It appears to be a case of quantity over quality for the Houston Rockets at the power forward position. Despite having drafted five promising young power forwards in the past three years, Houston has yet to find a permanent solution to fill the hole recently vacated by Luis Scola.
Patrick Patterson started out the season well as Houston’s power forward of choice, but injuries and an apparent allergy to rebounding have since kept Patterson relegated to a bench role behind Marcus Morris. Though Morris has occasionally played well, his numbers are in fact eerily similar to Patterson’s; while both big men can stretch the floor, neither are particularly impactful defensively, and both suffer from dreadful inconsistency.
And what about the three rookie power forwards? Well, unfortunately, the biggest impact these draft choices have had on the team has come through the drama surrounding Royce White’s travel restrictions and frequent clashes with Houston’s front office. And though Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, the other two, were both solid in summer league action, neither appears ready for a featured role in Houston’s offense.
With such a mediocre mix of power forwards currently on the roster, Daryl Morey may be forced to look elsewhere in order to flesh out his improving front line. But with the trade deadline and a bountiful free agency period both looming, which option makes more sense for the Rockets?
The Rockets have a healthy collection of trade assets, so they could certainly emerge as an active participant in the trading frenzy at this year’s deadline in order to gear up for a serious playoff run.
There are numerous quality big men around the league who could be had at the right price, including Paul Millsap, DeJuan Blair and Drew Gooden. However, Blair and Gooden are hardly significant upgrades, and the asking price for Millsap may be too high. As a result, Houston may instead be best suited to pursue several high-profile free agents come summertime, such as (conveniently) Millsap, Josh Smith, J.J. Hickson or David West.
Of those four, Smith and Millsap seem like the best options for Houston. Both possess exceptional perimeter skills for the power forward position and would fit perfectly alongside Omer Asik. Additionally, either player could step in as a reliable secondary scorer alongside James Harden.
While Millsap boasts the more polished offensive game and would spread the floor more effectively, Smith offers a versatile and intimidating defensive presence along with devastating finishing ability in transition. Smith has just narrowly missed the NBA All-Star Game multiple times in his career, and as a player still considered to have a fairly high ceiling, he will likely be in higher demand than Millsap.
If Houston is willing to cough up the maximum contract that Smith is sure to demand, he would certainly be a great addition. His exceptional versatility would allow the team to maintain its high-caliber offense while also improving defensively, and he would make a great running mate for James Harden in transition.
However, should the competition for Smith’s services prove too fierce, Millsap would make for an outstanding consolation prize for the Rockets. Though not quite the athlete or defender that Smith is, Millsap is extremely efficient and a far superior shooter.
Either way, the Rockets must be aggressive either at the trade deadline or in free agency this year, lest they miss out on the talented big men available and become doomed to mediocrity.