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Houston Rockets: Who should start at small forward?

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 22: PJ Tucker #4 of the Houston Rockets reacts against the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 20, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - MAY 22: PJ Tucker #4 of the Houston Rockets reacts against the Golden State Warriors during Game Four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2018 NBA Playoffs on May 20, 2018 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Carmelo Anthony is expected to spend the vast majority of his minutes at power forward. So, which player should start at small forward for the Houston Rockets?

We’re less than a month away from the preseason, but the Houston Rockets still have to iron out the details in their rotation. Chris Paul, James Harden and Clint Capela are obvious starters, but we don’t know which two players will join that trio in the opening lineup.

According to a recent report, Carmelo Anthony is expected to play most, if not all of his minutes, at power forward in order to mask his weaknesses on defense. The Rockets haven’t decided whether or not Carmelo will start, but if he does, he will start at power forward. Assuming Anthony is eventually named a starter, which player should get the nod to start at small forward?

Houston’s only two options at small forward would be P.J. Tucker and James Ennis.

Last season, the Rockets prioritized defense and switched Ryan Anderson for P.J. Tucker at power forward in February. As a result, Houston finished 29-5 with Tucker as a starter. Tucker actually shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range last season, so the Rockets didn’t lose too much floor spacing as a result of moving Anderson to the bench. But they gained so much on defense, because Tucker can defend players from guards to even centers in small ball lineups.

James Ennis can also effectively defend four positions on the floor and he can also knock down open 3-pointers. At 245 pounds, Tucker’s size and strength gives him an edge against bigger players in the paint, whereas Ennis’s agility makes him more equipped to cover quicker guards.

James Ennis’s biggest advantage over Tucker comes from his ability to produce off of the dribble. Ennis is by no means an elite slasher, but he can knock down pull-up jump shots and he has the ability to drive and finish at the rim, which are skills that Tucker doesn’t necessarily possess. Conversely, that’s the exact reason Tucker should start over Ennis.

With Harden and Paul running the point and with Anthony in the post, the Rockets don’t need another ball-handler in the starting lineup. They need a guy like P.J. Tucker, who is a solid spot up shooter that brings toughness and grit every single night.

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James Ennis can get past defenders and finish at the rim when necessary, which makes him a better fit with the second unit. With only one of Harden or Paul on the floor, and certainly with neither on the floor, Ennis will have more opportunities to handle the ball on offensive possessions, allowing him more opportunities to utilize that skill set.

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