Finding the Perfect Rotation for the Houston Rockets
With a handful of new players, coach Kevin McHale is still looking for the right rotation for the Houston Rockets. After an impressive 3-0 start, the Rockets have dropped three of their last four and have struggled down the stretch in those games. The coaching staff needs to find that right mix to get the team headed in the right direction.
Houston essentially has an eight-man rotation, nine if you include Aaron Brooks, who played when starting point guard Patrick Beverley went down with an injury. McHale has decided to stick with a certain group of players and ignore those further down the bench.
The Rockets have been experimenting with several lineups early on in the season, including a starting lineup featuring both Dwight Howard and Omer Asik. Some lineups have done better than others so far, but the coaches are still tinkering.
Here's a look at some of those lineups and which one would be the perfect fit for Houston.
Lineup: Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard, Omer Asik
+/- : -5.3
The starting lineup has been perhaps the most disappointing part of the Rockets' first two weeks of the season. The Howard-Asik experiment has been failing miserably. Houston has struggled to start games, getting outscored in the first quarter in all of their games but two. The Rockets have faced double-digit deficits in the first quarter three times already this season.
It may be time to give up on the two big men playing side-by-side and to start a lineup with better scheming.
The starting five struggle to put points on the board. They are shooting a lowly 23.5 percent from behind the arc and just 50 percent from the charity stripe. Meanwhile, opposing teams are firing away at will against them. The paint is clogged, but the perimeter defense is nearly nonexistent.
The Rockets can't continue to keep digging themselves early holes that they have to crawl out of. It was a nice effort with good intentions, but the Howard-Asik experiment must come to an end.
The First Substitutions
Lineup: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Francisco Garcia, Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard
+/- : +4.5
When Asik and Beverley come out, the Rockets immediately start doing better. The Rockets transition from the twin towers to a small-ball lineup featuring Chandler Parsons at the stretch four.
This group has the best plus-minus for Houston of all the lineups. Together, this lineup is shooting over 70 percent from the field, and the three-point and free-throw percentages are way up to where they should be compared to the starters.
Coming off the bench, Lin and Garcia give the Rocket offense a much better rhythm. Garcia can hit the three-ball and Lin does a nice job of pushing the tempo and getting the Rockets out on the break.
This lineup has provided a significant spark for Houston so far, and it would be even better if they didn't have to erase an early deficit every night.
The Small-Ball Lineup
Lineup: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi, Dwight Howard
+/- : +3.2
This lineup is essentially the same as the previous one, but with Omri Casspi at the stretch four. Casspi has been a pleasant surprise this season with Houston after signing on as a free agent over the summer.
Casspi has been money from downtown, which gives the Rockets better spacing on the offensive end and opens up lanes to the basket for Harden and Howard to run the pick-and-roll. He has also done a decent job of guarding larger opponents in the post.
This lineup is able to run the floor well and keep the opposition on their toes.
There is an obvious pattern going on here. The small-ball lineups work much better for Houston than going big. That's what the Rockets did during their playoff run last year, and that's what they should get back to this season, only this time with Dwight Howard.
Two Point Guards
Lineup: Jeremy Lin, Patrick Beverley, Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi, Omer Asik
+/- : +1.0
If you thought the last two lineups were small, then try this one on for size. Every now and then, Houston will pair up the two point guards and let them run, run, run.
Beverley and Lin together can create a lot of offense for the Rockets. Beverley can play off the ball while Lin facilitates the offense and can run the pick-and-roll with Asik. Casspi and Garcia park themselves behind the arc and are ready to fire away.
Beverley is one the Rockets' best perimeter defenders, and Asik can handle the paint. This lineup will run all over opposing teams with a run-and-gun style that is difficult to keep up with for less athletic teams.
The Starters Plus Lin
Lineup: Jeremy Lin, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Dwight Howard, Omer Asik
+/- : -2.4
When Beverley went down with an abdominal injury, Lin stepped in to the starting lineup. The addition of Lin did not help the starting five get out of its rut.
The twin-tower tandem still struggled to get things going early. The offense was stagnant and the defense had too many gaps around the perimeter.
The Rockets were successful last season when they ran up the scoreboard and fired away from deep. McHale's attempt at creating a post game inside for Houston is admirable, but it just isn't working. The Rockets have to get back to what they are good at and go with the small-ball lineups.
The Perfect Rotation
Lineup: Patrick Beverley, James Harden, Chandler Parsons, Omri Casspi, Dwight Howard
It's pretty clear that the Howard-Asik lineup cannot keep up with the Rockets' small-ball rotations. Last season, the Rockets excelled at pushing the pace and running their opponents out of the building with smaller lineups. Defense was the biggest struggle, but with Dwight Howard this year, hopefully Houston can improve just enough defensively to get by while staying on the offensive attack.
The Rockets have so many offensive weapons, but when Howard and Asik play together, the spacing is off and the offense becomes stagnant. The perimeter is also left wide open for opposing teams to tee off from deep.
The lineup above should start and finish every single game for Houston. Harden can run the pick-and-roll with Howard, while Parsons, Casspi and Beverley can spot up from three. Beverley can help improve the perimeter defense while Howard protects the rim like he has done so well for nearly a decade.
With the smaller lineup, the Rockets will have more rhythm on offense and also have a better defensive setup against teams that can shoot. McHale needs to keep things small and get the Rockets running again like they did all of last year.
Plus/minus lineup stats via stats.NBA.com. Stats accurate as of Monday, November 11.