NBATV’s ‘build your starting lineup’

The tiers here were quite laughable with Chris Paul ranked lower than both Clyde Drexler and Steve Francis, even assuming value is assigned by the player’s performance while with the Rockets rather than overall career accomplishments. The Clyde designation is at least somewhat defensible given the nostalgic revisionism associated with his contributions in the title run (we remember him as being a lot better than he was), but Francis was at no point in his career better than Paul. Assuming of course that we are indeed talking about professional basketball and not some streetball exhibition outdoor. Francis was a lot of flash with minimal substance. He could fill up a stat sheet, and a highlight reel, but forget about busting a zone. (I’m serious. Oldheads like myself will recall the trouble the Nash/Dirk Mavericks gave Houston because they refused to play man defense and our guys couldn’t figure out the zone. There’s a quote floating around somewhere on the internet where Francis brazenly questions the masculinity of the Mavericks for their unwillingness to guard him and Cuttino Mobley straight up, failing to consider the irony captured on the scoreboard.)

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Who will win the last rotation spot?

I’ve written this week about the continuity on the Rockets’ roster in bringing back most of the core pieces and also about the need to develop Gary Clark. Both topics beg the question of how the team plans to round out its rotation.

As a starting point, the operative assumption is that the Rockets are done tinkering and will again not fully make use of their midlevel exception. I’m basing this assumption upon the fact that they sit currently just beneath the luxury tax threshold and can meet the roster minimum requirement through veteran minimum signings. (I don’t have the energy to dive anymore into this topic.)

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The Rockets need to develop Gary Clark this season

I wrote back on November 21 that Gary Clark was instrumental in the Rockets’ turnaround from their disastrous 1-5 start to the season.

In Clark’s 241 minutes on the court, the Rockets have a +5.8 net rating, good for third on the team behind Eric Gordon and P.J. Tucker. Houston is slightly worse offensively with Clark on the floor with a 105.6 rating with him on the court as opposed to a 107.2 rating with him off for a -1.6 difference. But defensively, the team has a 101.4 rating when he’s been on the court and a 108.9 rating when he’s been off, for a difference of -7.5. That’s been the highest difference on the team after fellow rookie Isaiah Hartenstein (-17.7) who has only played 127 minutes thus far.

They’re small sample sizes, but the lineup of Chris Paul, Tucker, James Harden, Clint Capela, and Clark has posted a net rating of +46.6 in 18 minutes while the lineup of Tucker, Gordon, Harden, Capela, and Clark has posted a net rating of +24.6 in twenty minutes. The trio of Harden, Paul, and Clark has shared the court for 44 minutes and had a net rating of +18.8. Clark’s presence is lifting the best players on the Rockets.

But after averaging 20.4 minutes per game between October 26 and November 30, over 17 games, Clark was suddenly gone completely from the rotation. To me, it was one of the more baffling occurrences of the Rockets’ 2019 season. He didn’t appear again as a regular until January 11, when he played 17.9 minutes per game in the six games through January 21. The decision to pull Clark from the rotation for months at a time struck me as odd considering this was a team desperately in search of consistent contributors and desperately in search of a defensive identity.

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