Sorting Out the Rockets Playoff Rotations

This guy (and James Harden) is important, but it's nice to hope options for the playoff rotation.
This guy (and James Harden) is important, but it's nice to hope options for the playoff rotation. Photo by Jeff Balke
Finally healthy, the Rockets have a problem. It's a good problem. They have a lot of depth. More than at any other point of the season. Coach Mike D'Antoni is using the last few weeks of the season to not only get rest for some of his guys, but also mix and match his rotations to see what he will use.

D'Antoni, like many NBA coaches, prefers to tighten up his rotations come playoff time. It makes sense. Coaches want their best guys on the floor as much as possible. But, it is not an exaggeration to say the Rockets could play 11 guys and not see a drop off, assuming they rotate them in with James Harden and Chris Paul.

It's certainly a luxury, but don't be shocked if the playoff rotation only goes about nine deep most nights. Still, those nine could change with match ups. Here's a breakdown.

The Starters

James Harden
Chris Paul
Clint Capela
Eric Gordon
P.J. Tucker

The Rockets may have toyed around with Faried at the four, but it is clear Gordon is best in the starting lineup and the team benefits from that spread of offensive talent around the three point line. No sense changing a lineup that has been stellar for them when fully health.

The First Two Off the Bench

Kenneth Faried
Austin Rivers

In the case of these two guys, it is about trust. D'Antonio trusts Rivers with the ball and realizes that Faried is a shorter version of Capela. While you don't get the ball handling of Paul, Rivers is a defensive upgrade (slightly) and Harden has the ball most of the time anyway. The only way this might change is if Rivers continues to struggle from three.

The Next Two

Gerald Green
Danuel House

Since House's return from the G League, he has been on fire, shooting better than 50 percent from beyond the arc. Green has been consistent all year, but it's not tough to see a scenario where House, who is a better defender, scoop up some of Green's minutes. The team has been better with House on the floor, so much so that he might be slowly working his way into the first two rather than the second two off the bench.

The Specialists

Iman Shumpert
Gary Clark

The Rockets probably hoped Shumpert would be higher on the depth chart by now, but a nagging knee injury and slow-to-respond shooting touch has held him back. Still, his defensive presence will be key for them in certain match ups in the playoffs. Nene is the team's only real big body down in the paint, more physical than Faried but still with a defensive touch on offense. And Clark, who is probably least likely to see many minutes, is someone the team could look to as a defensive specialist in key circumstances.

The best part for the Rockets is they have the flexibility to go with the hot hand or the appropriate player-on-player match up. They can dictate their rotations based on what works rather than necessity. It's a good problem to have and D'Antoni will have his work cut out for him balancing the juggling act.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke