After Gerald Green’s season-ending injury, the majority of the forward’s minutes will be filled by undersized players moving ahead. Could this be problematic for the Houston Rockets in a jumbo-sized Western Conference?
The Houston Rockets have most certainly not hit their stride to this point. The Milwaukee Bucks were able to grind out a late win with Giannis Antetokounmpo on the bench with six fouls in the opening night MVP rematch in Houston. Then, the Rockets were barely able to beat out a battered New Orleans Pelicans squad on Saturday. Monday’s game was a little more of a team effort, but still, the outside shot wasn’t falling for Houston. The biggest takeaway so far? James Harden hasn’t hit shots.
The 2017-18 MVP has not been the same flamethrower he was last season, but just as the sun will rise again in the east, James Harden will begin to hit shots. The thing that won’t change with the current Rockets roster though, is their lack of size.
After Gerald Green‘s foot injury left him likely sidelined for the year, the team’s forward rotation suddenly looks thin (and short). 43 percent of Harden’s minutes have come at small forward so far, which is the highest number since his final season in Oklahoma City. It’s also a drastic jump from logging no minutes at the position last season.
P.J. Tucker has soaked up over 38 minutes in each contest between power forward and center, but even with the physique of Arnold Schwarzenegger, 6-5 is well undersized for both positions. From there, Danuel House and Thabo Sefolosha soaked up most of the other forward minutes available. Both stand 6-6 which is a bit undersized for the current Western Conference.
To this point, Tyson Chandler and Clint Capela are the only players that have touched the floor taller than 6-6. For reference, here’s a list of forwards on Western Conference contenders 6-7 or taller:
Bojan Bogdanovic, Jeff Green, Joe Ingles, Georges Niang, Kawhi Leonard, Patrick Patterson, JaMychal Green, Maurice Harkless, Paul George, Paul Millsap, Torrey Craig, Jerami Grant, Michael Porter Jr., Juancho Hernangomez, Rodney Hood, Zach Collins, Anthony Toliver, Mario Hezonja, Skal Labissiere, LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma
Remember, these names are just from the teams with title aspirations out West. Even teams fighting for the last few playoff spots are littered with such players, not to mention the two Goliaths in the East Conference.
This lack of size could be negatively affecting the openness of Harden’s looks. Opponents could be forced to put larger wings on Harden for longer stretches than in the past. Not every team is equipped to run three, let alone, four-guard lineups.
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Although there isn’t a ton of difference in size on the roster compared to last season, the play of Russell Westbrook creates vastly different looks than Chris Paul. The breakneck pace he loves to push the game to lends itself better to smaller lineups, like the one he ran alongside Ben McLemore, Eric Gordon, Austin Rivers, and Tyson Chandler in the Pelicans’ game.
Against better teams, such limited size can be used to the Rockets’ detriment. An example of this was at the end of the Bucks’ contest when Milwaukee used Brook Lopez‘s size against Tucker to bully his way to easy points late in regulation.
There aren’t many pretty solutions to this problem either. Any free agent option is currently a free agent for a reason, and the buy-out market won’t be heating up until closer to the New Year.
The best current candidate is likely Lance Thomas, who was waived by the Brooklyn Nets earlier this month. His size and defense could fit into the end of the rotation, but he will need to improve his 3-point percentage, which cratered last season after three consecutive seasons eclipsing 40 percent. In all, the move would be far from a slam dunk, but with Gary Clark having yet shown he deserves any sort of NBA minutes, there aren’t any in-house remedies.
Failing to bring in more size could hurt the Rockets in a deeper playoff series and ultimately, limit their ceiling as a championship hopeful. Luckily, James Harden seems to always be able to do more with less. Every team has its weakness, but champions figure out the best way to minimize them.