Sports

Rockets Week: The Four Tiers of Rockets Current Players

Alperen Sengun is clearly an important part of this Rockets squad.
Alperen Sengun is clearly an important part of this Rockets squad. Photo by Jeff Balke
When you have a young team like the Houston Rockets, it should be assumed that virtually everything is a question mark including who will eventually be the mainstays on the roster. Things can change relatively quickly even from week to week. A couple of weeks back, Daishen Nix was their clear backup point guard and had been since training camp. Has TyTy Washington now changed that calculus?

In looking over the current roster, it can be divided into four groups or tiers, which helps better explain where they are now and where they might be in a year or two. We will only focus on the 15 on the roster as of December 27.

The Foundational Pieces

Jalen Green
Jabari Smith, Jr.
Kevin Porter, Jr.

The foundational pieces are players who the team must build around. This list may not have included Porter had he not signed an extension before the season, but it is clear their wagon is hitched to him at point guard for the foreseeable future. The way he has played over the course of this season seems to be proof he can be trusted at least when it comes to scoring. His numbers are up in every category with the exception of assists and turnovers. But, the team is close to the worst in the NBA in both of those categories, so it's not a surprise. Ditto his three point shooting, which has been bad for the entire squad across the board.

Green and Smith are the two guys this team is meant to be built for. They combine finesse, scoring, explosiveness, defensive tenacity and shooting ability. Smith needs bulk and experience. Green is just barely scratching the surface of what he will eventually be able to do. They are one of the more dynamic young tandems in the NBA.

The Likely Long Term

Alperen Sengun
KJ Martin
Tari Eason

Consider this group just a single step below a sure thing. Sengun has begun to find his rhythm as an NBA player and with the Rockets. His chemistry is growing, but he is going to need the ball in his hands more often to be the player he could be — call him Nikola Jokic light. Will that always fit with the plans for this team given the number of guys skilled with the ball in their hands? That is something the coaching staff and management will have to work out, but Sengun's skills seem well suited for virtually any young team if he can be pared with solid defenders like Smith.

Martin is a guy who requested a trade before the season started and now it is difficult to imagine him not playing here. He has solidified himself along with Eason and Usman Garuba as the so-called "Goon Squad" coming off the bench to play the role of disruptors. He still needs to improve his distance shooting, but his defense (even at his height) and ability to run the floor are plus-plus. Then, there is Eason who has quickly become one of the more indispensable bench guys. No plays need be run for him. He just does what he does and fits. With an improving jumper and a nose for the ball, he will clearly become only more valuable.

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Jae'Sean Tate has missed most of the season with an injury.
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The Here and Now

Eric Gordon
Jae'Sean Tate
Usman Garuba
Bruno Fernando
Garrison Matthews
Boban Marjanovic

Looking at this group, with the exception of Garuba, these are mostly veterans. You need them on any team to help round out a lineup and provide key role playing. But, none of them are likely here for the long term. These are the kinds of players included in larger trades or added to the bench of teams trying to complete. The fact that Eric Gordon remains on this list is a surprise to most fans given his abilities and the teams that could certainly use them. Garuba is playing the role build for Tate, who has missed most of the season with an injury. How that impacts Tate's future is certainly a question.

Fernando has been a bright spot but remains a back up big. Matthews, like the rest of his teammates, has struggled with his shot, but he has shown some defensive improvement. Regardless, both are good guys to have on the team right now, who might not necessarily be here later.

Boban is beloved, but he's more here for the pure joy of it than for his skills on the floor.

The To Be Determined

Josh Christopher
Daishen Nix
TyTy Washington

This is a fascinating group. Christopher was a rotation player last year showing flashes of the intensity and floor spacing ability that got him drafted. But he has clearly regressed in season two. He continues to make poor decisions and turns the ball over too much. As a result, he cannot be trusted with the ball and there are better wing players in front of him on this team. The second half of this season will be important for his future in Houston.

Nix and Washington, as mentioned above, remain in a battle for the back up point spot. Washington, a classic point guard, seemed out of his element early on, but his play in the G League catapulted him back onto the roster. His high basketball IQ and relative stability as a rookie help the second team stay settled. He is not a shooter and must rely on getting into the paint, which is a shortcoming, and that will need to improve.

In the meantime, Nix has fallen out of the rotation. We must confess we were confused about Nix as a full-time backup at the point. He so often seems overmatched on the offensive end and a tick slow on defense. Has that experiment failed or are they just giving him a chance to catch his breath? We'll see.
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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