Should the Houston Rockets Reshape their Bench?

Feb 4, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets guard Corey Brewer (33) is congratulated by teammates on the bench during the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 4, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Houston Rockets guard Corey Brewer (33) is congratulated by teammates on the bench during the game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports /

Currently sitting at the coveted 8th seed in the Western Conference, the Houston Rockets are looking to settle a couple of situations in order to have a more effective bench for a possible playoff run.

And it just happened… The Houston Rockets have just announced they have waived sharpshooter Marcus Thornton.

For what it’s worth it did look like it was a bad fit from the beginning. But before we dig into the effects and possible outcomes of Thornton’s fate to Houston Rockets rotation future, I believe it’s time to take a stepback and try to figure out what exactly is Daryl Morey’s plan and ambitions for the last third of the season while also pondering whether his aggressive approach of damage control really is the best scenario.

Question 1: What seems to be the plan?

Since the fateful trade deadline mishap, the Houston Rockets through their GM Daryl Morey are pushing hard to make deals with recently waived players, while also showing interest in cutting some of theirs.

While the plan to stay under luxury tax is now probably water under the bridge, the organization seems to be aiming to the future and a longer playoff run already in this season. Thus don’t expect the Houston Rockets to start tanking their way to the 2016 Draft Night, save for a (real) damaging injury to superstar James Harden.

There’s just absolutely no other scenario in which I see the Rockets retaining their protected draft pick sent to Denver for point guard Ty Lawson, unless of course Houston fails to qualify.

The team’s stance is that even if they are poised for a showdown with heavyweights San Antonio Spurs or Golden State Warriors, they’d rather take their chances then accept their failure this season and make the most of their opportunities. It’s just not Leslie Alexander’s style. He wants to win, and wants it now.

Therefore to sum it up, the idea is actually pretty simple: Freeing up roster spots, look for bargains on the market and mount a tougher challenge to the top seeds in the Western Conference come playoff time.

And although the Rockets are not likely to add “top of the hour” ballers that could take up the starting gig, they could actually really strengthen up their core.

Question 2: Is there any movement going on?

Right now the Houston Rockets have been linked with some of the hottest recent released players, but so far haven’t been able to strike any deals.

Don’t expect the Rockets to be on the run for the best of the crop though as said above, as most of these players are looking for an extensive playoff run on teams with championship aspirations, which is likely a long stretch for the Rockets right now.

Take for example recently bought out from Brooklyn, winger Joe Johnson. The former all-star would be a lovely addition for the team as what the Rockets are still in desperate need is someone who can create their own shots and score, preferably: score a lot.

Johnson, while past his prime is still a reliable player, a decent three-point shooter (37%) and a good passer as he’s averaging a notch above 4 assists per game. By Harden’s side he would provide another threat from the perimeter, something the team is currently lacking.

Johnson has already chosen to sign with the Miami Heat as soon as he clears waivers, however. Most likely with the understanding that he would have a rather smooth path for the NBA Finals on the Eastern Conference with the only big threat coming from LeBron James’ Cavs.

Another alternative could be soon-to-be-released Kevin Martin as reports have emerged that the Rockets are one of the teams interested in the veteran player. The problem here is of a different matter.

Also, no Kevin Martin buyout yet, but add the Rockets among the interested teams. #twolves

— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) 26 de fevereiro de 2016

I feel K-Mart wouldn’t add any quality to the Rockets. He doesn’t look like a good fit at all. Martin is in his worst season by far, averaging career lows in almost every statistic category, including a measly 37.7% field goal average.

To put that in perspective, widely criticized Rockets bench players Corey Brewer and Ty Lawson are respectively knocking down 37.8 and 38.9 percent of their field goals.

That’s all without taking into consideration Martin’s notoriously weak defense.

On the other hand the Rockets have been making cuts of their own: As mentioned the Rockets wisely (?) gave up sharpshooter Marcus Thornton. A player that despite being unbelievably misused by the Rockets staff still managed to average 10 points while getting less than 20 minutes of action.

The next step appears to be a contract buyout agreement with floor general Ty Lawson. Which would leave the Rockets extremely thin at the point guard position (unbelievably once again), with the only options being defensive specialist Patrick Beverley and 38 years-old ultra-veteran Jason Terry.

And while the Houston Rockets fans may find solace in the news that power forward Donatas Motiejunas is cleared to play, the team’s other power forward, Terrence Jones finds himself  buried deeper in the Rockets bench limbo.

Question 3: Why should we be worried?

The Houston Rockets ranks 24th in bench points per game: 31.2

Dead last (30th) in rebounds per game: 12.0

28th in minutes per game with 16.7.

It gets scarier when we also take a look at the bench’s efficiency: 31.4, ranking 29th in the league and Efficiency Differential which takes into account the Opponents Efficiency when the bench players are on court. The Rockets rank last in Efficiency Difference with -9.8, meaning that Rockets bench players are massively hurting the team, allowing more points than contributing with scoring of their own.

What makes it sad is that the Rockets starters are currently ranked 4th in efficiency, only behind powerhouses Golden State, Cleveland and Oklahoma, as well as a respectful 9th place in Efficiency Differential.

There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that the key for the Rockets going forward is vastly improving the bench as well as it’s usage.

While Rockets young studs like K.J. McDaniels and Montrezl Harell are buried deep in the bench, head coach Bickerstaff keeps relying on a rotation that contemplates only Jason Terry and Corey Brewer.

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Also, future star Clint Capela has slowly been squeezed out of the rotation and in fact in the last 10 games has been averaging only 16 minutes of playing time.

Final Question: Is it Worth it?

It is.

It’s just painful to watch this team right now. The Rockets are in desperate need of a shakedown and unless they find useful players who could give the starters some relief while maintaining a reasonable performance level then the pattern from the last few games will just keep on repeating itself.

More than once we’ve seen this team throwing huge leads and easy games away due to lack of awareness from bench players. It’s time to get those wins back.

Even if in the future it means sacrificing one of the starters to acquire some of those players.

Next: Houston Rockets Identity Crisis

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