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Five Out: Late Thanksgiving bonus edition

Big Plans for Everybody

Oklahoma City Thunder v Houston Rockets
Future NBA Scoring Champ?
Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images

Welcome again to a Belated Holiday Five Out. I had intended to write this for either Wednesday or Friday around Thanksgiving. Obviously that didn’t happen. I’ll plead the excuse of “The Rockets didn’t even play until Friday”, but honestly, it was food, and family.

This is kind of what you get in the niche superfan end of the sports writing market.

Anyhow, I’ve decided to formalize my “player plan” comments here, instead of covering the NBA. I’ll hit that again on Thursday. For the holiday weekend that’s ending, I’m going to make this a Rockets-centric Five Out, with more than Five bits.

Run. To. The. Corner.

Kevin Porter Jr.

This will be the longest bit, as it’s the most fraught topic.

KPJ - the cause of, and solution to, all Rockets suffering apparently. Is Porter the most natural PG? No, because he came up being a SG/SF type, with a nice distribution game. He’s doing his best, and overall, given his background, age, and what’s been asked of him, he’s doing well.

What’s being asked of him? He’s being asked to be the PNR initiator in a five out system. That’s a Very Big NBA job. Especially for someone learning to be a PG at all. It may well be an inappropriate job for Porter, but don’t mistake that for some lack of ability. He’s got plenty, but probably more as a distributing “2”. The current problem is that Porter doesn’t multitask well. When he’s doing one job, he’s not really doing the other as much. I’d argue players like Harden, and Luka are born, not made, but I guess we’ll find out.

Meantime, don’t be mad at him for trying to do as his coaches have told him to do. We’ve seen lately short trips to the bench when he’s on tilt, one way or another. That’s a very good idea, as he seems to be in a very different mental place than even a year ago. Lifetime financial security can do that.

The Plan

Keep on with what he’s doing. He’s not stealing assists from Jalen Green, as the past few games demonstrate. Remember - Harden and Chris Paul aren’t the baseline expectation for assists, they’re damn near the high-water mark.

Body School. James Harden and DeMar DeRozan spent a summer getting stronger, and practicing attacking, and finishing scoring plays, into, and through, contact. Drawing contact. No one on the Rockets needs this more. KPJ attacks the rim like he’s made of glass, putting up all manner of odd shots he’s almost good enough to make. I suspect it’s because he spent time as a kid playing with men, and he had to do this. He doesn’t anymore. He needs to realize he’s a strong man, who can overpower other strong men with power and speed.

Also, he needs to practice his free throws. That must also be a factor in his reluctance to attack through contact. There’s no reason he shouldn’t shoot 85%.

I don’t think he’s James Harden, but he might be DeMar DeRozan with a 3pt shot, and better passing. That’s honestly a fantastic player. One that’s going to eat a lot of possessions, but a fantastic player.

Alperen Sengun

I’m in love. I don’t know exactly WHAT Alpie is, but that’s what makes it such a giddy experience. Last night against the “too big to score and rebound against” OKC Thunder, Sengun dominated, with 19 rebounds. He also looked like Turkish Magic Johnson. At one point he stole a pass, went down court by himself, dribbled past the whole Thunder team practically, and finished like Hakeem at the basket, with a nifty little move. He’s a 20 year old big doing this. Popovich could, and would, build an entire team around Alpie.

The Plan for Alpie is get stronger, keep doing what you’re doing, and get 32 minutes a night at least. This doesn’t have to be as a starter. It really doesn’t. It has to be in an offense where Sengun is the main distributor, though. It must be that. He’s not a bit player. Can Silas accommodate that, or does he actually need some version of Clint Capela, even a cut rate version, for his system to function?

If that’s the case, if somehow the most outrageously talented big since Giannis can’t feature in a major way, something is very wrong.

Jalen Green

All systems go! Seriously, just let him keep breaking out. Give him more distribution responsibilities, and do something, anything, to leverage the fact that not one team in the NBA has the players to match Green and Porter on the attack.

Better defense would be nice, but he tries, and he’s tall and quick, so odds are good he’ll end up an average defender by about oh, age 23. In three years.

