Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has struck again.
Shams Charania of RealGM was first with the news:
Denver Nuggets forward Jordan Hamilton has been traded to the Houston Rockets, league source tells RealGM.— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) February 20, 2014
Yahoo! Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski confirms the terms:
Denver has traded Jordan Hamilton to Houston for Aaron Brooks, league sources tell Yahoo Sports.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 20, 2014
This deal has Morey's signature written all over it.
What the Rockets essentially did here is turn a reserve point guard who would have probably left in free agency this summer anyway into a former low-risk, high-upside first-round pick on an expiring contract. That's a win almost every time—especially this time, when Houston already has two healthy point men in Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley and therefore little use for Brooks.
But while it's a good trade, is it a game-changer?
Floor-Spacing Question Mark
Hamilton should fit seamlessly into Houston's fast-paced system as an athletic wing who can run end-to-end with ease, which is apparently something Morey and the Rockets were prowling for.
Rockets get the athletic wing player that they've wanted for the postseason, and Denver gets a capable backup for Ty Lawson.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) February 20, 2014
As a third-year swingman averaging only 12.6 minutes per game for his career, though, Hamilton remains a project.
Coming out of college, Hamilton was touted as a deadly shooter who struggled to create his own offense. During his time in Denver, he struggled to do just about everything on the offensive end. His three-point shooting has been especially spotty this season, having connected on a mere 34.9 percent of his long balls.
In each of the last two seasons, however, he's converted at least 36.2 percent of his three-pointers, so it's a calculated risk the Rockets are taking in that regard.
Houston shoots a lot of threes. The Rockets lead the NBA in treys attempted per game, throwing up 26 every night. But they're only hitting on 35.4 percent of them, which is tied for the league's 18th-best mark.
When your world revolves around James Harden and Dwight Howard like it does in Houston, shooters are a necessity. They're not optional; you need them. While Brooks may have been collateral damage for the logjam at point guard, he was shooting a team-best 40.9 percent from behind the rainbow. Dealing him could damage their already sketchy floor spacing.
At the same time, you have to look beyond floor spacing. Not only has Hamilton shown he's capable of knocking down treys in the past, but Brooks was hardly playing. He cracked 20 minutes just twice through his last 12 games with Houston. Retaining him would have been wasting an asset if the Rockets didn't intend to use him.
Brooks is also a perpetually minus defender. Standing at 6'0", he doesn't give you the option of running dual-point guard lineups on account of his inability to defend shooting guards and frankly, most point men.
Hamilton isn't considered a lockdown defender by any means, but at his size he can defend shooting guards and small forwards, and even some stretch 4's. His career defensive rating (107) also trumps Brooks' (111).
It never helped Hamilton that he played in one of the more broken defensive systems, either. The Nuggets have been a collective defensive pushover since he entered the league in 2011, and rookie head coach Brian Shaw has been unable to implement enough change thus far.
Looking at his individual numbers, per 82games.com, Hamilton has actually fared pretty well. Opposing small forwards have posted a 13.6 PER against him this season, below the league average of 15.
It's not like the Rockets have many perimeter defenders on their roster anyway. We all know how flawed a defender Harden can be. Houston's most talented wing defender is probably Ronnie Brewer...who doesn't play.
At the very least, even if Hamilton isn't a defensive upgrade, he's the most athletic wing defender—unless you count Harden, which would be using the term "defender" quite loosely—the Rockets now have. Signing Howard has catapulted them to the top half of the defensive efficiency ranks and Hamilton, with a little fine tuning, could realistically make the Rockets deeper in that department.
"He’s a legitimate threat on the floor," Shaw told Nuggets.com's Aaron J. Lopez in December. "He spaces the floor out for us. I’m not surprised because he has the ability to shoot the ball and do what he’s doing."
Are the Rockets better off with Jordan Hamilton or Aaron Brooks?
Above all else, Morey and the Rockets are betting on potential here. Hamilton has reached double figures in two of his last three appearances and is one game removed from a 16-point, seven-assist, six-rebound performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
In the right system, those kinds of stat lines could be Hamilton's ceiling. The Rockets, if they're willing to look beyond this season, could have that system.
"Whether I play five minutes or I play 48 minutes, I’m going to give it my all every night," Hamilton told Lopez. "I’m still working on my defense. That comes with playing more and learning rotations. Once that happens, the sky can be the limit."
Immediately, he doesn't make the Rockets any more of a juggernaut than they already are. But if they're willing to give him playing time and remain patient, there's no limit to what he or they can do come playoff time.