Welcome back to the Red94 mailbag! After a couple of weeks off for the holidays, we are back and hitting the ground running. Now that the Rockets have appeared to officially turn their season around due to insane play from James Harden, the mailbag won’t have to respond to so many negative questions moving forward. In fact, a lot of the questions this week were regarding possible trade ideas, which is fitting because the deadline is less than one month away. With that being said, let’s dive right in!
Do you think DM should make a move to acquire Kevin Love & if so, what playera should he offer?
— Maya fanofJBlank (@RowdyMaya) January 8, 2019
I have been and continue to be firmly against a trade for Kevin Love, mainly because in order to make the salaries match-up, the Rockets would have to depart with a key rotation player (or two). If the Cavaliers do trade Love, they are going to be looking for young players and draft assets, which the Rockets don’t have on the roster. Would a package of Brandon Knight, Eric Gordon and both a first and second round pick get a deal done? It’s unlikely given Gordon’s play and the low value of those draft picks.
Then it would get in to the dangerous area of giving up multiple first round picks, which isn’t worth it for a player in Love that struggles to stay on the floor and doesn’t put the Rockets above the other top teams in the Western Conference (most notably, the Warriors).
Love is an elite floor-spacer at the four (or small-ball five) and can add some rebounding and secondary/tertiary playmaking. However, the Rockets don’t really need Love enough offensively to warrant trading a significant package for him, especially when the Rockets are 25th in the league defensively and Love doesn’t provide any value on that end of the floor. It would be better for the Rockets to focus their trade efforts on a defensive-minded wing that can provide floor-spacing.
Are there any rockets related trades/FA signings you'll be hoping for? (a little less than a month before the trade deadline!)
— Corban Ford-Watson (@CorbanfordNBA) January 8, 2019
This is a common question I have received over the course of the season and my response continues to be the same in that the Rockets’ primary focus is should be on getting another quality wing (with a secondary focus being on a quality, more consistent backup center).
The ideal, realistic trade target continues to be Kent Bazemore. Bazemore is no shutdown defender, but he has been a solid defender for several seasons now. This season, Bazemore owns a +0.9 defensive box plus-minus (he is +1.0 for his career), a +0.65 defensive real plus-minus, and the Hawks defense is 7.4 points per 100 possessions better with him on the floor. Bazemore can provide energy and effort on the defensive end, and when paired with James Ennis and P.J. Tucker, the Rockets would certainly have a solid crop of defensive wings.
On the other end of the floor, Bazemore is another player that can space the floor at a solid rate (he is a career 35.6% 3-point shooter) and can create his own shot during stretches. Bazemore is averaging a career-high 14 points per game and is a solid finisher around the rim (62.8 percent). Perhaps more importantly, Bazemore is a quality shooter in the corners, as he has knocked down over 40 percent of his corner 3-pointers in each of the past five seasons. Those are the shots he would receive quite often in the Rockets offense, especially when playing alongside James Harden and Chris Paul.
In terms of backup bigs, the Rockets would benefit from having a more useable backup behind Clint Capela. Ed Davis would be an ideal pickup because of his elite rebounding and mobility (Davis leads the league in rebounding percentage and is grabbing 17 rebounds per-36 minutes). Unfortunately it is very unlikely that the Nets give Davis up given that they are in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race (DeMarre Carroll would also be an ideal, realistic target for the Rockets, but he too is a key part of the Nets’ rotation).
To sum it up, a defensive-minded, floor-spacing wing and more mobile and playable backup center are the two primary targets for the Rockets over the next couple of weeks.
Is it better to bench House when Gordon comes back?
— RyanB (@RayanB24) January 8, 2019
When Eric Gordon returns, it is better to keep House in the starting lineup and move Austin Rivers to the bench. House provides more size and enough shooting (37.3% on 3.6 threes attempted per game) to fit at the three, which would allow Rivers to play alongside Gordon or Harden when D’Antoni staggers the three in the backcourt.
The numbers have been very positive for House so far. He currently owns a +13.2 net rating, as the Rockets’ offense improves by 7.4 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor, while the defense is also 5.8 points per 100 possessions better. House is an athletic wing that provides energy and movement in the offense, especially in transition. Most importantly, he isn’t afraid to shoot when the ball swings his way.
While the starting lineup of Harden, Rivers, House, Tucker and Capela has done well in recent games as the Rockets have been shorthanded (it has a +7.6 net rating, mostly due to an astronomical 127.4 offensive rating), that same lineup with Gordon in Rivers’ spot has actually been better (+9.9 net rating, mainly due to a stifling 96.3 defensive rating). Overall, House has been a very impactful starter and should remain in that spot as the Rockets get healthy. Using House in the starting lineup alongside Paul and Harden would allow Gordon and Rivers to run the bench units (along with one of Paul or Harden for stretches), which would be potent offensively. Of course, if the Rockets add another wing it would make for some difficult rotation choices down the line, but that’s a future problem for Mike D’Antoni, and one he would rather have than the injury issues his team is going through at the moment.