His shot, his scoring at the basket, his speed and quickness are so easy. He’s a living example of genius: he does easily what the vast majority can’t do at all. His skills and will are rising to meet his talent. Please, basketball gods, give us this. It’s a gift to the whole basketball world.

Plan - Be Jalen Green. Get stronger. Stay on this trajectory.

Jabari Smith

He’s 19. For a 19 year old on a team with basically zero veteran guidance (my assumption is Eric Gordon basically doesn’t talk, but who knows?), he looks fantastic. The shot is pure. The defense is going to be special.

Plan - The Klay Thompson plan. He can be 6’10” Klay. He has the shot, he has the defense, he has the intelligence and understanding as a teenager. He needs to work on shooting off movement, and also, movement. Is movement shooting even allowed in this offense, or does it ruin spacing? I honestly don’t know. Smith does have to move past his Trevor Ariza Handle. He’s young enough to do that. Right now he can take three dribbles and shoot. That’s all. Get stronger. Stay positive.

Tari Eason

A one man hurricane. A menace to all dribblers. The force and chaos the Rockets desperately need, and a real factor in the Rockets maybe being the most athletic team in the NBA. Seriously, which team is more athletic?

At the moment, he’s also a bit of a lost cause finishing at the basket. That’s alright. He’ll improve that. All young players have bad stretches, the nice part is, Peso’s always come with crazy defense and intensity. He simply takes the ball from people. so he’s rarely a pure negative.

The Plan - The Human Version of Kawhi Plan. Kawhi isn’t a great scorer at the basket either, that’s why he developed that push-off fadeaway. It not only works on its own, it forces the defender close into him, so he can use his overpowering strength to get past to the basket to score. Tari needs to improve decision making, and improve his three. That’s going to be a long project. Right now it goes in somewhat. To be better you’ll have to tear his shot mechanic down and rebuild it. It won’t be pretty for a while.

The Rockets may need a dunking coach, though.

Kenyon Martin Jr.

He’s a starting NBA SF right now (see below). There’s not much he’s not doing. He’s about as good as anyone on the Rockets with on ball defense, except Tari. He’s where he’s meant to be, most of the time now.

Martin’s make-up speed and insane shot blocking fix a lot of defensive gaffes, if only because opponents don’t want to be posterized. His 3pt shot has come around to being a threat, and he can now leverage basket attacks off it. I’ve at no point seen any offense set up for him, so he’s doing all this off scraps and drive and kick shot opportunities.

KJ is a player who has clearly put in the work to be a real NBA pro, not just a dunker. He’s one of Stone’s best value picks at 2/52. I suspect he’d be a pretty hot commodity on the trade market, though I hope he doesn’t end up there. I don’t know if there’s a quicker, or higher, standing jump in the NBA.

The Plan - Keep developing in this way. Focus on defense. Wait for the Eric Gordon trade. Get a contract from the Rockets. To put Martin in perspective, his Per36 numbers are slightly better than Phoenix’s Mikal Bridges (Martin is almost 23, Bridges is 26.).

Bridges per36 - 15.7pts/5rbs/3ast/1stl/1blk

Martin per36 - 16pts/8rbs/2ast/.7stl/1blk. (I’d have expected more blocks.)

Daishen Nix

Currently my most frustrating Rocket.

He’s meant, and built, to be an offensive fulcrum. Yet, he doesn’t attack the basket to score, despite really pounding the ball.

In fairness most other players do that- over dribble - too. The Rockets offense doesn’t generate any looks without the ball hander attacking his man towards the basket and kicking the ball out, or through ball zipping along the perimeter.

It’s a scheme designed for one dominant player to get an advantage, off his own actions, or a pick, over the defense, and draw more attention. (And I’m truly wondering if it has had its day.) At that point he either scores anyway, or passes to an open shooter, and in theory, a possible cutter. If that advantage IS gained, the offense can often expect a shooting foul, and the dominant offensive player must make free throws.

