The postseason is right around the corner, and teams are solidifying their best lineups. What will playoff rotations look like for the Houston Rockets?
Over the past few games, lineups for the Houston Rockets have looked different almost every night. With Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, Sam Dekker, and James Harden missing time for various reasons, Mike D’Antoni has given some of the young guys a shot. Troy Williams has started twice and Isaiah Taylor has gotten significant minutes. Is there any chance that continues after the regular season ends?
Though none of the rules change going from the regular season to the playoffs, it can seem like a different game sometimes. Defense tightens up and everybody tries that much harder. By mid-April, coaches have their best lineups figured out and usually stop playing their fringe units. D’Antoni is especially guilty of this, using eight-man or even seven-man rotations in his mid-2000s postseason runs in Phoenix.
Now at the helm of the Houston Rockets, what will Mike D’Antoni do with his guys in the playoffs this season?
As long as everybody is healthy, the starting five will likely be what it’s been throughout the season: James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Trevor Ariza, Ryan Anderson, and Clint Capela. That lineup is one of the best four-out groups in the league, with a net rating this season of 13.9. Bleacher Report recently ranked that group as the fourth-best unit in the NBA.
Anderson’s 40% three point shooting forces opposing big men to leave their comfort zone and chase him around on the perimeter. Capela is one of the league’s best roll men, in the 70th percentile in pick-and-roll scoring. Even better, he’s third in that category out of players who average at least three such plays per game, trailing only Karl-Anthony Towns and Joel Embiid.
Ariza and Beverley are the defensive specialists in the starting group. On a nightly basis, they’re tasked with lining up against the opponent’s best wing and guard respectively. If the Rockets end up playing OKC in the first round, Bev will have the duty of containing Russell Westbrook.
Of course, the most important cog in the starting lineup is James Harden. The Rockets’ success begins and ends with his MVP-level play, and he’ll be called on frequently in the playoffs to lead them to a W. He averages 36.5 minutes per game now, but that’ll most likely increase to around 40 in the postseason.
Barring the Houston Rockets losing or winning by 20+ points, D’Antoni has gone with a nine-man rotation for the majority of the season. Starting at the halfway point in the first quarter, he’ll start subbing the bench unit in for the starters. Eric Gordon replaces Beverley, either Nene or Montrezl Harrell comes in for Capela, Lou Williams swaps with Anderson to fill out a small-ball group, and then Sam Dekker gives Ariza a break. it usually happens in that order, with a minute or so separating each substitution.
By the end of the first quarter, the on-court group consists of Harden with the four non-starters. Harden then sits to start the second, replaced by Beverley at point guard. D’Antoni handles the second quarter similarly to the first, subbing the starters back in one or two at a time, ending with Harden’s reappearance about halfway through the frame. If one bench guy is playing unusually well, the coach’ll leave him out there in order to keep the momentum going. After the break, the second half’s rotations look identical to the first half’s.
In my opinion, D’Antoni doesn’t get enough credit for this substitution system. He ensures that the starters are on the court at the beginning and end of each half, and everybody knows what to expect each night. It also works to where there are always at least three player on the court who are warmed up and loose. It’s seamless and beautiful, and by golly if Mike doesn’t win Coach of the Year I’m gonna be mad.
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So, expecting D’Antoni to drop a man or two for playoffs, rotations will look a little different. The first question that comes to mind asks who gets left out. The answer is actually pretty easy. Sam Dekker was already the ninth man off the bench before his injury, and doesn’t have a viable backup.
In his absence, Troy Williams got the starting nod in the last couple of games. He played well against the Suns, scoring 21 points and shooting 6/9 from three.
Judging from the first three minutes of the next game, however, somebody might have pumped him up full of sunshine after his first outing. Before D’Antoni pulled him out at the 8:46 mark in the first, he managed to rack up three missed shots, an offensive foul, and a defensive foul. I have tremendous respect for his unthinkable confidence, but it’s safe to say that he won’t be trusted with playoff minutes.
With all that said, the bench unit for the playoffs will likely consist of Gordon, Nene, and Lou. They’ll stagger their substitutions just like they do now, with everybody seeing an increase in minutes.
The only variable in the equation will be whether or not Montrezl Harrell gets to play instead of Nene. For most games, one of them gets significant minutes while the other sits. It works well because Nene gets to rest on back-to-backs, giving him extended mobility and playability.
I’d guess that Montrezl won’t see significant minutes in the playoffs, especially considering the Thunder’s plethora of extra-big big men.
No matter what Houston’s playoff rotations look like, fans can expect good things. The team is built for postseason basketball, and every big-minutes player should be healthy going in. A championship isn’t probable per se, but Mike D’Antoni has a good system and good players in that system. All things considered, this is a good time to be a Houston Rockets fan.