For fans of lottery-bound teams like the Houston Rockets, the offseason has already unofficially begun. There is little left to play for. The most pressing question entering the season has already been answered: Jalen Green is a certified bucket.
Other significant questions remain. Is Kevin Porter Jr. a point guard? Is Alperen Sengun a future star? Can you put fruit loops on a mac-and-cheese hot dog twice without going to prison? The remaining 14 games are unlikely to illuminate much. The team will enter 2022-23 with those questions unanswered,
So why not think ahead? This Rockets team is bound to look different next year. They’ll be adding at least one lottery pick into the fold. They may add considerably more than that.
Of course, they may not, but where’s the fun in that article? Realism is no obstacle in this exercise. None of these lineups constitute a prediction. They’re five dream starting lineups.
After all, this is The Dream Shake. Please, future commenters: let me dream.
Dream Starting Lineup #1
C: Alperen Sengun PF: Jabari Smith Jr. SF: Eric Gordon SG: Jalen Green PG: Kevin Porter Jr.
Recently, I questioned Alperen Sengun’s viability as a long-term star in the NBA. There’s a fine line between questioning and doubting, and I intended to walk it.
There’s no denying Sengun’s potential. This lineup is effectively designed to maximize it. Of course, it also relies on the Rockets’ lottery luck. Smith Jr. is likely to fall within the top two picks of the 2022 draft.
If the Rockets do land Smith Jr., his fit with Sengun is hard to deny. He projects as one of the best shooting big wings the NBA has seen in recent memory. It’s not hard to picture Sengun whipping behind-the-back bounce passes to Smith Jr. on the perimeter. Smith Jr. also compensates for Sengun’s lack of defensive range on the other end.
We’re keeping Eric Gordon in the starting lineup in this instance because he has preexisting chemistry with Sengun. That won’t necessarily be a trend moving forward.
Dream Starting Lineup #2
C: Mitch Robinson PF: Jabari Smith Jr. SF: Cody Martin SG: Jalen Green PG: Kevin Porter Jr.
Of course, it may be possible to test Sengun’s limits without throwing him directly into the fire.
Mitch Robinson is a natural-born rim protector, with a rare combination of strength, vertical and wingspan. His time on the New York Knicks also appears limited, as the Knicks declined to extend him this season.
Adding him to the Rockets is not akin to quitting on Sengun. Instead, it affords the team an opportunity to experiment with two vastly different looks. They can split their center minutes between two starting-caliber, diametrically opposed centers: the offensively gifted, defensively limited Sengun and a traditional rim-runner, rim protector in Robinson. To the winner of the on/off splits go the spoils of the future starting position.
Otherwise, if you intend to continue reading, get used to Cody Martin’s name. It’s going to come up a lot. He’s shooting 40.9 percent from distance this year, and FiveThirtyEight’s D-RAPTOR grades him as the best defender on the Hornets at 1.1. He’s exactly the type of three-and-D wing that puts a final touch on any starting lineup.
He’s also an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Dream Starting Lineup #3
C: Chet Holmgren PF: Tari Eason SF: Cody Martin SG: Jalen Green PG: Kevin Porter Jr.
Did somebody say something about defense?
The Rockets haven’t had much to say about it this year. Their 117.8 Defensive Rating is dead last in the Association. Here, they lean into the draft to do something about it.
Some will protest that Sengun should remain in the starting lineup even if the Rockets do draft Holmgren. I politely, but firmly, disagree. The Rockets could (and should and would) experiment with Holmgren at the four alongside Sengun, but those lineups would be strictly experimental.
Sengun and Holmgren would be roughly the slowest frontcourt pairing in NBA history. While Holmgren would feast as a weakside shot blocker, he’d starve as a primary perimeter defender. On the other hand, LSU’s Tari Eason should be exactly that. In this dream lineup, he’ll regularly contain perimeter scorers, and they’ll have to deal with Holmgren’s outstretched arms when he can’t.
Cody Martin features in this lineup again. That will be a recurring theme. He’s an extremely portable player: he fits in almost any lineup you could imagine.
Dream Starting Lineup #4
C: Myles Turner PF: Paolo Banchero SF: Cody Martin SG: Jalen Green PG: Kevin Porter Jr
Full disclosure: I can’t take full credit for this one.
HOT TAKE:— Paulo Alves (@PauloAlvesNBA) March 14, 2022
PG: Kevin Porter Jr
SG: Jalen Green
SF: Eric Gordon
PF: Paolo Banchero
C: Myles Turner
6th Man: Alperen Sengun
Bench: Nix (PG), Christopher (SG), Mathews (SF), Eason (PF)
With good coaching, this would be a play-in team next season. #Rockets pic.twitter.com/2QNrOGMwMF
It just makes too much intuitive sense not to include here. Paolo Banchero projects as a bona fide offensive engine at the NBA level. His on-ball creation should be invaluable to whichever team drafts him. He’s also somewhat lacking in arguably the two most fundamental NBA skills: three-point shooting and defense.
Enter Myles Turner. He makes up the difference in both categories. He’s one of the NBA’s premier rim protectors. He’s not necessarily a knock-down three-point shooter, but he’s a credible enough threat to space the floor. With Banchero, Jalen Green, and Kevin Porter Jr. attacking the basket, that skill will pay dividends.
Some may argue that whatever package the Rockets would surrender for Turner is probably too rich at this stage in the rebuild. It’s a good thing they don’t control the weather: it would rain on every parade.
Turner’s fit alongside Banchero is too tempting to pass up. With the emergence of rookie Isiah Jackson, the Pacers may even have an incentive to trade him. Without digressing into hypothetical packages, he may be a realistic target.
Dream Starting Lineup #5
C: Alperen Sengun PF: Kenyon Martin Jr. SF: Adrian Griffin Jr. SG: Jalen Green PG: Kevin Porter Jr.
One more Sengun lineup for good measure. Readers, please remember this: I want him to work.
This lineup gives him a good opportunity to do so. It also gives Kenyon Martin Jr. a well-earned moment in the sun. He averaged 19.0 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while shooting 51.3% from the field and 44.7% from downtown in 8 starts last season.
Granted, that’s a small sample size, but why not give him a larger one? Alongside rookie Adrian Griffin Jr. and the Rockets’ presumed backcourt, Sengun would be armed to the teeth with athletic cutters. The spacing in that lineup would be more-than-sufficient as well.
If Sengun really is a future superstar, he will make this lineup work in his sophomore campaign.
With two first-round picks and a war chest of future ones at Rafael Stone’s disposal, predicting next year’s starting lineup is an impossible task. However it looks, it’s likely to be easier on the eyes than the 2021-22 version.
What’s your favorite dream lineup listed here?
This poll is closed
1 - Sengun, Smith, Gordon, Green, Porter
2 - Robinson, Smith, C. Martin, Green, Porter
3 - Holmgren, Eason, C. Martin, Green, Porter
4 - Turner, Banchero, C. Martin, Green, Porter
5 - Sengun, K. Martin Jr., Griffin, Green, Porter