The power forward position for the Houston Rockets is in a state of flux. With no clear-cut favorite to start, it'll be up to training camp for head coach Kevin McHale to determine who he'll lean on during the 2013-14 season.
As is the case when a position is wide open, expect the role to be filled by whoever has the hottest hand. This is usually the best way to handle such a scenario.
Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas and Greg Smith will be the main guys competing for time at the 4. Jones and Motiejunas are entering their second season in the league, while Smith will be entering his third.
Highkin claims that Howard would be willing to change positions for Houston, as it would allow Omer Asik to start at center. A big lineup like this would have its obvious advantages and disadvantages, though that's another argument for another time.
If Howard takes the starter's role, then expect Jones and Motiejunas to see whatever minutes are left at the position. Smith would then be the back up to Asik (with Marcus Camby backing them both up).
For this piece, we'll assume that Howard doesn't start at power forward. He was signed as a center, welcomed to Houston by the franchise's greatest centers and has played center for each of the past seven seasons.
With that being the case, look for it to be an open competition to grab the starter's role.
Jones displayed brief flashes of potential in 2012-13, and his athletic skill set could be a huge asset to the Rockets.
His strong performance in the Orlando Summer League led many to believe that he'd be the unquestioned starter out of training camp, but an equally strong showing by Motiejunas could re-open the debate.
Jones is a hybrid forward that can play both positions and has the court vision to be a playmaker—even when he's not scoring. His athleticism also helps him on both offense and defense, and the high-flyer could find a nice niche playing alongside of James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Jeremy Lin and Howard.
He is a bit undersized at power forward, though (he stands just 6'9"), and that could end up being somewhat of a liability for the Rockets. Howard's interior defense will make up for some of what Jones lacks, but it will be interesting to see how the Rockets cope with his smaller frame at the 4.
With him on the floor, the Rockets can play the fast-paced game that made them so dangerous last season. Harden, Lin and Parsons love to run the floor, and having another athletic player like Jones on the court will make the team that much more potent.
Look for Jones to get starter's minutes at the onset of the season—but also know that Motiejunas will be following closely behind.
It would be reasonable to think that Jones can average around 25 to 28 minutes per game, but much of that will depend on how consistent he can stay over 82 games. He has the potential to average 10 to 12 points and 5 or so rebounds per game in his second season.
Although he was unspectacular throughout the 44 games in which he appeared, Motiejunas started 14 games for the Rockets last season. After averaging just 5.7 points and 2.1 rebounds in 12.2 minutes per game, Houston was ready to look elsewhere at power forward this offseason.
Instead, there is now hope that Motiejunas can turn into a force on both ends of the floor. His goal was to go home and put on weight following the end of last season, reports Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle, and his success at doing so will be instrumental to his improvement.
With a versatile post game and willingness to dish the ball, Motiejunas represents a bit more polished of a player than Jones. Jones may have higher potential, but Motiejunas is a few steps ahead of him as a big man thus far.
Defensively, he is not much of a shot-blocker and isn't the best of rebounders. As a seven-footer, Motiejunas is expected to grab boards now and again. Unfortunately for Houston, he doesn't play all that well above the rim and loses out on a ton of boards as a result.
The Lithuanian fits in with the Rockets in half-court sets. While not entirely un-athletic, Motiejunas is best used in a role in the post. Seeing as half-court sets don't come too frequently in Houston, a maximum of 18 minutes per game could be the result.
He should be able to average around eight points and four rebounds during that time on the floor. If he can begin to play a bit more physically on defense, then he could find himself playing some more minutes as the season progresses.
Rounding out the rotation at power forward is Smith, a player who was as streaky as they come last season. When all was said and done, Smith shot 62 percent from the field with 6.0 points and 4.6 rebounds in 15.9 minutes per game.
Smith saw most of his time at center, though, so finding similar time at the 4 will be no easy task. The third-year player was no help to the Rockets in the playoffs and has skills that would suggest he's nowhere near Jones or Motiejunas.
Smith certainly has good athleticism and can jump out of the gym (relative to other big men), but he isn't all that polished of an offensive player. His post game needs work and his jump shot is almost non-existent. His 62 percent shooting can be a bit misleading, as nearly all of his shots were dunks or within a few feet of the basket.
This doesn't take anything away from his efficiency, but he wasn't exactly making a ton of hook shots and jumpers each game. They were gimme baskets near the rim.
Smith fits in with the pick-and-roll aspect of the Rockets' game, though Harden iso-ball and now sets with Howard will prevent those situations from occurring all that frequently.
With that being the case, Smith shouldn't see more than 10 minutes per game (and likely less) at power forward this season. More minutes could be available at center (if he's lucky), but minutes at the 4 will be limited.
In those 10 minutes, look for Smith to average around four points and three rebounds. Projected over 36 minutes, those marks are solid.