The Houston Rockets currently have the worst record in the league at 17-51, which is a half-game worse (or better depending on how you look at it) than the Orlando Magic. Once you get to this point in a season where you aren't competing for a playoff spot, you have to start evaluating your current roster to see what you have for the following season.
You start to dissect every player's strengths and weaknesses, their potential to get better, and their potential fit with future draft picks. The Rockets have 14 games left in the season, giving them 14 more opportunities to find out who should be part of the 2022-23 team. When you have the worst record in the league, you can improve areas — from offensive and defensive sets that are run each game, to rotation and the number of minutes you give your young players compared to any veterans you have on your team.
The time is now for the Rockets to start planning for the future. Here are three things that I want to see the Rockets do in the last 14 games. Of course, these aren't the only ones but to me are the most pressing matters.
Kenyon Martin Jr. in the starting lineup
KJ Martin was one of the biggest surprises last year. Martin was almost an afterthought outside of being the son of a former NBA player when drafted at the end of last year's draft. Martin went back and forth to the G-League to start his rookie year before becoming a permanent fixture on the Rockets.
Everyone knew that Martin had the athleticism, but his shooting to close out the year is what caught a lot of people's eyes. This year his playing time has been erratic. Martin is averaging fewer minutes per game(20.8) than last year (23.7). Martin is currently shooting 34.5 percent from three-point range on the year, but in his last 10 games, he is shooting 43.8. Just like last year, his shooting has improved throughout the year.
Jae'Sean Tate is the current starter and a vital part of the Rockets’ rotation. Some nights, he is the best player on the court for the Rockets, but like any player, he has limitations, mainly from beyond the arc, where he is only shooting 30.1 percent from deep. As a result, teams make it a point to put their center on Tate and have him park in the paint and dare Tate beat them from three-point range. Martin Jr. would give the team more spacing, especially if the plan is to have Alperen Sengun move into the starting lineup eventually.
Martin is also the best cutter on the team and weakside shot blocker. Martin Jr. will have to work on his one-on-one defense, and being in the starting lineup getting closer to 30 minutes would help in that development. Martin has only started two games this year. Hopefully, that changes to end the season.
Give Daishen Nix the backup point guard minutes instead of Dennis Schroder
The Rockets, as we know, added four draft picks this year to their roster. Those weren't the only rookies the Rocket added last year. They also brought in the undrafted former teammate of Jalen Green on the Ignite team Daishen Nix. He’s another under-the-radar player the Rockets were able to add to the roster. Nix played most of the year with the Rockets G-League affiliate the Rio Grande Vipers and recently was called up to join the Houston, but has played sparingly in the last several games.
Nix was one of the Vipers' best floor general and overall players. He earned Player of The Week and played well enough for the Rockets to sign him to a four-year standard NBA contract. Nix has shown all year his ability to run a team, and at only 20 years old, it is the perfect time to see if he can mesh with the other young players on the Rockets.
Currently, he is behind Dennis Schroder on the depth chart, but with Schroder being on the last year of his contract and possibly not coming back, the Rockets need to move Nix ahead of the veteran and have him run the second unit, and if Kevin Porter Jr. is out a game or two, move him into the starting lineup.
Nix was one of the best high school players in the country and has improved the main weakness of his game, which was his outside shooting. Nix is currently the best playmaker on the roster, and his abilities could help everyone on the team since Nix is always looking to make the pass first before taking his shot. With the season winding down, this is the time to give him more minutes to see if he is part of the team's future.
Play your young players regular minutes regardless of score
The topic of minutes, who should get them, and how many have been issues amongst Rockets fans all year. It has now moved to a specific time of the game. The Rockets have been in many blowout games this year, more times than not, with them on the losing side. When the Rockets are down by a large margin going into the fourth quarter, the coaching staff usually decides not to play their young players, specifically Green or Sengun, that many minutes or at all in the fourth quarter.
On a team with many veterans or a team already in the playoffs, you would not play your main guys in blowout losses, but neither situation pertains to the Rockets. Green, Sengun, Nix, Josh Christopher, Martin Jr, and Kevin Porter Jr. are not veterans, and the team is competing for the playoffs.
Coach Silas has pointed out that most players learn more in practice than they do in a game which is true. The problem is when you are only 20 years old, and Covid has limited the number of games players like Green could play last year, so you want to give Green and the other players in your young core as many reps as you can.
More playing time and in-game situations at this young age can not be a bad thing, no matter how you look at it. They don't have to play the entire fourth quarter, but they need to play their regular minutes regardless of the final score. Especially considering most of these players have not played a good amount of time on the court with each other and need that time to build chemistry.
The Rockets are only a few weeks away from ending their year and watching the playoffs from home like the rest of us. But in a year or two, the goal is not to be watching from home when the 82-game season comes to an end, and that work should start now by playing your young players and finding out what type of team you have in the future.