Here’s how the Houston Rockets will look when Harden and Westbrook rest

Houston Rockets huddle up during Game Three of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images)
Houston Rockets huddle up during Game Three of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs (Photo by Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets have their juggernaut duo and roster full of complimentary pieces, but what will the team look like when their two MVPs need some “Load Management?” 

“Load Management” became the bane of many fans’ existence during the 2018-19 NBA season. Paying good money to see the local team take on a far off challenger just for the team to slap that title on their best one or two players, leaving the fans stuck watching role players instead of All-Stars.

“Load Management” came to the forefront last season as a way for teams to get around the league’s player resting policy. It is rarely given to players not in the upper-most echelon of league. A player like Joe Harris or J.J. Reddick won’t get the luxury. And unfortunately, with the postseason success of the Toronto Raptor, teams saw the late-season success that saving important players from less important games can create.

Last week, Houston Rockets’ general manager Daryl Morey stated the team will use the tactic on its two MVP guards James Harden and Russell Westbrook next season. With the two having missed only 29 games combined over the last four seasons, this will be a new experience for them both.

It is likely the team will try to stagger when they give their superstars the day off, but if, in the unfortunate event, one of them should sustain an injury, the load management games could get a lot uglier. A roster with unproven depth will be forced to pick up the slack more than it has in the past.

The two that will lead the charge will be guard Eric Gordon and center Clint Capela. Capela was second on the Rockets in scoring last season with 16.6 per game while Gordon finished a close third with 16.2. The Rockets will need even more from both to come out on top in most load management outings especially when the standings are as tight as they are in the West.

That shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Gordon in particular. The former Sixth Man of the Year has only one season on his resume averaging under 15 points per game and has eclipsed 20 twice. Even on last year’s team with Harden and Chris Paul, over 30 percent of Gordon’s baskets were unassisted. If you go back to his career-best 2010-11 campaign that number approached 50 percent.

Getting better numbers out of Capela could be a tougher task. As previously mentioned, over 80 percent of the center’s field goals were assisted last season. Luckily he appears to be more  aggressive trying to get his own while playing with the Swiss national team this summer. In a series of tweets by Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic, Capela has been showing some flashes during FIBA competition, but there are still times he appears out of control with the ball in his hands.

Austin Rivers will likely also be counted on to be more of a focal point of the offense. The former Duke Blue Devil is only one year removed from a season where he scored over 15 per game where two-thirds of his makes were unassisted. While his role with the Rockets has fit squarely into the 3-and-D slot, he has shown in the past that he can do more.

Once it gets deeper into the roster it becomes even harder to figure out where the scoring will come from. Most likely P.J. Tucker‘s role will stay firmly within hustle points and corner threes. Gerald Green could come in and get buckets in spurts, but relying on him for longer stretches could be very detrimental for the defense. Danuel House may be able to slash to the basket a little more, but how efficient he would in an expanded role is unknown.

The end of the bench has rookies Shamorie Ponds and Chris Clemons, who were both bucket-getters in college, but neither should expected to step in and really have much of an impact this season. Both are undersized (Ponds is 6-1 175 lbs and Clemons is 5-9 180 lbs) and neither played in an elite basketball conference in college.

The likeliest of scenarios for a Rockets victory on load management nights will come down to grinding it out with lineups centered around stout defenders like Tucker, Gordon, and Capela while worrying about scoring later. The offense will probably look a lot more like coach D’Antoni’s :07 Seconds of Less Suns than the isolation-centric teams of the last few seasons.

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The games won’t be pretty, but nobody will care when two fresh former-MVPs are hoisting the Larry O’Brien Trophy next June.