Why The Rockets Should Lengthen Their Rotation

By Kyle Chilek on November 2, 2017

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Coming into the 2018 season, many were impressed at how deep the Rockets managed to look - even after trading four rotation players for one in the Chris Paul trade. The Rockets filled in those three rotation holes with savvy vets (Luc Mbah A Moute, P.J. Tucker and Tarik Black) in moves that many thought would help keep the Rockets most important players fresh.

So far this season, that has not been the case. The Rockets are the only team in the league with less than nine players playing at least 10 minutes a game and appearing in five or more games. Last year's top minute getters, Harden and Ariza, have seen nearly identical minutes per game so far on the season. For a team that appeared to run out of gas as last season went on, those trends are concerning.

One reason many will point to in order to explain the lack of depth would be the absence of Chris Paul. While Paul's return should lower both Harden's and Gordon's high minute totals, the issue of short rotations would remain. They would still be one of just 10 teams with a rotation under 10 players.

Another issue with that solution is that in the event of a Chris Paul or James Harden injury, the Rockets are back to an eight man rotation with no backup point guard.

The Rockets, namely Coach D'Antoni, have not seemed willing to just play one of the guards on the roster, and concede the minutes without Harden on the floor. While in the post season that would be the right move, the Rockets have title aspirations and should not be overworking the teams top talent in order to get a few more wins in October. While Harden may be used to the large minute loads, having Gordon start the game and run the second unit, could prove disastrous for the oft-injured guard.

Although it could be rough in the short term, letting one of Demetrius Jackson, Bobby Brown, or Briante Weber run the second unit is best for the Rockets long term outlook. This would lower Gordon and Harden's minutes, and offensive burden. If none of those players can tread water, it begins to be questionable whether they are deserving of a roster spot.

Another need for the Rockets is someone to soak up minutes as a backup wing. While the Rockets may seem full of wings, all three of Tucker, Ariza, and Mbah A Moute are often tasked with playing as a big in small lineups that share the floor together, as apposed to spelling each other. As we all saw last year, the Rockets must make it a point to lower Trevor Ariza's minutes, as the last two years his shooting has fallen after the All Star break(36% before, 33% after).

This drop off suggests that Ariza's tired legs are affecting his shooting from deep, which is vital to the Rockets. There exists an obvious solution to this problem, in Troy Williams. While he may not be a positive contributor at this point in his career, he was trusted to soak up minutes during the regular season when Sam Dekker was injured, so why is he not now? If the Rockets are able to get by with Williams playing even 10 minutes a game at both wing spots, it will go a long way in keeping their wing stoppers fresh for when they need them.

It is yet to be seen how D'Antoni, known for his short rotations, will adjust upon Paul's return to the lineup. However, for a team that wants to be at it's best come April, the early signs are alarming. While an 8 or 9 player rotation is perfect for the playoffs, going to that in October is not a recipe for long term success.

So far this season, these short rotations should be the Rockets' biggest concern. Hopefully we will see some of the Rockets' reserves, or future acquisitions, get a chance and help avoid a repeat of last season's playoff flame out.

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