Red94 Mailbag: Ariza reunion, trade candidates, emergence of Clark

The Rockets finally return to action tonight as they look to continue their winning streak after having an extended break. On an unrelated note, I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving (even though there is no basketball on!). With that being said, let’s get to this week’s set of questions!

By “this” I’m sure Forrest is referring to the Rockets’ strong play in November, in which they own the league’s sixth ranked offense, seventh ranked defense, fifth best net rating and are 7-2. For the most part, I believe that this level of play is very reasonable and should be expected moving forward. I would anticipate some defensive regression as the season goes on and the minutes load piles up on players like Tucker, Paul, etc. but at the same time, there is still plenty of room for improvement for the offense.

Paul and Gordon are still struggling with wide open threes, as both are below 32% on such shots. Gordon in general has continued to struggle hitting shots (just 43.7 true shooting percentage), which you have to expect to improve. James Harden’s finishing around the rim still has significant room for improvement as he continues to find his groove. Even fringe rotation players such as Nene and Brandon Knight should provide something offensively if/when they return this season (the if is more focused on Knight, for obvious reasons).

Ennis has been exactly what was expected of him when he was signed. He is knocking down nearly 39% of his threes and grades out as a positive defender according to defensive real plus-minus, while the team’s defense improves when he is on the floor. Meanwhile, Clark has been a revelation on that end, as he owns a defensive box plus-minus of +1.7, while the Rockets’ defense improves by 4.2 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court. Clark is even averaging over 2 blocks per 36 minutes!

Without another addition on the wing (which we’ll get to shortly), I would expect there to be periods where the Rockets’ defense slips a bit, especially with how much they are relying on Ennis, Clark and Tucker to hold things together. An injury to one of those players and the Rockets simply fall short of the amount of quality defenders they need to effectively execute their scheme.

All indications are that Ariza left in the offseason to secure a nice payday and that the Rockets would certainly love to bring him back if he is bought out. Good friend and Rockets beat reporter Kelly Iko discussed this instance in a recent mailbag he did over at The Athletic, in which he mentions that not only would the Rockets love to bring Ariza back, they are going through the league to find potential trade targets and additions to shore up their defense and rotation.

Ariza is putting up very similar numbers to recent seasons, but his shooting has regressed and the Suns are significantly better when he is off the floor. If Phoenix continues on this recent path and focuses on their young wings, it’s very likely that Ariza is bought out to join a contender, in which the Rockets would be the first team knocking on his door.

One of the hot topics around the league is that the Wizards appear to be on the verge of a selling spree, so fans of all teams are wondering how they can get in on the action. For the Rockets, both Porter and Oubre make sense as trade targets, as they would provide another body on the wing that can play solid defense. In Porter’s case, he brings elite shooting (although he has regressed a bit this season) and consistency that is hard to match around the league. In Oubre you would get a very athletic, young wing that struggles with consistency and his shot (career 31.8% from beyond the arc).

However, one of them is much easier to trade for than the other, as Porter is making over $26 million this season. Porter is the better player, but it would be very difficult for the Rockets to conduct a trade to get him without involving a third team to help match the salaries. Plus, it remains to be seen what the Wizards would be looking for in return for Porter, whether it is simply about cap relief or trying to get young players and draft picks.

Oubre is on the final year of his rookie contract, making just over $3 million before he enters restricted free agency. For the Rockets, a deal of Chriss and a heavily protected first round pick (i.e. top 20-23 protected) would make sense, especially since Oubre’s restricted free agency could lower his demand in the offseason and allow the Rockets to keep him around. Oubre would inject some athleticism and youth into the Rockets’ rotation, and if he can get his shooting back on track, would provide some resemblance of a three & D wing.

Also, Tomas Satoransky would be another option for a cheap pickup if the Rockets are focused on getting a fourth guard in the backcourt, especially given Knight’s unknown timetable for his return from injury. Satoransky proved that he could capably run an offense last season and would be an excellent fourth guard in case of injury, resting and for garbage time minutes. Again, it shouldn’t take much to acquire the 6’7″ guard, as a package of a second round pick along with Chriss should get it done.

Regardless, trade season is quickly approaching and you know the Rockets are going to get involved one way or the other.

About the author: Eric has previously covered the Rockets for The Dream Shake and Hoops Habit, and is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The 94. Favorite Rockets include Patrick Beverley and Omer Asik!

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