Projecting the Houston Rockets Roster and Rotation

Houston Rockets roster and rotation
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 13: James Harden (13) of the Houston Rockets sets up the offense against the Denver Nuggets during the second half of the Rockets' 109-99 win on Monday, November 13, 2018. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Houston Rockets at the Pepsi Center. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

The Houston Rockets have some decisions to make regarding their roster and rotation ahead of the 2019-20 NBA season. While the exact report date for the Rockets is not yet known, they can either report on September 27th or 28th, as a result, the Rockets are participating in the NBA Japan Global Games. Houston will face the Toronto Raptors on October 8th and 10th in Tokyo. The last time the Rockets played in Japan was during the 1992-93 campaign when the Rockets faced the Seattle Supersonics to start the regular season.

Before the Rockets head overseas, they will host the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association at the Toyota Center on September 30th. Then they travel to Honolulu, Hawaii, for an October 4th game versus the Los Angeles Clippers. Houston will conclude the preseason against the San Antonio Spurs (October 16th) and the Miami Heat (October 18th).

Houston Rockets Roster and Rotation for 2019-20

The Offseason

The Rockets have been one of the most successful teams over the last three seasons under coach Mike D’Antoni, recording 173 victories and reaching at least the conference semifinals in each of those seasons. Houston won 53 games last year.

As a result of failing to reach the NBA Finals, and for the Rockets to keep pace with the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, general manager Darryl Morey decided to trade for Oklahoma City Thunder superstar Russell Westbrook.

Besides the addition of Westbrook, Houston didn’t make any earth-shattering moves. The Rockets re-signed Austin Rivers, Gerald Green, and Danuel House.

Houston did lose three players off of their postseason roster.  Chris Paul, of course, is one of those players, not currently with the team as he was part of the Westbrook deal. Kenneth Faried and Iman Shumpert are the other two players from the playoff roster that aren’t with the team. Faried and Shumpert are both free agents, but it is highly unlikely either player will return to the team. In fact, Shumpert refused a contract offer by the Rockets recently.

Houston’s biggest concern heading into training camp is its depth. The Rockets have just 10 players under fully guaranteed contracts following the signing of veteran center Nene. The 10 fully guaranteed contracts are the lowest amount of any team in the Association.  While the number of fully guaranteed contracts is not a huge problem, it does indicate that the Rockets are unsure of what the makeup of the team is going to be.

Preseason Roster

Houston will have at least 18 players in training camp. The NBA mandates that every team carries a minimum of 14 players. Don’t be surprised if Houston adds a couple more names to the camp roster.

One such player that the Rockets appear to have an interest in is Memphis Grizzlies veteran Andre Iguodala. However, according to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Grizzlies have no interest in buying out his contract. Therefore, it seems that the Rockets would have to orchestrate a trade, likely costing them future assets.

Iguodala seems to be a perfect fit for the Rockets. The 35-year-old is a clutch shooter as well as one of the league’s best versatile defenders. He averaged 5.7 points on 50 percent shooting from the floor and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc. Iguodala also registered a plus-4.6 rating and ranked among the top-100 players in both Defensive Rating and Defensive win-share percentage.

Ben McLemore, Anthony Bennett, Gary Clark, Michael Frazier, and Isaiah Hartenstein are the veteran players on non-guaranteed deals. Meanwhile, Shamorie Ponds, William McDowell-White, and Chris Clemons are rookies on non-guaranteed contracts.

In terms of roster makeup, the Rockets need the most help on the wing, which is another reason why Iguodala is such a high priority. Rebounding, particularly on the defensive end, and shooting are significant concerns for the Rockets this season. Houston was one of the best shooting teams in the Association, but Westbrook’s addition is likely to change that. The defense is also a major concern as the Rockets ranked near the bottom in opponents’ scoring in the paint, opponent turnover percentage, and opponent free throw rate.

Examining the Veterans Battling for a Roster Spot

Houston will likely carry 14 players, rather than the maximum 15 players to start the season to give them a little flexibility. The Rockets are currently over the cap but under the luxury tax threshold.

Ben McLemore

The 26-year-old is the most experienced player among the eight players that will be trying to make the roster. McLemore entered the league known for his athleticism and shooting ability after one season at the University of Kansas. But he has yet to turn any of that potential into production.

McLemore averaged 3.9 points in just 19 games for the Sacramento Kings last year. The Kings waived him on February 7th. McLemore has career averages of 8.8 points, 1.2 triples, and 2.5 rebounds while shooting just 41.7 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from the three-point line.

Anthony Bennett

The 26-year-old power forward has been a total bust. He has not appeared in an NBA game since the 2016-17 season when he played in 23 games for the Brooklyn Nets. Bennett showed off some of his scoring prowess and an improved outside shooting proficiency as a member of the G-League’s Agua Caliente this past season, averaging 12.2 points along with 4.8 rebounds in 21 minutes of action over 26 games.

Michael Frazier

Frazier has never appeared in an NBA regular-season game. The 25-year-old has been a pro since going undrafted in 2015. He spent last season with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers where he earned the G-League Most Improved Player award after 16.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.5 steals in 45 games. Frazier is known for his shooting ability although he is a good rebounder for being a 6-foot-4 guard.

Examining the Young Veterans Vying for a Roster Spot

Gary Clark

The 6-foot-8 forward is exceptionally athletic and plays with a high motor. Clark is also strong defensively, although he does need to improve his 3-point shooting where he made just 29.7 percent of those attempts in 2018-19. Overall, the 24-year-old averaged 2.9 points and 2.4 caroms while shooting 33.1 percent from the field over 12.9 minutes of action in 51 appearances. Clark made two starts and racked up at least 20 minutes on 12 occasions as a rookie.

