Red94 Mailbag: Improving defense, Carmelo’s role, Gordon extension

Welcome to the second installment of the Red94 Mailbag! A big thank you to everyone that has submitted questions these past two weeks, and without further ado, let’s get right to this week’s set of questions.

Carmelo Anthony has picked up his play in recent games, with his best offensive performance of the season coming in the win over the Nets last week. Remember last week when we were discussing Melo’s early struggles and how he wasn’t hitting wide open threes? Well as expected, that has changed, as he is now shooting 36.8% on wide open 3-pointers (a number that still leaves room for improvement). Anthony got plenty of open looks against the Nets, and will continue to receive such looks when the team has both James Harden and Chris Paul available.

As for posting him up, bench lineups with Anthony in them will likely always have one of Chris Paul or James Harden alongside Eric Gordon, which would make Anthony the third option. The best (and only) time that the offense should work through Anthony in the post is when he has a clear mis-match or gets good position early in a possession when running up the floor. Anthony isn’t going to pass out of the post and isn’t difficult to guard unless he has a size advantage. Anthony should get most of his shots and points by playing off-ball and benefitting from the attention that Harden, Paul and Gordon attract.

In this brief winning streak the Rockets’ defense has made somewhat of a resurgence as they have posted a defensive rating of 103.6 (a strong improvement from their season-long rating of 110.9). Clark has been a revelation on the defensive end as a rookie, as he seems to always be in the right position and makes strong contests on shots (he is blocking 2.8 shots per-36 minutes so far). Per Cleaning the Glass, the defense improves by 9.1 points per 100 possessions when he is on the floor, highlighting his value on that side of the ball.

Meanwhile, Ennis has been as good as expected so far as his length and versatility makes him the team’s best wing defender on a nightly basis. The defense improves by 3.1 points per 100 possessions when Ennis is on the floor, so having him in lineups alongside Clark is a recipe for defensive success.

However, it is still hard to rely on a rookie throughout the regular season, as Clark will make mistakes every now and then. Furthermore, Clark will receive a limited number of minutes due to his offensive limitations, especially if he isn’t knocking down 3-pointers. It’s also important to note that Clark is currently on a two-way contract, which limits the amount of games he can play in this season. In short, the Rockets still need to add one more solid wing defender in order to be a top-ten defensive unit this season.

Bzdelik’s return will be interesting, as he should be able to improve communication and adjust the scheme a bit, but when it comes down to it, the players will be the deciding factor in how good the Rockets are on defense this season. Relying on Anthony and Green to play significant minutes on the wing will always hamper your defense, and it remains to be seen just how much magic Bzdelik can create with this personnel set.

There are several questions here, but let’s deal with the main one surrounding Eric Gordon. If you don’t remember, there were reports over the offseason and during training camp regarding the Rockets looking to extend Gordon’s contract, with nothing coming to fruition.

Gordon is in a tough position, as he would certainly like to hit unrestricted free agency in 2020 with the salary cap increasing every year. However, he will be 31 years old (turning 32 in December 2020) at that point, which will give teams pause about giving him serious money. Gordon’s best bet is to extend his deal now to get the assurance of long-term money, but if I’m the Rockets I wouldn’t be looking to do that given Gordon’s potential decline and injury history (not to mention how expensive the team will be moving forward).

If Gordon won’t extend, trading him just makes that much more sense. I’ve always been on board with including him in a deal for Jimmy Butler, as Gordon will never be close to the player Butler is on both ends of the floor. It’s tough to make such a decision, but given Gordon’s struggles this season and serious potential for regression in the coming years, it makes more sense to trade him now or let him leave in 2020 free agency than to focus on re-signing him to long-term money.


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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