clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Rockets fan’s guide to the 2023 NBA Playoffs

You’ve got a horse in every race.

NBA: Playoffs-Sacramento Kings at Golden State Warriors
Is the Rockets’ Alperen Sengun the next Domantas Sabonis?
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Loving a sport and loving a team are two different things.

Sure, they're related. Still, let’s be honest - there are people who will profess to love a team but don’t actually love the sport that the team plays.

They love wearing the clothes. It’s about being part of something bigger than themselves. For them, a pick and roll is when you pick a team and roll with it.

This article is for you. It’s for the fan that loves the Houston Rockets but doesn’t really care about basketball. Here’s something for you to watch for in every playoff series around the league.

Denver Nuggets vs Minnesota Timberwolves

No matter how you look at it, this one is about Alperen Sengun.

The obvious instinct is to use Nikola Jokic as a proxy for him. Yet, there is a more comparable player who’s having playoff success that we’ll touch on later. Instead, let’s talk about Karl-Anthony Towns.

There’s a lesson here that every team in the NBA should heed. All perimeter defenders won’t make for good interior defenders, but if you’re a weak interior defender, you won’t be a good perimeter defender.

There are too many overlapping skills. Lateral quickness and timing are required to guard any spot on the floor well. All of which is to say this:

The Rudy Gobert trade was a massive mistake. If the Rockets find themselves in a position where Sengun is an elite offensive player who struggles on defense, they can’t acquire an elite drop coverage big and move him to the four. They need to put the best, most versatile defensive group around him at the five that they can.

The Wolves are down 3-0.

Memphis Grizzlies vs Los Angeles Lakers

Real point guards are dead. Everyone’s running a scorer at the point now. If your point guard isn’t breaking down defenders with hesis in iso, is he really a point guard?

Let’s ask Tyus Jones. The Grizzlies temporarily lost Ja Morant and they didn’t miss a beat. Jones’s brand of elite game management was key to their Game Three win.

Broadly speaking, this makes the case that Kevin Porter Jr. is not the answer at point. Nobody should have needed Tyus Jones to tell them this. Even score-first point guards like Steph Curry are good decision-makers with the ball in their hands. Yet, here we are.

More specifically, the Grizzlies may be coming up against a financial crunch soon. They actually have several players the Rockets could consider. Dillon Brooks is about to hit free agency.

For my money, the Rockets need Jones.

Phoenix Suns vs Los Angeles Clippers

This one is a little tough.

Still, one could make the case that Rockets fans should be keeping an eye on the Clippers’ demise. There may be a world where Rafael Stone targets one of Kawhi Leonard or Paul George to pair with James Harden this summer (more on that later).

I wouldn’t personally love that move. Leonard may be permanently damaged goods. George may not be worth mortaging the future for. Still, it’s something to consider.

So is Tyrone Lue’s employment. This is unequivocally one of the best head coaches in the NBA. If the Clippers decide they need a change of direction this summer, could he emerge as a late candidate for the Rockets’ vacant position?

That would be a move I would love.

Sacramento Kings vs Golden State Warriors

This is it: this is the Sengun series.

I actually think Sengun has the potential to surpass Sabonis. He’s already a more polished scorer on the low block. I think he’s a more creative passer as well, although, he could stand to develop some of Sabonis’ discernment. Every creative idea isn't necessarily a good one. Remember Nintendo’s Virtual Boy?

Anyway, Sabonis is a gifted passing hub who can’t defend. He is an obviously comparable player to Sengun. Any success the Kings have bodes well for Sengun’s future.

Initially, I thought this series would be the ultimate test for Sabonis. With that said, the Warriors aren’t especially prone to running the pick and roll, which is the set that’s most designed to negate a player like Sabonis.

Still, a first-round victory over the league’s most recent dynasty would certainly mean something about the playoff viability of this archetype.

Milwaukee Bucks vs Miami Heat

Meanwhile, there are no deeper philosophical questions for Rockets fans here. There are a few players to keep an eye on.

Brook Lopez is a pending free agent. If you’re a fan of floor spacing and rim protection, he may be someone you've got an eye on this summer.

For that matter, some have suggested absorbing Kyle Lowry’s contract if it comes with an asset. This would be a sensible move for the Rockets. Lowry’s veteran leadership would be useful for this team, even if he’s too long in the tooth to satisfy the Heat’s competitive needs.

If you want to get really crazy, Bam Adebayo could be a trade target if the Heat decide to blow it up this summer, too.

Boston Celtics vs Atlanta Hawks

Speaking of potential offseason targets...

You’ve surely pictured Jaylen Brown in a Rockets uniform by now, whether you like the vision or not. How about Trae Young?

This may be unjournalistic of me, but isn't that my brand anyway? Here goes:

Please, no. For the love of all that’s good, no Trae Young. This is one of the worst defenders in the NBA. Young’s style necessitates heliocentric usage as much as any player in the NBA. Rafael Stone, we do not want Trae Young.

Brown is a different story. I’m leaning toward “yes”. Still, no matter which way you lean, watch this series with the possible acquisition of Brown in mind.

Philadelphia 76ers vs Brooklyn Nets

This one could not be any more obvious.

Is his finishing cooked? Can he compensate with consistent off-the-dribble shooting and elite floor vision? Is he coming to Houston no matter what happens? Either way, keep an eye on P.J. Tucker.

Jokes aside, James Harden plays in this series. That would be a reason for some Rockets fans to watch it whether he was rumored to be making a return this summer or not.

That’s not the only interest here, either. Are the Nets a star away from contention? Should they blow this roster up? Will they call the Rockets about getting their picks back in exchange for their best players?

Frankly, the only way this series could be more important to Rockets fans would be if the Rockets were actually in it.

(Edit: This one is over. I left it in anyway. All of these questions are still worth considering if you’re a Rockets fan).

Cleveland Cavaliers vs New York Knicks

How you’re viewing this series says a lot about who you are as a person.

If you’re a fan of pushing shameless, logically nightmarish agendas, you’re celebrating Evan Mobley’s struggles. He’s averaging 10.3 points per game on 44.4 percent True Shooting (TS%) in this series.

He’s also a sophomore. If anything, what we’re seeing here is that Mobley and Jarrett Allen may not be a viable offensive pairing. Moreover, we don’t know how Jalen Green would look in the playoffs right now. This says nothing about the 2021 draft, no matter how badly you want it to.

On the other hand, Caris LeVert’s 14.7 points per contest on 51.6 TS% speaks volumes. LeVert is who we knew he was - an inefficient shot-chucker who occasionally makes a spectacular play.

Yes, I know - the Pacers got more for LeVert than the Rockets got for Victor Oladipo. The Cavs overpaid for LeVert for reasons unknown.

That doesn’t change the fact that Stone’s refusal to take on LeVert is a point in favor of his ability to assess talent. That’s kind of a big part of a General Manager’s job:

If Stone is good enough at it, we might actually be watching the Rockets in the playoffs soon enough.