Clark showed some signs of growth in the Las Vegas Summer League. He demonstrated the ability to attack defenses aggressively and refined his shooting stroke. Clark averaged 13.3 points on 37 percent shooting from the floor in Vegas.

Isaiah Hartenstein

The 21-year-old did not see much time with the Rockets last year although he did show the ability to be a solid rim-protector. Fouls were an issue, however. Hartenstein did dominate while playing in the G-League last year, recording 19 double-doubles in 26 games. Overall, He produced 19.7 points, 14.7 boards, and 2.0 blocks for Rio Grande Valley.

Like Clark, Hartenstein demonstrated that he might be ready for a more prominent role this year. As the 7-footer displayed an improved comfort and knowledge of how to operate within Houston’s pick-and-roll heavy offensive scheme during the summer. The 2019 G-League Finals MVP averaged 16.0 points, 8.7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game through three games in Las Vegas before sustaining a sprained ankle.

Examining the Rookies Vying for a Roster Spot

Shamorie Ponds

The 6-foot-1 point guard is a natural scorer who is capable of putting up points in bunches. He also appears to a natural fit for the Rockets as he is outstanding in isolations and pick-and-roll situations. While his size may be an issue defensively, Ponds does possess quick hands, impressive instincts and moves extremely well laterally. The St. John’s product struggled during summer league action, producing 7.2 points a game as he shot just 30 percent from the field.

William McDowell-White

The 6-foot-5 Australian combo guard has been playing pro ball since 2016. He has been a member of the German Division II club Baunach Young Pikes the past three years. The 21-year-old is an outstanding distributor, particularly in pick-and-rolls, and scores well in those situations as well. A sterling ball-handler, McDowell-White is a capable finisher at the rim and possesses a solid mid-range game. He is also a good rebounder and likes to get out in transition. McDowell-White saw limited playing time in Las Vegas.

Chris Clemons

The pint-sized point guard dazzled during summer league action. The Campbell University product displayed the scoring prowess he showed in college as he was able to get to the basket at-will and finish. He also was effective in catch-n-shoot situations, knocking down 41.1 percent of his three-point attempts while also making strides as a playmaker. Clemons averaged 20.8 points, on 40 percent shooting from the floor, along with 4.4 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.6 steals during the action in Las Vegas.

Possible Roster 

As everything stands right now, it appears that Hartenstein and Clark are likely to grab two of the four remaining roster spots as both players’ contracts are partially guaranteed. It wouldn’t be a surprise if Clemons secures a spot out of training camp, although he will likely spend the majority of the season in the G-League. Theoretically, that will leave McLemore and Bennett battling for the last roster spot. With Bennet’s history, it appears that McLemore will snag the final roster spot. Expect Ponds and McDowell-White to sign two-way contracts after being waived during training camp. Also, Frazier could end up at Rio Grande Valley and could be a candidate to be called up during the season.

Saying all that, Bennett is the most talented of the eight players without guaranteed contracts. So, if Bennett comes to camp in shape and shows the propensity to knock down perimeter shots, he could unseat either Hartenstein or Clark. In this scenario, Hartenstein would be the player most likely to be let go. Then again, the Rockets could decide to carry a full roster from the get-go or release Nene — which is unlikely.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Thabo Sefolosha, and Nick Young are all names to keep tabs on. All six of those players will partake in the Rockets upcoming Las Vegas mini-camp, per The Athletics’ Alykhan Bijani and Kelly Iko. If things go well, it is possible a few of the players will be invited to the team’s training camp.

Starting Rotation

Westbrook will likely be joined in the starting lineup by James Harden, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, and Eric Gordon. Last year, the Rockets’ starters averaged 87 points a game and were a +3.3 in scoring difference, according to NBA.com. Those two stats ranked second and seventh-best in the NBA, respectively. If Westbrook and Harden can mesh together, the Rockets figure to have one of the most potent starting lineups in the league once again.

Westbrook and Harden will likely see 35-plus minutes a game. Both players have a history of playing 34 or more minutes. Tucker, 34, played 34 minutes a contest last year though it doesn’t seem like he’ll have as heavy of a minute load this season. Instead, it looks like Tucker and Gordon, as well as Capela, could play around 32 minutes apiece. Gordon and Capela, who had a career season last year, could see as much as 35 minutes a game depending on the supporting cast of the Rockets.
That would mean the five starters will use roughly 166 minutes of the allocated 240, which means that the Rockets reserves must account for a total of 74 minutes.

The Bench

Rivers will likely be the main backcourt reserve. Rivers struggled after coming over to the Rockets prior to the trade deadline, but he did knockdown 45.7 percent of his 3-point attempts in the playoffs. Expect him to get at least 20 minutes a game.

House will also be a significant part of the Rockets rotation. The 6-foot-7 wing can play both shooting guard and small forward positions. He made 41.6 percent of his long-distance shots last year and is a better defender than Rivers. House should get between 22-25 minutes a game.

Clark or Tyson Chandler project to be the first big man off the bench. Both players could see between 10-15 minutes a game. If Clark is off the pine first, Tucker would slide over to play center. Meanwhile, Chandler would fill the five-position if both he and Tucker or he and Clark are paired together.

With those nine players, the Rockets would only have to fill around 10 minutes a game at most with their other role players. Green, who saw 20 minutes a game last season, will likely be the squad’s ninth or 10th player off the bench. He could end up ahead of Clark on the depth chart, as he can play both forward positions, but expect his minutes to decline from last season.  Green likely will be followed by McLemore, Hartenstein, and Nene.

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