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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The Rockets have continuity this year

I wrote earlier this week about what I consider the Rockets’ biggest strength entering the season: the durability of their best players. That’s the advantage they have over their two main competitors in the Lakers and Clippers. But their other advantage over the Lakers is that they actually have a complete rotation entering the season, with essentially all of the major spots filled.

It’s funny because the Rockets basically are in the opposite situation as they were in last season before the opener. Last year, all of their best players were back, but they had to recreate their depth after losing Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute. This year, they’ve swapped out #2 options after trading Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook, but have maintained continuity in their supporting cast after resigning Danuel House Jr., Austin Rivers, and Gerald Green. I actually feel like the Rockets are in a much better place this year in that regard though you may recall that I didn’t think the team would really miss a beat after losing Ariza.

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