When Daryl Morey took over as the general manager of the Rockets, he had a number of issues on his play, most notably the glaring lack of quality power forwards on the roster. The Rockets had a star center in Yao Ming, but absolutely no other quality big men to play.
In the summer of 2007, Morey got to work, snagging Carl Landry from the Seattle Supersonics and Luis Scola from the San Antonio Spurs for little more than cash. These two moves would shape the Rockets moving forward, as Scola developed into a crafty, consistent starter and Carl Landry became the bench's leading scorer and one of the more exciting players to be a Rocket in recent memory before being traded for Kevin Martin.
With the power forward position now solved as Scola is playing some of the best basketball of his career, the Rockets must look to remedy another hole they've sought to fill ever since Yao Ming went down—the center position. The hardest position on the floor to fill, the center position is an elusive one with few quality players playing it in the league, and without Yao the Rockets have been forced to start the 6'6" Chuck Hayes, a tremendous defender but someone who is definitely stretched by guarding players six inches taller than he is every night.
So who should the Rockets move forward with at center? Is it a player on the current roster or someone that they'd have to acquire? Read on, and find out exactly who the Rockets should look to pair with Luis Scola for the future.
Enes Kanter is the biggest mystery of the 2011 NBA Draft. While top prospects Jonas Valanciunas and Jan Vesely have never played in the United States, they have been playing all year in Europe and continue to give scouts play to talk about. Kanter, who was ruled eligible for playing fast and loose with NCAA amateur rules, has yet to play a single game this season for anyone.
However, judging from his performances in past years and at the Nike Hoop Summit, Kanter looks like a bona fide top prospect who still could go No. 1 in a down year for the draft. While the Rockets will likely not be able to pick him if they do not move up unless some lottery balls go their way, Kanter is a player who they should look to trade up for if available.
A skilled, strong and mature player, Kanter has dominated fellow lottery prospects Jared Sullinger and Patric Young every time he's met up with them and looks to be ready to start at center in the NBA. While he's just 6'10", he has a big wingspan and a lot of strength to make up for the fact that he's slightly undersized.
Kanter could be a bust if he struggles to shake off the rust and contribute in the NBA, but the Rockets have to take chances on size, and Kanter would be a worthwhile endeavor.
While Luis Scola is a tremendous low-post scorer and solid jump shooter, he still struggles defensively as he is too small and not athletic enough to block shots. While pairing him with Chuck Hayes, one of the league's best low-post defenders, works well because Hayes can handle the opposing team's best big man, the Rockets often struggle because between the two of them, nobody can block shots.
For these reasons, pairing Scola with an athletic shot blocker would appear to be the best course of action. With Hasheem Thabeet's unique skillset, he would fit in perfectly slotting next to Scola.
Combining tremendous length with better than average quickness for a man of his size, Hasheem Thabeet has the potential to be a game changer on the defensive end. While Scola has improved his defense to the point where he can guard most power forwards, Thabeet's length against centers and his shot blocking skills on the weak side would be a tremendous asset.
Offensively, Thabeet is about a zero, but with Scola's offensive prowess, a dominant offensive player is not needed at the center spot.
Obviously, Thabeet is more potential and hype than actual production at this point of his career, but experimenting next year with Thabeet, an outstanding shot blocker beside Scola would be worth it for the Rockets.
A restricted free agent this summer, Marc Gasol appears likely to head back to Memphis with a new contract for the 2011-2012 season. However, with the Grizzlies starting to stretch themselves payroll-wise with extensions to Rudy Gay and Mike Conley (and needing to sign both Gasol and Zach Randolph), if the Rockets presented an appealing sign-and-trade offer to the Grizzlies, there is a chance they could manage to get Gasol out of a Grizzlies uniform.
Standing a full 7'1" and able to score in the post, pass and defend, Gasol is a rarity in the NBA—a seven-footer who is both strong and skilled. While he has struggled this year as the Grizzlies have not given him the number of touches he needs to get into a good rhythm, he is one of the league's better centers when he is on his game.
Like Scola, Gasol has a bevy of post moves at his disposal and uses them skillfully, scoring especially well against smaller defenders who do not have the strength to handle his massive frame. He has historically been a good rebounder (though he has struggled this year as Zach Randolph seems to swallow up every rebound in sight), and would give the Rockets something they have lacked ever since Yao went down two years ago—a center for the future.
While not a tremendous shot blocker, Nenê would be a good fit next to Scola because of his very good length and defensive skills. Standing at 6'11", Nenê is a capable defender who can defend the longer post players in the league, an area that even Chuck Hayes struggles with.
While Hayes can bang in the post with anyone, when facing a long, finesse scorer like LaMarcus Aldridge, Hayes sometimes struggles when the post player gets hot, as he often does not have the length to bother the shot. Because of Nenê's length, he can close out on most of the true centers in the league.
Offensively, Nenê would also add a lot to the front court as another big man who can score the ball. Like Scola, Nenê loves to run the floor, and his quickness gives other centers major issues when they try to defend him. He's among the most efficient scorers in the league (No. 1 in FG percentage), and this would be welcomed on the efficiency-conscious Rockets.
Finally, giving Scola another true center to play with would be a burden off Scola's back, who has had to more or less carry the offensive load for two positions ever since Yao went out for good.
While starting a front court of two players standing just 6'9" would certainly be difficult against some of the league's longer teams, the pairing of Patterson and Scola could be a tremendous one that could help give perhaps the Rockets' best prospect some extra playing time.
A lottery pick out of Kentucky, Patterson has flashed a tremendous jump shot, a nascent post game, good rebounding skills, and very solid defense in limited time with the Rockets. With the Rockets looking towards the future, perhaps it is now time to see what he can do in the starting lineup with more playing time.
While he would give up inches night after night to opposing centers, the Rockets embody the fact that height isn't everything defensively. He is athletic and has a huge wingspan, two qualities that would compensate for his less than ideal height on defense.
Offensively, Patterson and Scola's ability to stretch the floor would open up driving lanes to the basket for Rockets slashers and lure opposing shot blockers away from the basket. While Hayes' newfound post game is great because it forces teams to guard him, he is useless from more than five to ten feet away from the basket, and other teams can simply camp in the lane waiting for penetration.
It would be unconventional, but if the Rockets could pull it off, starting Patrick Patterson would be a huge boost for future success.