Both Paul Millsap (left) and Al Jefferson should look to be employed by the Rockets.
The Houston Rockets are in search of a player to man the power forward position for the 2013-14 season and beyond, and that search will officially begin after the NBA Finals—but, it's not too early to start showing interest in joining a team on the rise!
The power forward position in 2012-13 was in a state of flux, especially after both Marcus Morris and Patrick Patterson were dealt away at the trade deadline. Chandler Parsons abandoned his usual role as small forward to play power forward on multiple occasions, while Donatas Motiejunas, Greg Smith, Thomas Robinson, Carlos Delfino and Terrence Jones all saw playing time there as well.
Inconsistency was a staple of the position. Aside from Delfino (who is a natural small forward), Smith was the only other player with a year-plus of experience. Motiejunas, Robinson and Jones were all first-year players. Each has room to grow, but the Rockets shouldn't be willing to play the "wait and see" game with the power forward position next season.
Sure, all four have potential to be solid players. But on a team that has the potential to win now with a key signing or two, having a rotating door at a major position is a liability.
The Rockets are on the lookout for appealing options to play the 4, and they should be very willing to meet the demands of nearly anybody who shows interest in the job given their cap room.
Aside from the most obvious (bring consistency to the table), there are several duties potential candidates must be able to perform.
For starters, the power forward will have to be healthy. The Rockets were lucky that none of their power forwards missed significant portions of time due to injury, but the last thing Houston wants to do is replace a rotating door with a walking injury. The new power forward must have a clean track record.
Being an established veteran also helps. Houston doesn't need any more "upside" types, so a veteran in the form of Josh Smith, Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson would fit nicely.
Houston is an extremely young team. Having a veteran presence in the paint/around the basket could work wonders for its inexperienced roster. While talent was a pitfall in its playoff series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, inexperience likely played just as large a roll.
The new power forward must be big—whether that be in sheer mass (Millsap/Jefferson) or length (Smith). No longer should the Rockets be content on running with midsized (Morris/Patterson/Jones) or relatively soft (Motiejunas/Smith) forwards. This team lacks the intensity that other playoff teams display on a nightly basis, and having someone who will show power underneath (or use athleticism to make plays) is key.
The duty of the new power forward is but one simple task—make plays when asked to.
The power forward will be asked to play second fiddle to James Harden (and possibly even third fiddle if Parsons continues to grow as a playmaker). This will make the opportunities of the new acquisition even that more important.
Capitalizing near the rim or on uncontested jumpers is the best way to earn the respect of new teammates and build the chemistry necessary for a run at the NBA Finals. It's easier said than done, but every player interested in the position should be focused on making plays in big spots.
Harden has the ball in his hands an exorbitant amount of time, so his new teammate will have to prove himself willing to be patient. Not rushing or forcing shots in an effort to make things happen will prove critical in evaluating the player's performance.
Basically, the new power forward will have to prove capable of enhancing Harden's effectiveness, while also being a quality safety net for the team's star.
The responsibility of bringing cohesiveness and veteran leadership to a team that lacks both at this point will be immensely important.
Houston may contain cohesiveness in terms of team chemistry, but there's no cohesiveness and flow on offense. Last season, Kevin McHale's offense featured Harden-iso almost all the time. This resulted in either Harden circus shots or forced opportunities by his teammates in an effort to beat the shot clock after he wasted all of it just standing and looking for a hole.
Omer Asik proved himself extremely consistent last season, but Harden barely checked down to him at all. Imagine having both Asik and Jefferson under the basket, though. Harden would be extremely foolish not to look down low.
Asik and Smith would also be an interesting combination. While reluctant to do so, Smith can post up and beat bigger power forwards with his length and athleticism. Smith also has a nice mid-range jumper, so his versatility would be especially valuable to any potential suitor.
Simply put, any potential candidate must make the Rockets' explosive offense more fluid and more complete. Without a complete offense, it's hard to make it to the pinnacle of the sport.
Not to put pressure on the candidates, but the expectations for the lot of them are massive. Houston is, realistically, just a few pieces and some experience away from making a legitimate run at the likes of the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder, so any power forward brought in will be expected to make the team noticeably better.
By that, I don't just mean that the team needs to look better—its improved play must also be evident by its record.
It's hard to give an expectation on the stat line necessary, though no less than 14 points, eight rebounds and a block per game should be accepted. The candidates must also shoot at least 45 percent from the field, though a higher mark is encouraged.
Which of the three main candidates best fit the criteria above?
Finally, all candidates must show a willingness to buy in to McHale's coaching style. Assuming the offensive game plan remains the same, Houston will be employing very few set plays. This results in an extremely "free" style of basketball. Players not capable of performing in this type of environment shouldn't bother with the Rockets.
There aren't many players who fit the above expectations. That's why I expect Houston to make a run at either Smith, Jefferson or Millsap. None of the other available power forwards can have the impact of the aforementioned three.
Houston is not at all far away from competing in the tough Western Conference. One of the top power forwards and a few role players could be just what the doctor ordered in Houston.