The Houston Rockets have had an up-and-down season so far, with their lack of bench production being a key reason for their recent struggles.
The one area that’s been an issue all season for the Houston Rockets has been their bench production (or lack thereof). The Rockets currently have the worst bench in the league in terms of scoring at only 23.6 points a game. They also rank last in assists and second-to-last in field goal percentage.
Something to take into consideration once Eric Gordon is back is that it will hopefully improve the scoring issue, but even so, Gordon has had a horrible start to the season. It may be time to shake up the rotation or bring in a free agent sooner rather than later.
Current bench rotation
Ben McLemore and Austin Rivers have been the first guards off the bench for Houston so far. Unfortunately, both have had terrible shooting seasons. McLemore has had a couple of good games here are there but has shot under 30 percent from the 3-point line while playing 20 minutes a game. What makes it worse for McLemore is how he is constantly being beaten off the dribble and getting lost on defensive switches.
Austin Rivers has actually been worse than that, only shooting 29 percent from downtown while playing almost 24 minutes per game.
Then, there are other players that receive minutes off the bench like Thabo Sefolosha, who seems like his best days are behind him, and Tyson Chandler, who has been effective but can only play a handful of minutes. Something needs to change because, without a productive bench, the Rockets will struggle all year.
Players who need more minutes
Chris Clemons and Isaiah Hartenstein have played together for most of this season. From Summer League to preseason, they bring energy and, in their short times, have been effective. Both need to get more minutes to inject some energy into the bench.
Clemons is still a rookie who will have his ups and downs but he didn’t become the third all-time NCAA scorer by accident. He struggles on defense with moving his feet and avoiding fouls, but the positives Clemons brings outweigh those negatives. With his ability to score from anywhere and provide energy off the bench, he could help jump-start a bench offense that desperately needs it.
Clemons has only played in 11 games and is averaging just nine minutes per contest. In those 11 games, Clemons is shooting 41.2 percent from downtown and has a 98.6 defensive rating.
Hartenstein is another young player who needs more minutes. Even though his game is still raw, he has shown flashes of potential. Hartenstein already has a game this season in which he pulled down 16 rebounds when Capela was out with a concussion. The Rockets lack athleticism and length: two things that Hartenstein brings to the table. His offense is still a work in progress, but with an aging Chandler, Houston needs another big man who can run the floor and rebound.
Another player who has spent time back and forth from the Rockets to the G League since last year is Gary Clark. The 6-6 forward briefly started a handful of games last year before falling out of the rotation. Clark was known for his defense in college, where he was a two-time AAC Defensive Player of the Year (2016, 2018). Clark could be a bigger defender to keep guys in check on the perimeter with enough work. His 3-point shooting has been spotty but, given time, could improve.
Free agent help
There are notable free agents still on the market that also may help the Rockets bench.
Jonathon Simmons could be one option for Houston from the free agent market. Rockets fans should know him well, as he was the primary defender on Harden during the Spurs 4-2 playoff win a few years ago. Simmons last was traded to the Washington Wizards before being waived a month later.
Simmons shot 42.9 percent from deep last year and is only 30 years old. Even though he has not been on a team this year, he could bring much-needed energy and another ball handler as he also averaged 5.4 assists per 36 minutes last year.
J.R. Smith is another well-known player still not signed. In his last full year with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he shot 37.5 percent from deep while averaging eight points a game. Smith is in the Gerald Green mold: he could be instant offense off the bench, but of course, his tendency to make less than ideal plays in crunch time is unsettling. No matter his shortcomings, he would be an upgrade to the Rockets’ current bench situation.
The Rockets, of course, have more than bench issues right now. Their defense has been up and down all year. Their 3-point shooting has been mediocre to poor most of the season but the bench has been a huge problem all year.
By giving other players more time in the rotation, the Rockets bench could go from a liability to a possible strength by the end of the year