Christian Wood, F
Sterling Brown, G
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
PG: John Wall
SG: James Harden
SF: Eric Gordon
PF: Chris Wood
C: P.J. Tucker
What the Rockets will look like by season’s end is anyone’s guess. All we can do is analyze what this team looks like right now. And the current roster in Houston is intriguing, to say the least. Let’s start with the backcourt of John Wall and James Harden.
When healthy, Wall is one of the best passers in the NBA. He has ranked in the 94th percentile or higher in assist rate among point guards his last five seasons. He has improved his team’s offensive output in every season he has played but two. He is not the most efficient scorer (1.051 points per shot attempt in his last season), but he has the ability to attack off the bounce and finish.
Theoretically, any team should benefit from having a point guard who can run an offense the way Wall can, but with such a ball-dominant, isolation scorer like Harden, it’s hard to see this fit working. For example, when Harden is on the ball, Wall becomes almost a nonfactor unless he is consistently cutting or curling off screens into midrange shots.
Wall is a career 32.4% 3-point shooter, and while he shot 37.2% on catch-and-shoot attempts from deep in his last season, that was by far his career high, and nothing that can be counted on to continue. He’s also not an efficient shooter from midrange, hitting a career-high of just 39.8% from that area of the floor in the 2014-15 season. This lineup becomes more intriguing when Wall has the ball in his hands. Harden averaged only 1.3 catch-and-shoot 3-pointers last season, but he shot 41.2% on those attempts.
Christian Wood is a floor-spacing power forward who shot 40.4% on catch-and-shoot attempts last season and should fit nicely playing off of Wall. Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker have lived off the ball in the Harden era and would be perfectly fine with those roles continuing.
How this team operates on defense will be fascinating. When Harden, Gordon and Tucker were on the floor together last season, the Rockets gave up 112.7 points every 100 possessions. The last season in which Wall played, he finished 86th among point guards in DRPM. Those four could form a pretty poor core defensively, with Wood as the best defender among the group last season (11th power forward). If the offense is as clunky as it looks on paper and the defense ends up as bad as it projects to be, this could be a very long season for Houston.
The Rockets are really hurting for depth at point guard. Chris Clemons, who was expected to be one of the first guards off the bench after appearing in just 22 games last season, reportedly suffered a torn Achilles tendon during the preseason. He posted a low turnover rate (6.7%) last season but did not display much of an offensive game. The only other guard on this roster is Gerald Green, who is on a non-guaranteed deal and is coming off of a broken foot that caused him to miss last season.
Ben McLemore is an off-ball shooter who took 81% of his attempts from deep last season and still shot 40.8%. Sterling Brown likely will fill the same role but is nowhere near the shooter (35.7% on 109 attempts). DeMarcus Cousins is a quality backup center who could play in favor of Chris Wood, but he’s coming back from a torn ACL that sidelined him last season.
Houston needs rookie Kenyon Martin Jr. to progress as a ball handler and passer throughout the season, and if he can he’ll provide them some much-needed depth in the backcourt. He is an explosive athlete who can match up physically with both guard spots and the small forward on defense. Kenny Wooten and Bruno Caboclo make up the rest of this bench, which can be described as thin at best.
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