The Houston Rockets are once again giving heavy minutes to some of their key players in October. Is this just Mike D’Antoni’s plan for getting his players into a rhythm early, or is this a real issue to address?
Through four games, Coach Mike D’Antoni has used 11 of his 15 players in total, playing the same ten in each of the first four games before playing Ryan Anderson sparingly in the most recent game against Washington. Are the Houston Rockets making the same mistakes of relying on their starters this early in the season, or is D’Antoni simply running these rotations to start the season and test out the new-look starting five with Russell Westbrook?
Anderson only played four minutes against Washington for his first appearance this year, Tyson Chandler has logged just six minutes per game, Ben McLemore isn’t far ahead at seven minutes per game and Thabo Sefolosha has played a little more than 11 minutes per game. With four guys playing so sporadically, that leaves just seven guys playing major minutes before the calendar has even turned to November.
There is obviously plenty of time to shape the final roster for the season and playoffs, but keeping his stars fresh should be a season-long mission of high importance for D’Antoni. How can Harden and Westbrook stay fresh if they are required to play 35 minutes a night? Maybe it won’t be too much of an issue for them, but how about the older veterans P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon or Clint Capela, who isn’t conditioned as perfectly as the guys tossing him lobs?
All four of Houston’s games have been close so far, so it is certainly understandable that D’Antoni has been hesitant to go to his bench while he has been coaching to win. However, Houston needs to have enough trustworthy bench guys that they can win games without running their starters into the ground. This is part of what made Golden State unstoppable: They could play Stephen Curry 32 minutes instead of 38 and find ways to win because they could rely on their eighth, ninth and tenth men to come in and hold their own for a few minutes.
Houston can combat this problem in one of two ways: They can sign someone, or they can trust the guys they already have. I expect to see at least one or two of Chris Clemons, Gary Clark and Isaiah Hartenstein as soon as the Rockets are in a game that isn’t close from start to finish.
If one or two of those guys can impress, then maybe D’Antoni will trust them enough to play in some more meaningful minutes. If not, then maybe Daryl Morey will have no choice but to find someone else the Rockets can rely on himself.