It's time for the Houston Rockets to sit their veterans out

The Houston Rockets should shift their focus to Amen Thompson and Jalen Green.
The Houston Rockets should shift their focus to Amen Thompson and Jalen Green. / Tim Warner/GettyImages

At this point, we're just running out the clock.

The Houston Rockets are eliminated from playoff contention. They've got four games remaining, and currently sit at 38-40. The best record they can finish their season with is 42-40.

Even that outcome won't get them into the playoffs. It's mathematically impossible.

Rockets fans don't need to lament. The primary objective in 2023-24 was to put the young Rockets in high-leverage situations. That goal was achieved. The Rockets hung around the playoff race until April. Their young players now have experience playing games with stakes.

Should the Rockets get them more experience?

Houston Rockets have nothing left to play for

Theoretically, the Rockets could sit Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks and hand the reigns to Amen Thompson and Jalen Green for the rest of the year. They'd have two main reasons to make that choice.

Firstly, the Rockets may be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. They aren't mathematically eliminated from keeping their pick in the upcoming draft. The Rockets owe their selection to the Oklahoma City Thunder with top-4 protection.

The Rockets could tank their remaining games to maximize their odds of keeping that pick. Still, that feels like an exercise in futility. As it stands, the pick has a 7.1% chance of landing in the top-4. The Rockets can't drop more than one spot in the standings, which would boost those odds to a 9.4% chance.

Is it the rational thing to do? Technically, sure. Still, it feels like the benefit of continuing to build a no-quit culture is greater than a 2.3% boost in those odds.

Why else would the Rockets sit their veterans?

Houston Rockets can get more data

Fred VanVleet is not the future of the Houston Rockets. Neither is Dillon Brooks. In the end, the Rockets are relying on their "core six" to eventually take them to the promised land.

Do they have a primary ball-handler? It isn't clear. Right now, Jalen Green is scoring 0.90 points per possession (PPP) as a pick-and-roll ball-handler in 7.9 reps per game. For context, Trae Young leads the league in possessions per game (12.2) and scores 0.98 PPP.

Would you have assumed Green was further behind Young as a pick-and-roll ball-handler? You're not alone. The Rockets could use these last four games to see how he does with more volume in those sets if they sat VanVleet.

The same holds for Amen Thompson. He's scoring 0.79 PPP in 1.3 possessions per game as a pick-and-roll ball-handler. That's not optimal, but it compares fairly well to fellow freshman Scoot Henderson (0.87 PPP in 6.7 possessions per).

There's a huge discrepancy in usage between the two rookies, and a narrow one in efficiency. The Rockets could ramp up Thompson's ball-handling reps with VanVleet on the bench as well.

After all, what else do they have to play for?

Houston Rockets should play to win but live with losses

We're walking an awfully fine line here.

The Rockets shouldn't tank. By contrast, they should operate with the understanding that they benefit from losses. How does that shake out?

Let's shift the framing. The Rockets are juggling competing priorities. We're suggesting an order of prioritization.

Firstly, the Rockets should prioritize getting more information about their young players. Secondly, they're prioritizing finishing the season strong. Their lottery odds are their last priority, but if losing a couple more games improves their odds, they'll live with that.

Think about it. If the Rockets finish 42-40, but they're carried by Fred VanVleet through the rest of the year, does that mean more than a 40-42 finish if Green and Thompson explore their potential? The clock is ticking on the 2023-24 season:

The Rockets can let it run out, or they can make use of their time.