Previewing Houston Rockets' Biggest Training Camp Battles
With offseason almost officially over, the Houston Rockets appear to be a team with few holes, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few training-camp battles to hash out before the regular season begins.
Free agency was kind to the Rockets, as general manager Daryl Morey was able to revamp his roster by bringing in both impact players and quality role players. The fact that he also was able to re-sign a few valuable veterans shows just how prepared he was this offseason. If the Rockets play well this season, then Morey could be in line for the league's Executive of the Year award.
That's another story for another time, though. At this point, it's best to examine the position battles that will most assuredly transpire in training camp.
Presumably, there will be only one battle for a starting spot. Power forward is the biggest question mark heading into 2013-14, with just a couple capable candidates in place. None of the options figure to be difference-makers this season.
As for the other roster battles, they will likely come down to veterans fighting for minutes off the bench. Reserve minutes are generally given to the hot hand, but expect in training camp a select group to challenge for roles in the early-season rotation.
While uncertainty still exists regarding these battles, rest assured that they will be decided by the time training camp ends.
Head coach Kevin McHale has multiple options at power forward this season, though not all of them are ideal.
Dwight Howard was signed to play center this offseason, but Morey claims that the team will experiment with him at the 4. This will allow Omer Asik to retain his starter's minutes at center. This pairing represents the Rockets' most talented frontcourt but not necessarily the one that will yield the best results.
Jeremy Lin, James Harden and Chandler Parsons like to run the floor, and having a relatively unathletic power forward (Howard is less mobile than Terrence Jones) would be detrimental to that game plan. Reversing that idea and having Asik play power forward would result in a similar lack of flow offensively.
The power forward battle should really come down to Jones and Donatas Motiejunas. Jones put on a show in the Orlando Summer League, leading the Rockets in scoring and showing the NBA that he can play at a high level. Sure, the competition wasn't always the greatest, but Jones played well enough to deserve a look at a starting role.
He plays very good defense because of his length, which gives him the ability to cut off passing lanes and provide help defense in the paint. On offense, Jones uses his terrific leaping ability to finish high above the rim. He will be a perfect fit an offense run by Harden and Lin.
Motiejunas, on the other hand, is a power forward in the more traditional sense. His post game is a work in progress, but he is a big body and doesn't mind bumping down low. He needs both to work on the boards and to learn to use his height to his advantage. Still, his 2012-13 season featured spurts of great play.
The battle appears to be a toss-up on the surface, but giving the job to the much more explosive Jones would result in better pacing on offense and better play on defense.
Having Howard and Asik at center won't leave much room for other guys to find minutes, but Marcus Camby and Greg Smith will both vie for playing time down low. It'll be extremely interesting to see which gets the most time playing time, some of which should come at power forward.
Camby brings a great veteran presence to a young Rockets team, but the 39-year-old is far from the player he once was. He used to dominate teams defensively, as his career averages of 9.8 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game attest.
He offers little offensively, though, and that is a huge disadvantage.
Smith, on the other hand, is a strikingly different player than Camby. He's obviously much younger (22) and his game on the defensive end needs work. But he's a pretty good scorer around the hoop, shooting 62.1 percent in 78 career games and averaging of 5.6 points.
Smith has huge hands and decent length, but he fails to use his body assertively on defense. Offensively, Smith is above average at taking contact and going up to the basket for a high-percentage shot. On defense, he often struggles to grab rebounds and box out other players his size.
This will need to change if he wants to find significant playing time.
Both players could find decent minutes if Howard indeed plays power forward, as this would leave Asik as the go-to center. Camby and Smith would both see minutes in relief.
Using either Camby or Smith at the 4 remains an option—but not one that should be explored often.
The Final Roster Spot
The final spot on the roster should come down to BJ Young (guard), Robert Covington (forward) and Marko Todorovic (center). The fact that all three play different positions could make the decision come down to team need, rather than individual performance.
All three players went undrafted in 2013, and all three should be candidates for the D-League. Covington could have the inside edge at the job given his ability to play forward, as both the guard and center positions are pretty deep in Houston.
Covington would be a good fit as the last man off the bench. He is similar to Jones in build, as both have great length and play above average defense. And their athleticism and versatility allows both players to man the 3 if need be.
Who grabs the final roster spot?
Jones is the more polished player and has much more potential, but Covington trumps the second-year player thanks to his potent perimeter shooting. At Tennessee State, Covington shot 46 percent from deep in 2010-11 and followed that up with a 45.3 percent season in 2011-12.
Even with minimal playing time, Covington could make an impact with his stroke from deep. He's fluid, consistent and uses his length to shoot over the top of defenders. His ability to play small forward actually bodes well for him at the power forward spot, since his athleticism and offensive skill set is different than that which a power forward is used to defending.
Young and Todorovic are also good young players, but they lack the polish to make an impact this season. Todorovic, a lesser known player, is listed as a reserve center on Rotoworld.com's depth charts. Young could benefit immensely from a season or two in the D-League, while Todorovic could go back overseas and improve his game in the paint.
A future in the NBA is a possibility for both guys, but it's unlikely they make an impact on the Rockets this season.
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