Nix can’t do this. It may be he can’t do this right now, it may be he can’t do it at all. Nix IS shooting the 3pt shot really well, and his handle is solid, if aimless. He’s big, so you can switch him (though the Rockets, built to switch, don’t switch much).

Mostly he looks lost. Devoid of ideas on offense, and simply overwhelmed and out of position on defense. You could use him as an off guard, 3pt shooter, but the Rockets don’t have another PG type, so he gets that role.

The Plan - Nix needs to go, once again, to the GLeague, to find his game in a less overwhelming context. The size, shooting and handle, say NBA player, but the rest right now, does not. Also, he needs to make free throws. This is likely what’s killing his basket attacks. If the defense knows you won’t attack through contact, and will almost certainly pass out of the drive, their job is fairly easy. A player cannot, simply cannot, be a five out initiator and driver, and not make free throws. 65% isn’t going to cut it.

Usman Garuba

He’s been a revelation after an injury marred rookie season. Garuba displays an interesting mix of ability to guard 1-5, defensive force and intensity, and a surprisingly deft handle, and silky passing touch. He finishes well at the basket and might even end up making enough 3pt shots to be a threat. He’s currently shooting a sizzling 78% from 3 on very low volume. Even a return to a plausible mean suggests a shooting threat, though with his catapult motion, don’t expect contested attempts.

The Plan - He is probably the lob threat the Rockets need. I’ve described Garuba as “casually strong”. Not presently full of NBA gym muscles, but a man who is just naturally strong. This strength makes him unpleasant to play against I think. Watch him over serval minutes. Most opponents tend to not want any part of Garuba after a while. He’s a chunk, and I supsect, literally painful to play against.

Mostly he needs to keep playing like this. He’s now generally up to NBA speed, and he makes typically good decisions. Finding good ways to use him, beyond as a garbage man, would be nice, but he really doesn’t need anything run for him, and on this team, that’s nice.

TyTy Washington

I have hopes, but we’ve not seen him because of injury. He’s currently lighting up the GLeague, and I hope he’ll come up soon as the Rockets backup PG and Nix will go down to The Valley.

The Plan - I don’t know. Play some NBA minutes. I have no real basis to judge him right now, but only my hope and suspicion he’s the backup point the Rockets need, as his game is emphatically NOT five out fulcrum.

Bruno Fernando

This is a big step up for a seeming energy bench big. I guess it’s simply the size of the role in Silas’ scheme that makes Fernando a plausible player. That’s not a criticism of Fernando, most players very much require a situation that suits what they can do. He seems to have found one on the Rockets. If Fernando is playing more minutes than Sengun, or Garuba, though, something isn’t right. Let’s see what happens.

Plan - Don’t block the development of more important players. Set brutal picks. Roll hard. Dunk lobs. I honestly don’t see the point of stop gaps on a team that almost certainly won’t break 30 wins.

Josh Christopher

Not playing. Not playing well when he’s playing. Has lost his job to Nix, which doesn’t really say anything good about Nix, Christopher, or the Rockets situation. He needs to stop thinking that a JGup shot is always the best shot. He really should be playing over Matthews or Nix, but given how he’s played, it’s fairly easy to see why he isn’t.

Plan - Maybe spend a month in The Valley. He needs to be a PG, or combo guard, not a SG. This team likely has too many SG/SF types as it is. If he’s playing as he should, he’s better, by far, than Nix, or Matthews and probably rookie TyTy. He’s not playing that way. He’s playing like a bench player who is so frustrated he’s going to shoot every single time he gets the ball. That’s a great way to stay a deep bench player. It’s a shame if a guy who might be Baron Davis ends up buried on a bench.


I, and I’m guessing no one else who cares about the NBA, has ever seen anything like THIS. That’s literally 11 players 23 and under are some level of prospect, who all could, and should, be NBA players. There aren’t enough minutes for all of them, and there will be at least one more next season.

It’s a challenge for any coach and organization, and no one knows if they’ll be good before they’re too expensive.


I’m most excited about:

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    (6 votes)
  • 37%
    (78 votes)
  • 31%
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  • 14%
    OMG that’s a lot of players who need minutes.
    (31 votes)
209 votes total Vote Now