With such a deep and talented team, the Houston Rockets coaching staff will soon have to decide which nine players will make the postseason rotation.
Through a series of trades and the signing of players like Kenneth Faried and Danuel House, the Houston Rockets have added a lot of depth to their team. Houston has 11 guys that are talented enough to be rotational players in the postseason, but they won’t all make the cut.
Earlier in the season, the Rockets had to rely on a lot of former G-League players to fill gaps in the roster as some of the team’s better players were out with injuries. With a healthy roster, the Rockets now have a new problem. Deciding which players will make the cut for the playoff rotation and who will be left out looking in.
As the regular season winds down, Mike D’Antoni is putting Houston’s bench through late season “try-outs.” Recently, Houston’s head coach told the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen that his main goal is to keep every player in a rhythm as he works on trimming the rotation for the postseason.
“We want to keep guys fresh and keep guys available. That’s the biggest thing, not to have them sit around. We want everybody to have the rhythm going into the playoffs and then we’ll make that decision. We want everybody to be ready to go.”
Instead of playing an 11-man rotation in the last few regular season games, D’Antoni is rotating different players in and out of the second unit.
However, in last Friday’s win over the Spurs, Danuel House, Iman Shumpert, Nene and Gerald Green made up Houston’s reserve unit, with Kenneth Faried and Austin Rivers watching from the sidelines.
Mike D’Antoni plans to cut Houston’s rotation to just nine guys for the playoffs. While systematically holding out a bench player on certain nights in favor of another will keep everyone fresh, he is also tinkering with the lineups and rotations, trying to find the best combination of players for the most important time of the year.
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Obviously, Chris Paul, James Harden, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Clint Capela will play the vast majority of the minutes in the postseason. Danuel House has turned into Houston’s sixth man and is clearly a lock to make the team’s postseason rotation, as he has averaged 12.5 points on 48.7 percent shooting from 3-point range since he re-signed with the Rockets earlier in March.
Kenneth Faried and Nene could alternate as the backup center in the postseason, depending on the matchup. If the Rockets are facing a big, lumbering center, like Rudy Gobert, D’Antoni may call Nene’s number. If they are going up against a team that likes to play small and push the pace, Faried will likely get the nod.
Obviously, Faried can play more minutes and with a lot more energy than Nene can at this stage of his career, and Faried will likely put up bigger numbers as well. So, I’d expect to see Faried more in the playoffs than Nene.
Gerald Green will likely make the cut for the postseason rotation as well. He’s a feast or famine type of player, as sometimes he can either shoot his team into a game or shoot them out of it. But the Rockets rely so heavily on the 3-pointer, and Green has never been shy about shooting whenever he has a sliver of day light. If he can get hot, he can pour in enough 3s to be the deciding factor in a handful of playoff games, which is why he will probably get some court time off of the bench.
That leaves us with Iman Shumpert and Austin Rivers. Unfortunately, both players have struggled with their offense with the Rockets in recent weeks. Shumpert has averaged just 3.8 points on 28.6 percent shooting from 3-point range in his last 10 games. Rivers hasn’t been much better, averaging 5.7 points on just 23.3 percent from 3-point range over his last 10 games. However, Rivers drives the lane and finishes at the rim more often than Shump, which explains why he is scoring more despite shooting a lower percentage from downtown.
While neither player has been very good offensively, Shumpert is a better and bigger defender than Rivers and he has appeared in three NBA Finals, so he has an edge in experience too. The final spot in Houston’s nine man playoff rotation between Shumpert and Rivers will likely be decided by the player that shines the brightest over the last eight games.
A bench featuring Danuel House, Kenneth Faried, Gerald Green and Iman Shumpert to backup Houston’s starting five is as talented as any nine man rotation in the NBA.
Of course, the playoff rotation isn’t yet set in stone and Houston’s coaching staff probably won’t decide on the final order until the regular season ends. Either way, the Rockets now seem to have too much talent, which is the best possible problem a team with championship aspirations can have.