If Luis Scola and Kevin Martin are traded as rumored, who can step up as starters? Well, Courtney Lee for one.
BY: MICHAEL GUTIERREZ
With trade rumors including Kevin Martin and Luis Scola of the Houston Rockets running rampant, are their young backups ready to fill the veterans’ shoes?
Martin and Scola have already been part of a rescinded trade that would have landed them in New Orleans, and both players have continued to be in trade rumors since.
When looking at Scola’s situation, at the moment, you’re seeing what looks like a slowly declining, 31-year-old veteran. His scoring (15.1), rebound (5.9) and assist (1.6) per game averages are down, but it’s when you look deeper that you see why he’s been put on the trade block.
After a career-best sophomore season in offensive win shares (4.3), defensive win shares (4.3) and win shares (8.6), his numbers have decreased slightly each year by almost a point, putting Houston in a position to trade him for value while it’s there. His lack of rebounding this season has been very apparent, as he has a career low rebound percentage (percentage of how many rebounds you get) of 11.8. Again, his numbers have decreased in this category each season since his career-high 16.9 from his sophomore year. Because of his decline, it makes a lot of sense that Houston is looking to trade him.
Patrick Patterson came into the league last season with an “NBA ready” body at power forward. He was known as the player who wasn’t great at anything, but good (to very good) at a lot of things, many of which the stats don’t recognize. After a stint in the D-League in his rookie season, he came back to the Rockets playing better all-around basketball, earning high expectations. This season, however, his point average per 36 minutes is down 1.7 and his rebound per 36 is down 1.4 from the last season. What has increased is his usage percentage (an estimate of the percentage of team plays used by a player while he was on the floor) from 16.1 to 16.7., meaning he hasn’t gotten better offensively even with more responsibility aimed in his direction. This is also proven by his offensive rating dropping from 118 to 104, and his true shooting percentage falling from .574 to .477. His ability to hit the open shot is still there, but his moves in the post are still developing as he learns to battle with the bigger NBA opponents, making him one dimensional at the moment.
On the flip side, Patterson has shown flashes that he can become a good defensive player for years to come. Whether it’s being in the right position, altering a shot or staying in front of his man, his production on the defensive end can’t be my measured by a single “blocked shot” statistic like in the case of Samuel Dalembert. His strong, 6-foot-9 physique, mixed with youthful athleticism, allows him to be ready to start in place of Scola from a defensive standpoint, but not quite yet from an overall standpoint. If Kevin Martin isn’t traded and is having one of his atrocious outings, with a starting lineup including the offensively-limited Dalembert and rookie Chandler Parsons, Patterson’s lack of offense doesn’t seem to be a good fit. Without all-star scoring ability from any current Rockets player, Patterson has to have a bigger impact on either end of the floor before he’s ready to become a full-time starter.
If he were to back up Pau Gasol, however, the power forward position could quickly become Houston’s strongest.
Martin has been an efficient scoring machine since averaging 20.2 points in his third season with the Sacramento Kings. Unfortunately, the “Martin” rule (where offensive players cannot flop or flail into defenders to draw contact and get to the free-throw line) is in play this season, and it’s really hurt him, as expected. What made Martin so special was his ability to get to the free-throw line, which has dropped by 50 percent from a season ago. He only averages 4.4 free throws this season after averaging 7-plus attempts in his last seven seasons. With that being taken away, his streakiness has become a roller coaster.
He went through a stretch of six games only averaging 7.3 points, shooting an abysmal 24 percent beyond the arc. Outside of his scoring ability, Martin has never been known to guard the opposition’s best wing scorer. If anything, he’s been considered a liability when he’s not making buckets, though his defense has improved this year, though he’s still far from a stopper.
Courtney Lee is the current backup to Martin. As far as this guy being ready to step in as a starter, he’s already there. Similar to Patterson, his stats don’t tell all, but unlike Patterson, Lee is more rounded at his position. In his rookie season, he started 42 games for an Orlando Magic team that made it to the 2009 Finals before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers. In the championship series, Lee was assigned to guard arguably the most dominant player in the league in Kobe Bryant. He finished with the team’s fourth highest defensive win shares with 3.1. He instantly became a defender assigned to take on the league’s best.
Standing at 6-foot-5 and weighing 200 pounds, his great athleticism allows him to guard multiple positions out on the perimeter. With defense being his strength, the offensive end is where the expected drop-off would take place in his promotion to the starting position. Martin currently is averaging 19.6 points per 36 minutes, and Lee is sitting at only 13.5. However, Martin has the team’s third highest usage rate at 24.7, compared to Lee’s eighth highest at 17.2, even behind Chase Budinger, who has been in and out of the lineup. Also, Lee is currently holding a better field goal percentage than Martin by .021 and a better 3-point percentage by .046. Add in the fact that Lee averages 7.2 fewer minutes than Martin, and there’s optimism for his further offensive development considering he’s also a few years younger (26).
If the Rockets are to trade Martin and Scola, while Lee is ready to start, they would need somebody in return who could help fill the scoring void. The team, as is, lacks firepower from the power forward and center positions, while having plenty coming from the backcourt. Although Scola’s play seems to be declining, if the Rockets are to trade him, they must bring in a starting power forward who can average at least as many points. If not, their lack of interior production could force them out of the playoff race, as second-in-command Patterson isn’t quite ready for a starting role just yet.