The Houston Rockets own the third-best record in the NBA, but there is still room for improvement. Here are some possible trades that would instantly make them true contenders.
Coming off a very disappointing 41-41 season that was filled with locker room turmoil, coaching changes and disappointing play, the Houston Rockets were focused on repairing their locker room and image with a redemption season in 2016-17.
Well, so far so good. The Rockets are currently 33-12, good for third in the Western Conference.
Franchise star James Harden, general manager Daryl Morey and coach Mike D’Antoni have all repaired their image in the eyes of fans and analysts and the Rockets appear to be one of very few contenders for a championship.
Even more important is the chemistry that has appeared to quickly develop between both new and returning players. The Rockets are enjoying playing basketball together, something that was clearly missing last season.
Another important development of the Rockets’ season so far has been the surprisingly consistent contributions from young role players such as Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell. Both players are playing nearly 20 minutes per game and both have more than two win shares.
Harrell, in particular, has been extremely impressive, posting a 20.5 PER, offensive rating of 129 and a 67.1 true shooting percentage.
However, there is still room for improvement on the Rockets’ roster, with the team lacking consistent contributions from a back-up player on the wing.
Currently, Corey Brewer fills that role, but he has continued his disappointing play from last season. Brewer is posting a 7.6 PER, which is remarkably low when you consider that 15 is league average.
Also, Brewer is only shooting 23.1 percent from three-point range, which severely limits the floor-spacing for the Rockets when he is on the court.
Brewer is also no longer providing the above average defense he used to, as he has not posted a positive defensive box plus-minus over an entire season since the 2013-14 season.
Brewer’s advanced metrics continue to show he has been a well below average player this season. Brewer has a 47.6 true shooting percentage, -3.0 box plus-minus, and -0.2 VORP (value over replacement player).
This wouldn’t be significant if Brewer received little to no playing time. However, not only does Brewer play nearly 16 minutes per game, he is also to the go-to replacement in the starting lineup if a normal starter misses time (with the exception of the center position).
Therefore, in order to shore up their roster in hopes of being true contenders for the title, here are two possible trades the Rockets should look to make.
1) Trade for Thabo Sefolosha
After the Atlanta Hawks traded Kyle Korver, it was rumored that they were looking to blow up their current roster, putting Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha on the trading block. However, they quickly began to win games and decided to stay put with their current roster.
Sir Charles In Charge
Sefolosha is still very likely on the trade block, as he is an unrestricted free agent (like Korver was) and the Hawks know they can get something in return for him from a contender. That’s where the Rockets come in to the picture.
Sefolosha would slot in to Corey Brewer’s role, providing great defense (Sefolosha has a 102 defensive rating, 3.4 defensive box plus-minus, and a 2.98 defensive real plus-minus, leading all small forwards) and respectable shooting (Sefolosha is a career 34.2 percent shooter on three pointers).
Whereas 62.8 percent of Corey Brewer’s three-point attempts come from the corner, but he is only shooting 24.5 percent on such shots.
However, Sefolosha is shooting 39.4 percent on corner three-point attempts, the shots he would get plenty of times playing off the ball alongside Eric Gordon and James Harden.
Sefolosha is a clear upgrade over Brewer, and it would most likely cost little for the Rockets to acquire his skills. A package of K.J. McDaniels and a pick (future first-rounder or two second-rounders) could be enough for the Hawks to pull the trigger on such a trade.
2) Trade for P.J. Tucker
Another target for the Rockets is P.J. Tucker, a 31-year-old veteran stuck on a young, rebuilding Phoenix Suns team. Tucker provides a similar skill set to Sefolosha, a player that provides good defense and respectable shooting, and again is a significant upgrade from Brewer.
In terms of shooting, Tucker would slot in the corner perfectly for the Rockets, as 81.5 percent of his three-point attempts this season come from the corner, and he is shooting 34.7 percent on such attempts.
For the season, Tucker is shooting 30.4 percent on three-pointers, down from his career average of 34.4 percent.
Acquiring Tucker may even cost the Rockets less than trading for Sefolosha. The Suns would most likely be interested in a young prospect like McDaniels and the Rockets would then throw in a second-rounder or two to complete a deal.
Improving the weak link of the roster
If you ask any Rockets fan what the weakest link of the team is, they will immediately respond with “backup wing” or “Corey Brewer.” A trade for Sefolosha or Tucker would solve that problem.
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Brewer’s defense hasn’t been good for several seasons now and his three-point shooting has never been respected by defenses, leading to cramped floor spacing for the Rockets.
Sefolosha provides elite defense, while also being a respectable three-point shooter. Also, you would have to imagine that his percentages would improve in Houston with all of the open three-point attempts he would receive due to the attention that Harden and Gordon draw.
The same goes for Tucker, who would also be an upgrade at the backup small forward position for the Rockets. Tucker’s game on the offensive end (stand in the corner to shoot threes) would fit in seamlessly, and he would also provide above average defense.
Both players provide the Rockets with another defensive stopper, something they will need in the playoffs.
If the Rockets made one of the trades discussed, they would be able to throw out a small-ball lineup of Harden, Patrick Beverley, Tucker/Sefolosha, Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela, a lineup that would be very good defensively while not sacrificing much on the offensive end.
It is no secret that backup wing is the Rockets’ weak spot on the roster. If the Rockets want to be true contenders for a championship, then making a trade for a player such as Sefolosha or Tucker is crucial.