It’s been another forgettable season for the Houston Rockets. Currently standing at 13-41, they have the worst record in the Western Conference. To say it’s been brutal in the city of Houston basketball would be an understatement. For starters, they recently endured a 10 game losing streak, they rank 30th in turnovers, and 29th in both defensive and offensive rating. Additionally coach Stephen Silas has appeared to give up on them in recent games. Let’s get into it.
Right before their loss against the Sacramento Kings on January 11th, point guard Kevin Porter Jr. went down with what appeared to be a left foot contusion. Porter had been averaging 19.4 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.6 assists on 43.7% shooting. In the offseason, Silas’ plan was to put the ball in Porter’s hands to get his teammates more involved.
At the time before preseason, This was Porter’s new role and he embraced it. How has it translated on the court? It hasn’t been pretty. Most of the offense incorporated pull up shots and stagnant offense on almost every possession. Since his injury departure, Houston has tinkered with a multitude of offensive layouts. This includes giving 30+ minutes to G-League phenom Daishen Nix, continuously starting veteran Eric Gordon, and taking players out when they shine the most.
While there is no time table when Porter returns, Houston really needs to think long and hard about where to incorporate Porter on the team after he comes back. Should he retake over the reigns as the primarily facilitator, inevitably wasting Sengun’s productive play over the last month? Houston’s offense is clearly more productive when Sengun has the ball. Signing Porter to an extension with an opt out option after the first year has been a good decision after all.
Build Around Alperen Sengun
For better or for worse, Houston is in deep turmoil since the Harden era ended. A team with draft potential but poor execution all around. However, the emergence of Alperen Sengun is their silver lining. The Turkish 20 year old in 49 games has averages of 15.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. Top that off with two triple doubles in the month of January.
Alpi has been an excellent player when the offense is ran through him. His no looks passes when in the paint are a thing of beauty, as well as his timely screens at the top of the key. While this is all well and good for the future, the main problem concerns his free throw shooting. Sengun is shooting 74.4% from the line. For a center that excels in footwork in the paint, his 4.1 free throw attempts per game should increase his free throw percentage. Another issue isn’t necessarily his fault, but it’s the execution from his teammates. Sengun’s impressive facilitation frequently ends in a missed possession due to the fact that his teammates miss costly layups, open threes, or cuts to the basket.
Oddly enough, Sengun getting chances to run the offense is inconsistent. Sometimes, Silas chooses Nix to run the offense, which likely goes nowhere. Nix has been nothing but awful for the team and shouldn’t be getting rotation minutes. Occasionally, Silas will sit Nix out for multiple games, possibly citing a decision to take him out of the rotation. Then all of a sudden, Nix plays 30+ minutes in the next few games.
Let’s be clear. If you know that one gameplan works better than the other, clearly use the better one. Being inconsistent with the rotation creates insecurity and chemistry issues with the young core. Players all around the NBA know that Sengun is Silas’ best player for a reason. He should be the guy to build around for the future.
Jalen Green Our Franchise Player?
The former 2nd overall pick’s had an up and down sophomore season. At times he goes completely off, leading the offense with unconscious scoring and sheer athleticism. His two 40+ point games prove it. However, at other times, Green doesn’t engage himself on the offensive floor and takes many ill-advised shots.
Green is averaging 21.6 points on 41.1%/33.2% shooting splits in 34 minutes. Besides the bump in minutes and points per game, Green is about the same stat line during his rookie season. Houston is slating him as their franchise player for the future, but may need to reconsider his role on the team given the rise of Sengun’s play.
The Houston Rookies
I’d be lying if Jabari Smith Jr.’s production this season doesn’t scare me. The third overall pick has been struggling all season compared to his fellow draft class, averaging 11.8 points and 7 rebounds on lackluster shooting splits of 38.8/30.3%. While it’s only his first year in the NBA, it’s going to take a lot more work for Smith to meet his expectations.
Rookies such as Paolo Banchero, Bennedict Mathurin, Keegan Murray, and Jaden Ivey are all excelling quite well on their respective teams. Watching the games, it doesn’t appear that Silas knows how to adequately place Jabari in the offense. For his talent as a shot creator and spot up shooter, Smith generally resides on the wings and waits for an open shot. Perhaps Smith will be able to showcase more of his talents at the Rising Stars game during the All-Star Break.
On the flip side, Tari Eason is playing extremely well off the bench as the “energy glue guy.” Drafted 16th overall, Eason is averaging 8.6 points and 5.7 rebounds on 44% from the field and 35.5% percent from three point land. His solid production in 19 minutes have many GMs regard him as one of the steals from the draft. In the games he has started (three), Eason’s point totals up to 13.7 and 9.3 rebounds in 28 minutes. While it’s unlikely Eason will be a starter this season, his impact on the floor has proven him a mainstay spot on the rotation.
The other rookie involved is TyTy Washington Jr.. Washington has spent his career so far in and out of the G-League. Since joining the Rockets for a second stint, he’s performing much better as of late. In a recent game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, TyTy was given 25 minutes of play and he did not disappoint, going 9/16 for 20 points. His main source of his points were floaters in the middle lane, hitting that shot with ease. Although a solid performance by the rookie, Silas proceeded to take Washington out of the rotation immediately in the next game.
Eric Gordon’s Trade Value
One of the main issues facing the Rockets is the situation around veteran guard Eric Gordon. The 34 year old is having a respectable season, but there’s no future with him in Houston anymore. The better he plays, the higher the trade value. General manager Rafael Stone has spoken with various teams, hoping to receive a first round draft pick in exchange for the former Sixth Man of the Year.
There has also been some trade talks surrounding a package with Gordon and Atlanta Hawks Forward John Collins. For Houston to pull the trigger on this trade, they would need to add another piece and some draft picks to match Collins’ salary. Players such as KJ Martin, who is having a strong season as well, was mentioned in this potential trade package.
The Woes Of Silas
The Rockets rebuild has been going on over the last few seasons, with hardly any improvement on paper. It’s not the players that are to blame. It’s the coach and the front office. Stephen Silas said it bluntly regarding his roster after an dreadful loss to the Kings: “They’re not giving the effort on the defensive end. They’re not getting after it like they’re supposed to.”
After 54 games, Silas publicly put the blame on his players. This isn’t a good sign because he is further separating himself from his team. His roster is extremely young, talented, and inexperienced. They need a good coach who is willing to hold him and his team accountable, and that is not Stephen Silas. Although it’s a small sample size, but Houston is 2-0 in the games Silas hasn’t coached. It’s not just all on him either. It’s Stone, it’s the rest of the front office, and owner Tilman Fertitta. If Silas doesn’t get replaced before the end of this season, expect him to not be back next season.
The Houston Rockets can’t seem to find their identity throughout the season. It’s going to get much worse before it gets better. As soon as they seem figure out a solution to their problems in one game, whether it’s offense or defense, they all of a sudden immediately go back to their issues in the next game. Going forward, they have a lot of decisions to make in the last half of the season.
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