The Houston Rockets get set to tip off their round one match versus the Golden State Warriors today (Saturday, April 16th).
Unlike previous years, the battle between the first seed and eighth seeds of the Western Conference offers arguably the most anticipated series of the playoffs. Notably a playoff series often is determined not by the starters, but by those spark plugs off the bench. One of the questions needing answers before the series begins is which team has the better reserves?
SCS compares both benches with a view to which team holds the advantage and where those specific benefits come from. Prior to Game 2, SCS will delve into the starting units and assess how each team fared following the kick-off of the series.
The Rockets‘ backcourt is quite depleted. Only two real guards are backups to the starters: Jason Terry and Andrew Goudelock. For most teams, this should be a fine number. But, for the Rockets, it is not enough. When you realize that Terry is as old as a rock and Andrew Goudelock has not had any real playing time since he got acquired. Before the trade deadline, the Rockets had a good but inconsistent backcourt. Then they parted ways with both Ty Lawson and Marcus Thornton. Now, the primary PG backup is a 38 year-old veteran whose main role has been reduced strictly to 3-point shooting. There is no play maker for the second unit. Andrew Goudelock looks okay for the few minutes he’s had. But no one is actually going to bet on him to produce good numbers in this series, let alone to get much playing time if any.
The Rockets’ backcourt is so thin that we must also count Corey Brewer and K.J. McDaniels as shooting guards, which brings the Rockets’ total number of SG to a ridiculous number (5). Between Brewer and McDaniels, the latter is a better player right now. However, this year Rockets are a big enigma, and so are their rotations. Corey Brewer receives too many minutes relative to his production (.384 FG% and .272 3P%). His only other strong suit is his defense.
But he hasn’t been effective this year either. KJ McDaniels, through everything, had started to win over every Rockets’ fan with his hustle and defensive ability. Defensively, he is similar to last year Patrick Beverley, before the injury. However, offensively, he is a carbon copy of brewer: great athleticism, but a low percentage jump shot. Brewer edges McDaniels out, barely, as the best backup for James Harden because of his experience. But, no matter what, a backcourt that has Corey Brewer as the best option on the bench is a terrible backcourt.
The Warriors‘ backcourt is much more lethal. They can shoot, they can pass, and they can certainly drive to the rim. Brandon Rush shot a great percentage from the perimeter (.404%). Both Leandro Barbosa (.355%) and Ian Clark (.357%) have good percentages. Out of the four back-up backcourt players on the Warriors, only Shaun Livingston is shooting poorly from the perimeter (.167%), but he is very good at driving to the basket, evidenced by his field goal percent (.536%). So the potential for the Rockets backcourt reserves to gain an advantage is attacking the Warriors backcourt reserves.
Iggy might give Harden a hard time.
With both Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry playing high minutes every game, there would only be 8-12 minutes where the rockets could exploit the weak defense of the Warriors’ backcourt bench. But, without a play maker for the second unit, that won’t be easy. An option might be to bring in Harden whenever Steph and Klay are on the bench. This could create mismatches and give the Rockets a slight advantage. But, that means the Rockets have to play against the Splash Brothers without Harden. Then again, that might be a blessing in disguise, at least defensively.
The front court is where the Rockets shine. Over the past month the Rockets boast one of the best sixth men in the league in Michael Beasley. They have two exciting youngsters Clint Capela and Montrezl Harrell. They have a versatile veteran in Josh Smith. They also have, for better or worse, Brewer and McDaniels. And there is also Terrence Jones and his wild inconsistency.
Let’s start with the MVP of the bench, Michael Beasley.
For a team that is the definition of inconsistency, Beasley’s production has been consistently great. Most people would scratch their head and wonder why Beasley still hasn’t made an appearance in the starting lineup. A lineup that at some points was featuring the likes of Corey Brewer, KJ McDaniels, and Montrelz Harrell. Playing Beasley off the bench is one of the best coaching decision Bickerstaff has ever made (now if he could actually keep him in the game more it would be better). He is the only player besides the beard that can create offense all by himself. He is potentially the best bench player in the series.
Second best in terms of production is undoubtedly Clint Capela. His length and athleticism make him a defensive monster. He could guard in the paint as well as on the perimeter. His freakishly long arms offer opportunities for steals, deflecting passes and blocks. In the beginning of the season, when he and Howard were on the court together, they formed a ridiculously good chemistry akin to the Twin Towers. The decision to not play these two together more is totally a paradox all in itself. That said, we’ll assume it was abandoned due to the lack of floor spacing.
The playoffs is where experience shines the brightest. Josh Smith has plenty of playoff experience. He might be the difference maker just like he was last year against the Los Angeles Clippers. His shooting stroke which had appeared to have abandoned him completely has greatly improved during the past few games. If he can manage to keep his shooting efficiency up, he might be able to cut into some of Beasley’s or Capela’s precious minutes.
Young players like Harrell and Jones might make an impact, but they will not likely see much playing time as the trend in the post season is to shorten the bench.
The Warriors’ front court might be not as deep as the Rockets, but they are still very formidable. Festus Ezeli is everything Capela is with more experience. Anderson Varejao is a very good post player and rebounder. He might help the Warriors get a couple of buckets and rebounds per night, which is all anyone could ask for with a 33 years old backup veteran
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It’s impossible to address the Warriors’ bench without talking about last years finals MVP.
Andre Iguodala is still a lock down defender off the bench. He is also an efficient shooter (especially under pressure and in big games) and is an excellent ball distributor. Look for Iggy to spend some time guarding Harden specifically in the fourth quarter similar to what he did against Lebron James.
Not that Iggy affected LeBron that much, but he did manage to wear down James which was definitely evidenced in the final game last year). However, if I have to bet, I would bet on Harden walking away victorious. Iggy might be able to lock down Trevor Ariza or possibly Beasley, but Harden (like Curry) is just impossible to guard. That said, Iggy’s presence will definitely make Harden’s life more difficult.
When it comes to the bench, the Warriors might have a better backcourt, but the Rockets have a better front court. While the the Warriors’ bench players on a whole don’t tend to create their own offense their ball and player movement tends to over ride that fact. However, there is something valuable and noteworthy about having the best bench player and the best offensive star among the bench. As long as Beasley is still putting up his average or better, they’ll give the Rockets a shot at keeping the game close.
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