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Should the Rockets give Jeremiah Robinson-Earl a chance?

The Rockets just acquired the young combo big. Should he be in the rotation?

Houston Rockets v Oklahoma City Thunder
Can Jeremiah Robinson-Earl crack the Rockets’ rotation?
Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

I’m not going to talk about a certain player in this article.

I’m sick of talking about him. You’re sick of hearing about him. The vast moral ambiguity of trading him in the first place. The constantly changing details about what actually happened. I’m going to talk about a player I’ve never talked about - or frankly, even thought much about.

Let’s talk about Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The Rockets just acquired him along with Victor Oladipo (the “pray for Victor” jokes have already written themselves) after sending out an unnamed second-string guard and a pair of second-round picks.

Is he going to crack the Rockets’ rotation?

Is Robinson-Earl worth playing?

The anecdotal evidence is mixed. If you ask a Thunder fan, Robinson-Earl is either a hardnosed, smart, winning player - or the world’s biggest dingus. Yet, we all know that fans can be fickle, biased and unfair. What do the stats say about Robinson-Earl?

His Bball Index numbers are definitely interesting. Robinson-Earl was one of the best switch bigs in the NBA last year. Per Index, he was in the 94.5th percentile in Perimeter Isolation Defense among all NBA bigs. He was also in the 99th percentile as an Off-Ball Chaser. Interestingly, he was in the 82.8th percentile in time spent guarding shooting guards.

Wow. Did the Rockets just get Alperen Sengun’s perfect backup for free? No. Here’s the issue: Robinson doesn’t protect the rim. He was in the 46.8th percentile in Rim Protection and the 26.3rd percentile in Rim Deterrence (again, among all bigs).

That inability shows up in the lineup data. If you don’t have a CleaningtheGlass subscription, let me save you some time. Robinson-Earl wasn’t part of a single positive lineup with a meaningful sample size for the Thunder last year.

Can this guy impact winning?

The Rockets should experiment with Robinson-Earl

It’s worth noting that the Thunder are funky. Like, post-addiction Sly Stone funky. This team was doing some wackadoodle stuff in 2022-23. Lindey Waters III saw time at the four. The Thunder’s best lineups featured Giddey in that spot. This team may not have put Robinson-Earl in an opportune position to succeed.

That’s not to criticize the Thunder. Nobody is building around Robinson-Earl. Here’s the question: how does a switch big man who doesn’t defend the rim succeed? You put them alongside a good weakside shot blocker and implement a switch-heavy defensive scheme, right?

That seems like something that the Rockets are tailor-made to do. We’ve already seen that Udoka isn’t afraid of switching. Either Jabrari Smith Jr. or Tari Eason could compliment Robinson-Earl nicely. It’s worth having a look at whether Robinson-Earl thrives when he’s not defending alongside a guard.

Offensively, Robinson-Earl has shot 34.4 percent from three-point range on 7 attempts per 100 possessions. That’s not an elite mark, but it’s solid enough that he could be a nice compliment to Amen Thompson in the second unit.

Here’s the most important stat: Robinson-Earle is 22-years-old. We all know that the Rockets are shifting their priority away from development and towards contention, but finding a long-term rotation player would still be helpful.

I’m not saying that the Rockets should hand him the backup five spot. Here’s what I’m saying: don’t cut him. Let him compete with Jock Landale and Jeff Green. See what you have. If nothing else, Robinson-Earl is widely regarded as a good, hardworking kid.

The Rockets ought to know exactly what that counts for.