The Houston Rockets added some serious depth this season, and the players brought on board will need to fight among themselves to grab spots in head coach Kevin McHale's rotation.
Four of the five starting positions are set.
Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Dwight Howard will occupy a majority of the starting five. Power forward is the lone position up for the taking, though the position could be filled by a committee of sorts if none of the players show they can handle the role by themselves.
While that will be a position battle to watch, the rotational battles off the bench will be both interesting and compelling. The Rockets have a lot of talent vying for playing time, and not everybody will be able to get their fair share. Each position only needs to be filled for 48 minutes per game, and the bench is usually given anywhere from 18-20 minutes to fight over.
There will surely be competition for those minutes in training camp, and expect that competition to carry over into the regular season as well. Coaches like to ride the hot hand when it comes to the bench, and the player who produces will be the one who sees the court.
With three spots clearly up for grabs, nearly every player on the bench will be in a legitimate fight for playing time.
Who Plays Most Behind James Harden?
General manager Daryl Morey brought in shooting guard Reggie Williams this offseason, but he also re-signed Francisco Garcia. Garcia is versatile enough to play both shooting guard and small forward, but Omri Casspi and Robert Covington could be fighting for minutes at the 3.
Garcia will inevitably see time at both positions. His shooting from deep and veteran leadership are too important to leave on the bench for too long. The Rockets are still a very young team, and having a poised veteran come off the bench will be a key for the team's maturation.
Williams is a strong shooter from deep in his own right (37.1 percent for his career) but lacks the leadership and ball-handling skill of Garcia. He was brought aboard to play, though, so it'll be interesting to see who gets the most minutes behind Harden.
Whichever player gets the nod, know that their minutes will be pretty limited. Harden will be playing upwards of 30 minutes per game—and rightfully so. He's the most dynamic player the Rockets have offensively and makes almost everybody around him better.
So the reserve will play 10-15 minutes behind him. With small forward minutes available as well, look for McHale to give Williams most of the time at shooting guard. Despite injuries and inconsistencies, Williams does have much more offensive potential than Garcia and will be a nice spark off the bench.
If Garcia didn't have the versatility to play small forward, then he would have been a no-brainer here. Instead, he'll see most of his time at small forward with a few minutes at the 2 sprinkled in.
What is the Power Forward Position Going to Look Like?
This position is 100 percent up in the air. Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas are the popular choices to start, but Omer Asik and Howard could also find time there. Heck, even Greg Smith is an option to play at the 4.
Howard is best suited to play center—as is Asik. Having both players under the basket would be great for interior defense and scoring, but the two are slow and inhibit the Rockets from playing the type of game they like to. McHale's Rockets love transition offense and pushing the ball up court. Having two sluggish big men on the floor at the same time (even if Howard is a great athlete) doesn't help those plans.
Motiejunas fits a similar mold.
He's a decent athlete, but he doesn't run the floor well either. He gives Houston the ability to spread the floor on offense, though. Shooting from deep isn't his specialty, but he's been known to knock a few down from time to time. He's not a sharp-shooter by any means, however, so he won't be taking shots from there unless they are completely uncontested.
The best fit for the team at this point is Jones.
Jones is an athletic guy that can even play small forward if need be. His showing at power forward in the Orlando Summer League made him a legitimate candidate to play at the 4, and it's likely the reason why Morey didn't go out to pursue a veteran option.
Jones runs the floor exceptionally well, plays well above the rim on offense and has a long wingspan that makes him a strong perimeter defender. These are all useful to a Rockets team that lacked length and defensive skill last season.
Asik and Howard may steal minutes from Jones and Motiejunas at power forward this season, but the rotation should mainly consist of the latter tandem.
Greg Smith or Marcus Camby Behind Dwight Howard and Omer Asik?
There won't be much playing time to go around at all behind Howard and Asik at center. The two will play around 40-45 minutes per night as a duo, leaving hardly any time for Smith or Marcus Camby to get into games.
Smith has the obvious upside given his age and offensive efficiency (62.1 percent career shooter), but Camby is the defensive presence that would go along with the styles of Howard and Asik. Camby is a former Defensive Player of the Year and a master of shot blocking. Even in three or four minutes off the bench, that is extremely useful.
Smith, on the other hand, is not at all a strong defender.
He has good size for a big man, but has blocked just 0.6 shots per game for his career. He shies away from contact on occasion and doesn't assert himself for rebounds. To say he plays soft would be harsh, but Smith definitely needs to work on his aggression.
Their minutes could increase at any point during the season if McHale chooses to go with one of Asik or Howard at power forward. This would open up an entirely new reserve role for Smith and Camby, meaning both could feasibly grab playing time.
In such a scenario, Smith would likely be the backup to Howard. He has younger legs and will be available to play more minutes of a decent quality. Camby would assume the third center's job.
This versatility in the frontcourt will be of use to McHale as the season gets going. Players get tired and need shifting around to compensate for that, but not many people work harder in games than big men. They're constantly throwing bodies around to get position or make tough shots at the rim.
Having a bunch of options ready to come off the bench is key. The Rockets have that.
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