The 2022-2023 season is fast approaching for the Houston Rockets. Media day is only a week away, and training camp in Lake Charles, Louisanna starts on September 27. Unfortunately, the Rockets are coming off another season with the worst record in the NBA. Which, of course, means they had another high draft pick.
To the surprise of many, the Rockets selected Auburn’s Jabari Smith Jr. with the third pick after the Orlando Magic chose Paolo Banchero. Also, adding Tari Eason and TyTy Washington means the Rockets will have eight first or second-year players on their roster.
With that many young players on a rebuilding team, there is room for improvement across the roster, from the face of the franchise Jalen Green to players on training camp deals. This article will discuss what each potential starter needs to improve on this upcoming season. For the sake of this article, we will include Eric Gordon in the starting lineup as, for now, everything points to him still being on the roster when the season opens.
Kevin Porter Jr.
When it comes to Kevin Porter Jr, there is still a lot that is not known. Should the Rockets extend Porter Jr. before the end of the season? Will Porter Jr. take that next step this upcoming season? Should he even be the point guard of the future?
All of these questions should be answered this upcoming NBA season. With Porter Jr. entering his second full season as point guard and an improving roster around him, this is the time for Porter Jr. to show that he is the point guard of the future for the Rockets. However, for Porter Jr. to take that next step, he must improve in these areas.
For any point guard, you are always judged on limiting your turnovers and ensuring the offense doesn't miss a beat. It has been a slow transition for Porter Jr. regarding his point guard duties. Last year, between injuries and the Rockets’ unconventional (double big lineup, anyone?) starting lineups, it took a while for Houston to mesh as a team.
Before the All-Star break, Porter Jr. was averaging 3.5 turnovers a game, which was way too high for his usage. However, after the Rockets traded away Christian Wood and added more shooting to their rotation, Houston’s offense became much more stable. After the All-Star break, Porter Jr. cut down his turnovers from 3.5 to 2.5 a game to end the season. If he can continue to protect the ball and keep up his remarkable catch-and-shoot percentage, Porter Jr. may be on his way to a contract extension.
The Rockets’ number two pick in 2022, like most players in H-town, had a slow start to the year. It was a combination of being a rookie trying to learn how the league works and, as mentioned earlier, a horribly constructed starting lineup. The refs also didn't help, as it seemed they would swallow their whistle more times than not when it came to Green getting to the free-throw line.
Getting to the basket and increasing his points in the paint
As the season went on and Green became more aggressive, points in the paint improved. Before the All-Star break, Green was only averaging 5.2 points in the paint. That ranked him 11th amongst rookies at that time.
After the All-Star Break, Green averaged 8.2 points per game in the paint. This is important because it puts pressure on the defense, and even though it didn't necessarily translate to more free throws, it did help Green get easier shots. Now in his second year, you will see his attempts from the line go up because refs will be more familiar with his game.
Ultimately, if you want to become an elite scorer in the NBA, you have to not only become a threat from beyond the arc, but also get to the basket consistently. If Green's points in the paint continue to improve next season, you will also see his point-per-game average increase.
The annual will he or won't he be traded discussion continues regarding Eric Gordon. The Rockets have reportedly received offers the last two trade deadlines and before the draft but seemingly didn't like any of the trades sent to them. This means Gordon will likely be on the roster this upcoming season.
Gordon is entering his 15th season in the league and seventh with the Rockets. With a veteran like Gordon on a rebuilding team, his improvement doesn't come down to statistics, it comes down to making sure everyone is involved when he is on the court.
Cutting down on his usage and spreading the ball around more
As stated above, Gordon has been in the league for a long time. For most of last year, he was top five in three-point shooting percentage and is still a reliable defender. The one area he can improve on is not being the offense's focal point when he is on the floor. Gordon would often start an offensive passion, and no one else on the court would touch the basketball. Part of the issue with Christian Wood was that he was a ball stopper, and it took away from the younger players like Green and Porter Jr.
Once Wood was shut down for the year, the Rockets’ offense thrived. Gordon, to a lesser extent, fell into the same category. If he can be more of a distributor, take fewer shots, and not over-dribble, he can help the younger players get better shots and easier baskets because he is still a solid NBA player.
Yes, Jabari Smith is a rookie and hasn't played an official NBA game as of yet, but of course, there is room for improvement. We got a glimpse of Smith's game during Summer League play, and even though he struggled with his shot, his defense was even better than advertised. However, we did see where Smith has to improve as his career continues, starting with ball handling.
When it comes to handling the rock, not every player has to be James Harden or Chris Paul to be an effective player. However, you must give the defense something to think about outside of just shooting. Yes, some players thrive as specialty players. Guys like Jae Crowder and Patrick Beverley have become good players in the league, but when you are drafted number three overall, your organization expects you to be more than a three-and-D type player.
That starts with consistently putting the ball on the floor and taking advantage of defenses trying to take away your outside shot. Of course, teams will try to do this to Smith since he is known as a good shooter coming out of college. Ball handling right now isn't a strength for Smith, but considering his work ethic in college, it will only be a matter of time before Smith adds this to his repertoire.
We all know the story by now. The Rockets make a trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder during the draft and brought n a player not many knew a lot about named Alperen Sengun. Before the season started, there was talk that Sengun would play some games in the G League, but that talk quickly faded once Sengun got on the practice court in training camp. From day one, everyone could see that Sengun was already one of the best players on the team.
The story for most of the year, especially early, was Sengun’s playing time. Fans wanted to see Sengun on the court more, but Houston’s coaching staff felt limiting his minutes was the best course of action. Coach Stephen Silas felt that conditioning was an issue for Sengun in addition to foul trouble. However, as we recently witnessed in the Euroleague games, Sengun can handle 30 minutes a game and not seem tired.
One issue that plagued him during those games was foul trouble, as he fouled out in Turkey's last tournament game.
Part of limiting fouls goes to Sengun being a rookie and, on top of that, a rookie big man. Referees tend to watch big men more closely when calling fouls, and Sengun suffered because of it. But, at the same time, much of it came from Sengun being too aggressive and out of position.
The one thing you can say about Sengun is he will also hustle on defense. He may not have the highest vertical or be the fastest person on the court, but he always gives effort. That, however, can be an issue when you overplay and get in foul trouble. The Rockets don't have a lot of options at center, and with Sengun slated to play more time this year, limiting fouls has to be his number one priority. Also, the more Sengun is on the court, the better the Rockets’ offense will look because he will run a lot of the offense from the high post and pass out of double teams.
Sengun averaged three fouls a game in only 21 minutes. If he can improve on that number with his minutes more than likely hitting 30 a game this year, he can take that next step this year as Houston’s starting center.
The Rockets are a very young team in the middle of their rebuilding phase. They made improvements last year and are looking to build on them this year before they transition to winning basketball more consistently. For this to happen, the Rockets must improve in certain areas, beginning with the starters.