In part two of our mailbag, our Rockets beat writer goes lightning style to answer your remaining trade deadline questions, Houston’s shot quality, the impending returns of Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. and more. You can read part one, which looked solely at the NBA trade deadline, here.
Questions have been lightly edited for style, length and clarity.
A win streak! Rockets winning two games on hustle, desire and trying to share the basketball… is it too much to want to see the same when Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr. return, or do you predict a return to some iso/pick-and-roll chucking? The dribble handoff with Alperen Şengün seems to be the way to go. — John W.
Anyone who watched the Rockets grind out back-to-back wins over the Pistons and Thunder recently had to have been pleased with the overall effort, despite being shorthanded.
Because Green and Porter take up such a large chunk of the offensive shouldering — and because no one else on the roster can replicate what they bring to the table — playing without them forcing the rest of the team to try a different approach. Sure, the basketball wasn’t always pretty as evidenced by the 35 turnovers the Rockets had over that stretch, but the ball was moving. Sometimes, less becomes more. Role players are given the opportunity to step up and take on more responsibility. There’s no safety valve, albeit an odd term for a 13-win team.
Whenever Green and Porter return, they’ll have seen that everything doesn’t need to be on their young shoulders all the time. Şengün’s emergence is the biggest reason why. He’s always been capable of handling playmaking duties but there’s been a noticeable jump in his assertiveness and decisiveness over the last few weeks. He’s telling players where to be on the floor, moving things around and directing traffic. Since Porter last played Jan. 11, Şengün has dished out an impressive 60 assists to teammates.
There’s no question he’s the best passer on the roster. It’s hard for young players to shake habits, so there certainly will be an interesting clashing of styles when this team is fully healthy — but Şengün is here to make Green and Porter’s jobs easier. There will still be a good helping of the inefficient offense that has plagued this team for more than half of the season, but they know the right way to play. That’s half the problem.
Why is it that a team that shoots the 3 as poorly as the Rockets has an offense where everybody parks at the 3-point line?— Jesse W.
Since Jan.1, the Rockets are last in 3-point percentage (31.6) and 25th in 3-point attempts (31.3). Not good, especially for a young team that preaches spacing so much.
According to Second Spectrum tracking data, Houston is middle of the pack in taking “open” 3s, meaning the closest defender is four to six feet away. On “wide open” shots, meaning the closest defender is six or more feet away, the Rockets are 18th in 3-point frequency. In both instances, they are near the bottom in accuracy. So for all the talk about increasing the space on the floor and wanting to get up a healthy supply of 3s, so far, they haven’t been able to utilize it.
But this is how they have to play, at least according to analytics and recent NBA history. They should be taking more threes as odd as it sounds. On paper, they should have an above average outside attack. Green, Porter and Eric Gordon have had stretches in the past where they’ve shot upwards of 36 percent. Jabari Smith Jr. has struggled with his jumper for most of the season (shooting 29 percent on 4.4 catch-and-shoot attempts per game) but there’s a shooter in there somewhere. Porter is shooting a ridiculous 42 percent on catch-and-shoot looks but he’s only taking two of them per game. The math isn’t on their side right now, but that’s more of a by-product of their overall season than their individual ability.
Would the Kings entertain an Usman Garuba for Davion Mitchell trade to improve their frontcourt defense, or do they feel they can’t trade Davion? While I believe in Usman’s potential, I don’t see the Rockets giving him the opportunity. Davion, in lieu of a veteran point guard, would provide the Rockets with improved defense and playmaking. — BB
Not sure about this one. Since Jae’Sean Tate has returned to the lineup, the need for Garuba has lessened. I still believe in his longterm defensive potential because he’s a smart basketball player but it’s too crowded in Houston at the moment. The Kings, the feel-good story this year, are in full playoff mode. As a result, I don’t think they’re looking for developmental projects like Garuba as opposed to win-now players. I like Mitchell’s prospects but it would take more than Garuba to get that done.
Will they finally trade Eric Gordon before the deadline? He has served his time in this mess. Set him free. — Trey S.
Despite popular belief, Gordon is still capable of winning basketball and has stepped up in the absences of Green and Porter — amassing 49 points, 10 assists and four steals in the Rockets’ last two games. As always with Gordon and the never-ending will-they-or-won’t-they trade saga, we’ll continue to monitor the market. It feels like the league is in a holding pattern waiting for the first shoe to drop. One more week to go!
Any word on the availability of Monte Morris? I feel like he’d be a solid backup point guard who can step in and start on occasion. Also as far as backup bigs go, Mo Bamba has seen his minutes sliced, any chance Houston could take a flyer on him and if so, what’s the asking price? —Nicholas Z.
I like the idea of Bamba as an upgrade over the Bruno Fernando/Boban Marjanovic/Garuba logjam. I’m surprised you don’t hear his name more often. He’s only 24 and has been serviceable for the Magic when his number has been called — despite playing just over 10 minutes a game. With the emergence of Bol Bol, it certainly feels like Bamba is available for the right price, but with his $10 million price tag, the only realistic thing the Rockets have (that they should move) in that range is Gordon’s $19 million but I’d have a hard time believing the Magic would want him or Gordon would want that. You’d need a third team. But funny enough, the contracts of Marjanovic, Garuba and Fernando… nevermind.
With Morris, he’s a steady hand but the Wizards are in that weird spot where they seem to be content with hunting a Play-In Tournament spot. Morris has started every game and is a big part of that team, so until we know what’s going to happen with Kyle Kuzma, you should probably look elsewhere for veteran point guard help.
What is your opinion on the rumors James Harden is looking to return to Houston? How would this affect the young core? — Aaron G.
A *hypothetical* Harden return could be disastrous. It also could be one of the smartest things this front office does in this rebuild. This is a complex topic that can’t be answered in one sitting or at the end of a mailbag. So I’ll just say stay tuned.
(Photo of Eric Gordon: Troy Taormina / USA Today)