By: Forrest Walker
All summer, we asked one question above all others. Who would be the Houston Rockets’ power forward? Ömer Aşık may have been displaced from his starting center position, but he hasn’t moved to the power forward slot. Not really. The two candidates everyone expected, Terrence Jones and Donatas Motiejunas, have subsequently been dropped out of the normal rotation. Houston has a lot of point guards and a lot of centers, but is lacking some depth at the four. The bigger question is: should they care?
The Rockets have been cited as trendsetters and as a team that gets ahead of the curve. They did, after all, embrace a form of moneyball when they gave the Daryl Morey the keys to the kingdom. Under his watch, the Rockets have pushed for and adopted a tendency for only the most efficient shots in the game. It’s a new game, and the Rockets seem to be on the cutting edge of it.
Is this eschewing of the power forward rotation yet another new trend the Rockets got on board first? Is the cementing in of a small ball lineup something we’re likely to see on other teams within a few years? The short answer is no. The Rockets aren’t trendsetters or portals to the future or seers. They’re a team that’s willing to do something seemingly strange if it means more wins long term. That’s why this unusual lineup isn’t the start of anything for the league, but is telling about where Houston is at the moment.
Nobody suspected that the answer at the four would be Omri Casspi. He’s undersized, out of position and has performed poorly for the last couple seasons. The last point seems to have been a factor of scenery as much as anything else. The previous elements, however, simply don’t apply to this team. Increasingly, the Rockets seem to be abandoning the idea of being out of position due to abandoning the idea of positions as well.
Have two good point guards and two good centers? Traditional wisdom holds that doubling these up is wasteful and it’s better to have them back each other up. Modern thought cares little for positions and results in playing the best players as much as possible. Ömer Aşık and Patrick Beverley are simply too skilled to keep off the court, and Jones and Motiejunas are too raw to allow on it. Omri Casspi and Chandler Parsons are, at times, the second tallest players on the court. Congratulations, you’re now a power forward.
It’s not much more complicated than that, really. When Lin and Beverley share the floor, who’s the point guard? They both are. Does that mean there’s no shooting guard? It can. Harden pushes the envelope on distribution already, as he and supernova incarnate Steph Curry occupy essentially the same role with two different names. If shooting, slashing, passing, dribbling, rebounding and defense are all taken care of, the size of the players is immaterial. Five Magics Johnson or LeBrons James, stars who do it all at any position, would make for unstoppable teams.
In a move borne of convenience and obviousness, the Rockets have simply stopped playing power forward. To say that Casspi and one of the twin towers has been playing the four is a disservice to what those players do. Howard doesn’t change his game, his height, his defense when he moves to guarding Kevin Love instead of Nikola Pekovic. Why call him a power forward, then? The Rockets have no power forwards in the rotation because they don’t need them. They have lots of threes to use instead.