlier, the situation will be fluid when it comes to lineups. However, one thing is for sure: they will be a much-improved team over the one we saw have the worst record in the league last year.