Ranking Every Houston Rockets Player Post-Trade Deadline
The Houston Rockets have made a trade on deadline day, but the ramifications of the deal may be bigger than the parties involved.
According to Calvin Watkins of ESPN, the Rockets sent Donatas Motiejunas and Marcus Thornton to the Detroit Pistons for Joel Anthony and a protected first-round pick (top eight in 2016; top 10 in 2017 and 2018, according to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh).
Jettisoning Motiejunas and Thornton indicates general manager Daryl Morey may be giving up the duration of this season. While the two weren’t the team's most productive players, they were able to provide some non-vomit-inducing minutes from time to time.
Between that and Morey's aggressive pursuit of a Dwight Howard trade, per The Vertical's Adrian Wojnarowski (which never materialized), it indicates the Rockets are now looking toward the future more than the present. The core that went to the Western Conference Finals last year won’t be getting anywhere this year.
The Rockets are currently clinging to the No. 8 seed with a 27-28 record. They are in a good position to rebuild now. According to Spotrac.com, the team has just $38.8 million in guaranteed salary committed next season if Howard walks. Ty Lawson’s contract is non-guaranteed, as is Corey Brewer’s. That gives the Rockets $55 million in cap space this summer.
With that in mind, rankings become difficult as some of the more established veterans may start yielding time to the younger players.
Accordingly, the first- and second-year players are one slide, and then the veterans are listed. On both slides, the players are listed 6-9 as the minutes are likely to shift as the season culminates. The starting five follow.
9A. Sam Dekker
Sam Dekker has logged six minutes for the Rockets this season. In them, he got a rebound and a steal. Frankly, it’s hard to judge off that.
The reason for his scarcity is surgery, but he’s on his way back, according to Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:
"On Wednesday Rockets rookie Sam Dekker went through his first full practice with the team since his Nov. 20 back surgery, saying afterward he felt better than he expected given how long he had been out.
'It felt good," Dekker said. 'I thought it was going to mentally a lot tougher, the quickness of the game. But I actually felt good. I felt in rhythm. There's obviously rust to knock off, but I was excited by how I felt.'"
Dekker can play either forward spot, thus the departures of both Thornton, who was filling in as an undersized 3 and Motiejunas, who is a stretch 4, will mean extra minutes for the Rockets’ first-round pick out of Wisconsin. Once he’s logged more meaningful playing time, we can better gauge his value.
8A. K.J. McDaniels
K.J. McDaniels was Morey’s trade acquisition at the deadline last year, purchased from the Philadelphia 76ers for the price of Isaiah Canaan and a second-round pick. Since then, he’s played a meager 95 minutes. That makes a person wonder why Morey traded for him.
McDaniels is a highly athletic defensive specialist who was swatting shots at a spectacular rate. In fact, according to Basketball-Reference.com, his 4.2 block percentage is the best in history by a player with 1,000 minutes and who is 6’6” or under. In fact, Jerami Grant is the only player 6’8” or under with a better rate. Considering the Rockets’ woes on defense, it would seem like he could help.
It’s even harder to justify his complete lack of court time when you factor that Corey Brewer, who is starting at the 3, is not exactly playing at a stellar level. McDaniels should be getting more minutes and probably will be going forward. Rockets fans will finally see some of the defensive playmaking that made him a fan favorite in Philadelphia.
7A. Montrezl Harrell
Montrezl Harrell has less polish in his game than Carlos Boozer has on top of his head. But he plays with so much intensity and energy, it’s a wonder he’s not already getting more minutes. If these Rockets need anything, it’s fuel, and Harrell has that spilling over.
Whether Harrell and McDaniels running the court would breed winning basketball or not is almost moot. They’d be getting minutes, and the energy they could bring could resurrect the stagnating Rockets.
6A. Clint Capela
Clint Capela had a nice start to the season, and he’s tapered off a bit of late, but he’s still establishing himself as one of the NBA's better young big men. In fact, the No. 25 pick of the 2014 NBA draft is fourth among rookies and sophomores with 1,000 minutes played in win shares per 48 minutes.
If Howard does bolt, the future of the center position is in good hands with young Capela, who has the athleticism to be a modern rim protector that can also step out and guard the perimeter. He could use the offseason to put on some more muscle, and he could learn to use his weight better to play more physically. But he’s looking more and more like another Morey draft steal.
A quick note here: The veterans the Rockets have coming off the bench, collectively, are a trainwreck. None of them are likely to come back next year, and ranking them is like sorting through a dumpster of decaying garbage. It gives a whole new meaning to "rank."
9B. Terrence Jones
Terrence Jones has more or less been able to stay on the court this year; though he recently missed a spate of games due to a concussion. But he was already falling out of the rotation anyway. He’s been doing more for the Rockets sitting on the bench.
If you want a number that suggests why he’s not in J.B. Bickerstaff’s favor and why Detroit may not have wanted him to, consider this: The Rockets have been outscored by 185 points with him on the court this year and outscored their opponents by 101 when he’s not.
Jones is a restricted free agent after this year, and the Rockets probably aren’t going to be matching any offers.
8B. Josh Smith
In what may have been the last gasp to save the season, Morey brought Josh Smith back into the fold, disbursing the draft rights to Maarty Leunen—the Rockets' 2008 second-round pick.
Smith has been even more horrible than Terrence Jones, but his strength as a facilitator, at least, gives the Rockets some hope of being less horrible when he’s on the court. Smith’s minutes should be limited as the season draws to a close and his time in Houston is over at the end of the season.
