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Thinking Rockets rotations and minutes in 2023-24

Two Team Theory?

2023 NBA Summer League - Championship
Better Second?
Photo by Louis Grasse/Getty Images

We have seen and discussed the 2023 Rockets draft.

We have seen and discussed Rockets 2023 Free Agency, for better, and for worse.

We have seen and discussed the Rockets 2023 NBA2K24 Las Vegas Summer League.

We are now in the NBA doledrums, well before anything terribly interesting starts up with the NBA season. Sure, there may be some trades, or very late signings, but the NBA is essentially now on vacation, in a way it really wasn’t before. VSL is a sort of working vacation for the NBA people who appear there, but aren’t playing, coaching, executing, or agenting. It’s a time where I find myself writing silly stories, reminiscing about past Rockets or NBA players, or suggesting further rule changes to presumably enhance the game we love.

We’ve had a lot of conversation here over the past few years about player development. Is it happening? Is it not happening? Is it happening at the right pace, or in the right way? Lord knows, I’ve certainly been a part of that conversation.

As I understand it, there is something of an open question regarding player development in the NBA, with two main ideas in some degree of conflict.

One position, backed by a reasonable amount of evidence maintains that a certain amount of player development simply seems to happen by virtue of a player being in the NBA, receiving more personal attention, and working with and against NBA talent all the time. Large numbers of early minutes played in the NBA don’t seem to be strongly connected to future player performance.

But does this weak connection come down to lack of minutes available team-wide in past NBA history, due to team construction and normal playing time expectation on teams with far fewer prospects present, or is it simply the nature of player development? (And if so, how much development is dependent on having established NBA players surrounding the prospect?)

The Houston Rockets set out to find out, over two and a half painful seasons.

GM Rafael Stone has essentially stated that the team was attempting to speed player development by offering a lot playing time of to a lot of young prospects, all at once. Recent Rockets proclamations, trades, and free agent signings signal that practice is at an end. Whether strong player development has happened, or not, there simply won’t be so many minutes to be had for recent draftees.

So how will playing time be divided? How will rotations work? Will established and highly paid veteran minutes give way to those of Rockets prospects, if they have demonstrated they are better players, or will seniority be the basis of playing time?

These are very real questions for the 23-24 Houston Rockets.

There are 240 minutes available to be played, amongst five on court players in every NBA game that doesn’t go into overtime. This leads to a minutes crunch, if a team is trying to develop a likely unprecedented number of prospects. It leads to a real minutes crunch if a team has certain players with a reasonable expectation of typical NBA starter minutes (let’s call that 34 minutes for our purposes here), by virtue of them signing free agent contracts at high salary figures.

Now add in an express mandate from team ownership to exit the first stage of rebuilding and try to win some basketball games.

What will Rockets rotations look like?

Here’s my guess based on present understanding of the team. I think Ime Udoka is somewhat conventional in terms of rotations, and minutes expectations. I also think he comes from the San Antonio school of playing time, which appears to hold as a core tenet that if you want bench players to be ready to play major roles at a high level, in cases of injury, etc, you need to give them regular, meaningful, minutes throughout the season.

I’m going to assume that there is absolutely no way that $40 million dollar per season Fred Van Vleet is playing anything less than 32 minutes. He might play more, and cut into other minutes accordingly. I’m going to also assume that All Defense Veteran Dylan Brooks won’t play less than 32 minutes, despite being one of the more redundant-seeming players on a wing-heavy Rockets team.


Fred Van Vleet - 32 minutes

Jalen Green - 30 minutes

Dylan Brooks - 32 minutes

Jabari Smith - 30 minutes

Alperen Sengun - 30 minutes

This amounts to 156 minutes of 240 and the Rockets would be on the low side of typical NBA starter minutes. This leaves 84 minutes for everyone else.

Second Unit

Kevin Porter Jr. - 24 minutes

Amen Thompson - 20 minutes

Tari Eason - 24 minutes

Jock Landale/Jae’Sean Tate/Cam Whitmore - 18 minutes in some ratio

Everyone Else - basically nothing, except for foul trouble, injuries, certain matchups, etc.

This seems unfortunate for Tari Eason, who I think, right now, is one of the better players on the Rockets. But what would you do? These are the available minutes.

This setup also has the idea built in that Jabari Smith might slide to “center” for a fair number of minutes to get Tari Eason in as a “PF”, rather than necessarily bringing in Jock Landale as a center whenever Sengun sits, and letting Brooks, Eason, Smith and Tate all battle for two slots. It’s worth noting that Kevin Porter Jr and Dylan Brooks are essentially getting paid the same rate.

Is the Rockets second team better, overall? It might be, in fairly short order.

Also, I’ll address this one last time. The minutes crunch for deeper bench prospects on a Rockets team with FA signings, and an express mission to “win now” was very real. It’s hard to see why the team would give, say, Josh Christopher, minutes over Amen Thompson or Cam Whitmore. It’s hard to see what future KJ Martin had over Brooks, Eason, Smith, Whitmore and probably Thompson (since I expect him to be very versatile positionally). I expect few here would want to see Alperen Sengun sit in favor of Usman Garuba, and again, what would Garuba do better than Smith or Eason?

So moving those players along was the right idea.

It’s very possible to separate the concept of “reduce roster developmental needs” from the actual execution of it. If process is something we care about, the process looked bad.

It really doesn’t matter what the players end up doing or not doing, later. That’s extremely situational. The moves simply seemed poorly thought-out, and rushed. They didn’t even appear to manage to achieve neutral value, let alone the value of the picks that were used to acquire the players. So yes, the decks are clear, and they needed to be clear, but in my view, it was poorly done. That’s the last that really need be said about it on my part. (I reserve the right to wag my finger if it goes well for a traded player, and completely forget about it otherwise.)

In any case, this looks like the team the Rockets will have going forward, and I think this will be the rotation, with the main caveat being - did Ime Udoka really mean it about earning minutes? Or was it something coaches just always say like “We’re going to play fast.”?

What say you?


How does this rotation seem to you?

This poll is closed

  • 62%
    Perfectly reasonable.
    (282 votes)
  • 21%
    Unfortunately likely.
    (97 votes)
  • 7%
    Not at all what I expect to see.
    (35 votes)
  • 8%
    Where are Luka’s 38 minutes coming from?
    (37 votes)
451 votes total Vote Now