Should the Houston Rockets follow the Timberwolves' blueprint?

Should the Houston Rockets find their Rudy Gobert?
Should the Houston Rockets find their Rudy Gobert? / Stephen Maturen/GettyImages

The NBA is a copycat league.

When a team finds a successful blueprint, other teams look to replicate it. That makes sense. There are no bonus points for originality in the NBA. When a competitor finds a successful route, following that path is OK.

So, Houston Rockets fans have wanted the team to borrow from the Denver Nuggets' notebook. The Nuggets were the 2022-23 NBA champions, and the Rockets just so happen to roster a player that some call "baby Jokic".

Now, we've seen the Nuggets get eliminated by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Naturally, some Rockets fans' minds have wandered. Should the Rockets follow the Timberwolves' model?

Do the Houston Rockets have the pieces to be the Wolves?

The Rockets are currently grappling with some of the same issues that plagued Minnesota for years. Their best player is an offensively gifted big man who struggles on the defensive end. The Wolves solved that issue by acquiring Rudy Gobert to insulate Karl-Anthony Towns on defense.

Rockets fans wonder if their team should draft Donovan Clingan to do the same for Alperen Sengun. With that in mind, we need to ask ourselves two questions: can Clingan be Gobert, and can Sengun be Towns?

Clingan does not project to be Gobert. If he did, he'd be the unquestioned number-one pick in this seemingly weak draft class. Still, it feels fair to say that he can replicate Gobert's functionality. Clingan will likely be approximately a lesser version of Gobert.

It's the Sengun/Towns comparison that falls apart. Towns is a career 39.8% three-point shooter. He's one of the best shooting big men in NBA history. Meanwhile, Sengun is yet to shoot league average from distance.

Pairing Towns with a non-shooting big has only worked offensively because Towns shoots like a wing - or, really, a guard. Clingan could protect Sengun defensively, but the pair projects as an anemic offensive duo.

Perhaps the Rockets could slide Sengun to the 4 alongside a rim-protecting 5, but that 5 needs to be a Brook Lopez type. If you hadn't noticed, big men who can defend the rim and space the floor do not grow on trees. If they did, every GM in the NBA would be heavily investing in those seeds.

So, the Timberwolves model will not be an easy one for the Rockets to replicate. Should they go back to the Nuggets model?

Houston Rockets should forge their own path

We haven't touched on any guards yet. Let's get into that.

Jalen Green is not on pace to be Anthony Edwards. We need to be realistic in our evaluations. That's another reason why the Rockets don't have the means to become the Timberwolves. We still have faith in Green, but Edwards is on track to share "face of the league" duties with Victor Wembanyama.

By contrast, Jamal Murray feels like a realistic -if ambitious - target for Green. If he can exceed Murray's production, he could compensate for the fact that Sengun is unlikely to be as good as Jokic.

Again - we need to be realistic. Jokic is arguably the best offensive player in the history of this sport. As talented as Sengun is, it's inherently unlikely that he'll hit that mark. So, if Green could develop into a slightly better player than Murray, perhaps the Rockets could build on what the Nuggets have accomplished.

Some have even penciled in Amen Thompson for the Aaron Gordon role. He won't be a replica, but he could have similar functionality as a versatile defender who primarily functions as a cutter for Sengun on the offensive end. Thompson could be Gordon with (even) less shooting and (even) more secondary playmaking.

Yet, that feels like a disappointing outcome for Thompson. It would be fine, but tailoring him for an off-ball role this early in his development feels like shortchanging his potential.

That's why the Rockets shouldn't be looking to follow any blueprint yet. They don't know precisely what they have. This front office should be open to a future where Cam Whitmore or Jabari Smith Jr. is their franchise player. The Rockets need to let their guys develop and adjust their game plan according to those developments. Who knows?

Someday, someone else may be trying to follow their blueprint.