7B. Jason Terry
Jason Terry has had a genuinely impressive career spanning 16 seasons. But the 38-year-old guard is done, and one of the most confusing things about the Rockets is why he’s still getting meaningful minutes.
He’s scoring with marginal efficiency on a 55.5 effective field-goal percentage, but it’s only yielding 5.9 points per game. And the Rockets have outscored their opponents by 55 points with him on the court, according to NBA.com. That’s the best of any player on the team.
But the Rockets aren’t winning. They’re losing. And it’s pretty clear this old JET needs to go to the airplane graveyard. So all he’s doing is taking away minutes from the youngsters. With Morey’s apparent decision to fold the season, look for Terry’s minutes to taper off.
6B. Ty Lawson
It is admittedly a bit strange to have Lawson as the Rockets' highest-ranked veteran, but that’s more a result of function than quality. Lawson’s an unmitigated disaster, averaging 6.3 points and 3.6 assists, but there’s no one behind him.
The wings and bigs have youngsters who are going to challenge the vets and take away their minutes. But, as of now, the Rockets only have two point guards on the roster. So Lawson is the least likely to have his minutes taken.
That said, the Rockets are carrying just 13 roster spots right now, so it wouldn’t be a shock if they picked up someone from the D-League or off waivers. And if they do, Lawson will be shown the same opportunity to get splinters as the other veterans.
5. Corey Brewer
Corey Brewer is in the starting lineup by default more than design. Between Motiejunas’ back injuries and Jones’ substandard play, the Rockets were best served by playing Trevor Ariza at the 4, and that has Brewer playing the 3.
In reality, he has a place in the dumpster along with the rest of the veterans who should be looking for a new job this summer.
Since he offers little on defense and even less on offense, it’s only a matter of time before McDaniels or Dekker start eating into his minutes and perhaps even take his spot.
4. Patrick Beverley
While they weren’t able to deal him, the Rockets were allegedly making calls “checking to the see the value of PG Patrick Beverley,” according to ESPN.com's Brian Windhorst. That is eye-opening, not because if Morey had been successful, Lawson would have been the only point guard on the roster, and that indicates just how little Morey believes in Beverley.
Beverley just signed a four-year deal last summer. But with averages of 8.9 points and 2.8 assists per game, it’s understandable why he isn’t flooding the front office with confidence.
He’s a good shooter who plays off James Harden well. And it’s fair to say he’s not going to put up huge numbers with Harden commanding the ball most of the time. But even without Harden on the court, he averages just 11.6 points and 5.3 assists per 36 minutes, according to NBA.com.
As a secondary shot creator, that’s just insufficient. Beverley may or may not be on the roster next year, depending on if Morey can have more luck finding a taker this summer.
3. Dwight Howard
In all likelihood, Howard will wear a different uniform next year. There are enough rumors at this point to provide assurance that the Rockets are expecting that, if not hoping for it.
Howard and Harden have been an oil-and-water mix since they came together for the 2012-13 season. It was only days after Damian Lillard's 3-point dagger eliminated them in the first round of their first playoff series together when both were sending out messages and maneuvering to get the other one traded.
Additionally, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical reported how hard Morey worked to find a trade deal for Howard, and it's pretty obvious the center's days in Houston are limited.
Howard might think he's still worth a max deal and an elite player.
His 14.6 points per game are the lowest since his rookie season, and his 12.0 rebounds are the second-lowest. He's still a very good player—15 and 12 is impressive—but with his injury history and the fact he's now north of 30, teams might be reluctant to give him a big contract.
There remains the hope, though, that he’ll kick it into another gear soon. The lack of a willing trade partner may trigger a realization that he’s not the caliber of player he once was, and, accordingly, he'll raise his level of play down the stretch.
2. Trevor Ariza
Trevor Ariza has been starting as a small-ball power forward, and it’s an experiment that has been working. Seth Partnow at Nylon Calculus has broken down players’ numbers, according to position, and the results with Ariza are persuasive.
He has logged 959.8 minutes at the 3, with a true shooting percentage of 52.1 percent and averages of 12.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per 36 minutes. At the 4, in 898.7 minutes, those numbers are 13.3, 5.2 and 1.8, respectively, with a true shooting percentage of 57.9.
When he’s played the small forward, the Rockets’ net rating has been minus-2.1. When he’s played the power forward, it’s plus-2.2. A quick glance at the best lineups shows the Rockets defend better when he’s the 4, though there’s not detailed position information available on that.
Ariza has resumed his place as the team’s third-best starter, and with two more years and $14.4 million on his economical contract after this season, he’ll be part of the future as well.
1. James Harden
James Harden is still the Rockets' best producer, for better or worse. What the team does over the next few years will depend more on how much he grows as a person and leader than how much he improves as a player.
The Beard is one of the league's most dynamic offensive cogs. According to Basketball-Reference.com, in NBA history, four players have averaged 35 points, nine assists and seven rebounds per 100 possessions with a true shooting percentage over 60: Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Harden.
Harden’s current true shooting percentage is 59.4. If he can bump that up slightly (he’s 60.5 for his career), he’d be the first in history to accomplish that in consecutive seasons.
As rare of an offensive talent as Harden is, he’s flawed. When Harden applies himself, he's not a great defender, but he's a capable one.
His issue is more one of effort and motivation—more interested in his next 40-point game than the Rockets' next win. While Lawson has gotten most of the blame (deservedly) for the failure of the pair to work together, Harden didn't seem to try to make the partnership work.
Harden is a brilliant talent, but he's going to have become a leader rather than just being the best player on the court if the Rockets are going to win during his tenure. The rest of the season should serve as a chance for him to start finding the maturity needed.
Stats are courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.