The Rockets Daily – February 21, 2014

Deadline Day – As you all know by now, Aaron Brooks was dealt yesterday to the Denver Nuggets in exchange for small forward Jordan Hamilton.  It is a sad day to see Brooks sent packing once again, but the Rockets were never going to give him much playing time and preferred his roster spot for Isaiah Canaan.

ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton gave the Rockets a “B-“ in his deadline-day grades column.

Houston Rockets: B-

It’s no surprise that a stats-minded team would take a chance on Hamilton, who has always graded out better by advanced numbers than with coaches. I can see the Rockets using Hamilton as a stretch 4. He’s listed at 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, but he looks much bigger and is a better defensive rebounder than Omri Casspi. In that role, Hamilton would have a quickness advantage that would make him a dangerous scorer. It’s tough to tell whether the Houston coaching staff will really have time to bring him up to speed midseason, however. This may be more of an extended tryout to determine whether to re-sign Hamilton this summer.

There is some risk to this deal. Brooks has played heavy minutes due to Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin injuries. Should one of them go down, the Rockets’ third point guard is now rookie Isaiah Canaan, who has seen just 20 minutes of NBA action this season. Canaan has been effective in the D-League, where he was chosen for its all-star game, and the trade seems to signal that the Houston front office thinks he’s ready for a promotion if needed.

It’s a shame that Houston has no say in that fourth year of Hamilton’s deal.  He would have been a cheap option as a rotation guy going into next summer.  But the Rockets do get the extra wing they were looking for and it didn’t cost them much.  As was covered yesterday, Hamilton has some strengths that fit nicely with the Rockets.  He’s a solid rebounder and is very effective in the catch-and-shoot, which fits the Rockets slash-and-kick style.  And he seems like he’ll be just the versatility the Rockets needed; his size would indicate he’s a small forward although Pelton expects him to play some stretch-4 for the Rockets, and he’s listed as a shooting guard in the Nuggets depth chart.

Daryl Morey on why he made the deal:

“His shooting and he is a really great rebounder,” Morey said. “One of our issues at the wing is when Dwight (Howard) goes to block a shot, our rebounding behind him has been challenged and we think Jordan can come in and shore that up. If he gets into the rotation – he will obviously be competing with some good players there like (Francisco) Garcia and (Omri) Casspi – we think he has a real chance to help us.

Omri Casspi’s minutes have been cut and Francisco Garcia hasn’t looked like quite the two-way force he did while hounding Kevin Durant last May, so Hamilton will have a chance to supplant one of them in the rotation.  Hamilton offers more athleticism than either Garcia or Casspi, and like his two new teammates, may show growth simply by playing with improved talent.  He saw limited court time with the Nuggets during their playoff run last year when he played behind Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler.

But the talent in Houston and the simple role he’ll be asked to play for the Rockets should suit Hamilton just fine.  I expect him to be another Morey gem.

Harden Hurt – In a development that should surprise absolutely no one, James Harden injured his right elbow in the overtime loss to Golden State last night and will have an MRI today in Phoenix.

Harden said that when the collision occurred, he thought he had broken his arm. He stayed in the game and said afterward that his elbow was still in pain and throbbing, “but hopefully it’s nothing too serious.”

Seeing as the Rockets had a full squad in practice for the first time in ages to start the week, in was only logical that someone would get hurt heading into the stretch-run.  Injuries have been a problem for Houston all season and post-All-Star break is obviously going to be no exception.  Although if Harden is forced to miss any time, at least the rest of the Rockets’ players are accustomed to dealing with a jumbled rotation.  Plus, it might provide Kevin McHale with the extra minutes he needs to see what he has with Jordan Hamilton.

Houston Skyline – Speaking of Hamilton, it sounds as though he will have to unseat either Francisco Garcia or Omri Casspi on the wing if he wants see any minutes in Houston.  According to Jonathon Feigen, Kevin McHale plans to stay big now that Omer Asik is healthy and Donatas Motiejunas has shown he’s a capable NBA player, as opposed to reverting back to the small lineups that have defined his time in Houston.

“We’ll see, but I think that I’m pretty comfortable with Motiejunas and (Terrence) Jones,” McHale said. “Now that Omer is back healthy, being able to get him in there, play him a little bit with Dwight (Howard), so I think we’ll probably stay big.

“They (Motiejunas and Jones) play a little more like spread fours anyway so as long as they can guard those guys, I feel pretty comfortable that they’ll have an advantage size-wise, lengthwise and hopefully get in the post a little bit, offensive rebound, and try to continue to play the way we’ve been playing.”

I’ve always expressed my affection for D-Mo, and his play of late is finally rewarding that sentiment.  He hasn’t played many minutes with Omer Asik yet due to McHale’s reluctance to rely on Motiejunas earlier this season.  But since Asik’s return they appear to make quite the pairing, clicking on offense and forcing teams to play among the trees on defense.  And even I’ve been surprised by Motiejunas’ defensive growth.  He’s not Kevin Garnett by any means, but he’s very active and aggressive on the defensive end and has shown very good lateral agility defending the pick-and-roll, even if that aggression can lead to him overplaying it from time to time.

I expected more out of Omri Casspi coming into the season, but Motiejunas has most of the same skill-set and in the body of an athletic seven-footer no less.  The Rockets four man bigs-rotation is listed at a combined 27’8″ tall.  Very few teams have that kind of size anymore, and the ones that do can’t shoot it like Houston.  Hopefully the Rockets will feature D-Mo a little more with the second unit and take advantage of what he brings.

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