April 18, 2023, 10:40 pm
The Houston Rockets were an entertaining but frustrating team to watch this season as they resembled more of an AAU team than a competent NBA franchise. Individually, they are ripe with talent and the future direction of the team is heavily tied to where they will land in the lottery. They finished tied for the second-worst record in the league and could make a huge splash at the draft of in free agency.
How’d It Go?
If you’re not going to be first, you may as well try and be last. The Rockets have lost 60 games in B2B seasons and after drafting Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. in successive years, they now seek to add the final piece to their rebuilding program. The Rockets played fast and loose this past season and there constantly seemed to be a lack of structure dictating the style or general mission of the team. They finished 28th in PPG scored and allowed and 29th and 30th in 3PTs made and allowed. The good news is that they can only go up from here.
While the season may have been an abject failure in terms of wins and losses, the future remains bright and the Rockets have a stable full of versatile players whose ceilings remain exceedingly high. Jalen Green didn’t have the most efficient sophomore year and has a lot to learn in terms of shot selection, but there is no denying he is one of the best scoring wings in the league. Alperen Segun made giant strides in his second season, showcasing his ability to run an offense out of the post as long as he got the ball. Kevin Porter Jr. finally cashed in on some of his limitless potential and was able to show that he is more than just a chucker with bad percentages. Lastly, Jabari Smith Jr. had an extremely rough start to the season, but finished with such a flurry that there is no doubt he will be a future two-way star in no time.
The cupboard might be stocked with assets, but the hinges are rusty and the doors don’t close properly. The Rockets don’t just need a makeover; they need a foundational culture change from the top-down, starting in the front office. There are rumors of James Harden returning “home”, but that would potentially be the worst decision that the franchise could make unless they also get Victor Wembanyana in the draft. The Rockets don’t need to rapidly accelerate their timeline; they simply need to make sure they can take two steps forward without also taking three steps back. A culture of losing can seep into the fabric of a team and if all these young studs don’t start building good habits instead of leaning into the bad ones, they could still be two seasons away from being two seasons away.
There is no way to sugarcoat it; Stephen Silas was the worst the coach in the league by a chasm. The Rockets had no strategy on either end of the floor and the substitution patterns seemed chaotic at best. Silas refused to start Sengun at the beginning of the season and constantly yanked him after one or two mistakes on the defensive end. He let Jalen Green take every bad shot in the book and some you had never even read about. The good news is that Silas is gone and the names to replace him are among the most respected in the league. There are rumors of an entire shakeup in the front office and it could not come at a better time. Rafael Stone hasn’t done a terrible job as GM and actually has drafted very well, but it’s hard to rebuild a culture from just a coaching change.
The Rockets have two clear paths in front of them and while they shouldn’t rush the rebuild, another 60-loss season could have potential long-term consequences for everyone involved.
The PlayersAlperen SengünC, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 75 72 28.9 5.9 10.7 55.3 2.7 3.8 71.5 0.3 0.8 33.3 14.8 9.0 3.9 0.9 0.9 2.6 21-22 HOU 72 13 20.7 3.5 7.3 47.4 2.3 3.2 71.1 0.4 1.6 24.8 9.6 5.5 2.6 0.8 0.9 2.0
ADP: 67/59 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 42/65 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 59/83 (8/9-cat)
It’s hard to overstate how dominant Sengun could be on the offensive end of the floor next season. He played 75 games in his sophomore campaign and had almost no help, direction or confidence instilled in him from the coaching staff. There was never any doubt that he was far and away the most talented center on the team, yet coach Silas elected to start Usman Garuba and Bruno Fernando early in the season.
For fantasy purposes, Sengun is almost the full package and with a little guidance and strategy, he could be right there with Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis as the best passing big men in the league. Similar to those two though, he is extremely attackable on the defensive end. To his credit, he did average almost a block (0.9) and a steal (0.9) in only 28.9 minutes per game.
Sengun was a popular middle-round pick last season, but that is the last year he goes anywhere close to a discount again. Assuming the Rockets don’t get Wembanyama, Sengun should be locked at the center position for the foreseeable future and will be surrounded by an elite cadre of athletic shooters that should complement him perfectly. There are very few sure things in fantasy, but Sengun is awfully close to becoming one. And that’s with some warts in his game still readily apparent.Kevin Porter Jr.PG, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 59 58 34.3 6.6 15.0 44.2 3.5 4.5 78.4 2.4 6.5 36.6 19.2 5.3 5.7 1.4 0.3 3.2 21-22 HOU 61 61 31.3 5.5 13.2 41.5 2.0 3.2 64.2 2.5 6.8 37.5 15.6 4.4 6.2 1.1 0.4 3.1 20-21 HOU 26 23 32.1 6.0 14.1 42.5 2.7 3.6 73.4 1.9 6.2 31.1 16.6 3.8 6.3 0.7 0.3 3.5
ADP: 105/72 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 78/112 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 50/84 (8/9-cat)
Porter Jr. spent his first three season as a talented, albeit frustrating player to watch or roster in fantasy. His percentages were laughable and the TOs were sloppy and constant. It was questionable whether he could or would get out of his own way and stop forcing the issue every time he got the ball. Running the point for this directionless Rockets team, it’s easy to assume he would continue to stumble, but that was not the case.
Porter was nothing short of excellent this season and he finished the campaign on a tear. He raised his FG%/FT% massively to .442 and .784 from a lowly .415 and .642, which raised his PPG almost four points. His durability remains a big question, as he has only played in 143 games over the last three seasons, but as long as he can keep developing there is no reason why he couldn’t provide top-50 value next season in 8-cat.
Porter is the ideal modern point guard, as he leans more towards scoring than distributing, but his ability to rack up triples and steals makes him a great fantasy asset. He will be 23 by the start of next season and finally has solid foundation in which to improve upon. With the addition of a solid coach and some more seasoning, Porter could be an All-Star in the not too distant future.Jabari Smith Jr.PF, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 79 79 31.0 4.6 11.3 40.8 2.1 2.6 78.6 1.5 4.9 30.7 12.8 7.2 1.3 0.5 0.9 1.3
ADP: 106/124 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 113/106 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 152/146 (8/9-cat)
This season was a tale of two halves for Smith as he couldn’t seem to hit anything before the All-Star Break and then couldn’t miss afterwards. Over the final 16 games of the season he scored 16.2 PPG on 46/36/78 shooting splits with 1.5 treys per game, 0.8 steals and 1.0 blocks. Once Smith regained his confidence, his shooting stroke wasn’t far behind. He starting rountinely pulling up from beyond the arc and it seemed like he never missed any of his mid-range pull-ups around the free throw line. His jumper was smooth and made you feel like you were watching shades of a young Kevin Durant when you saw his release.
Smith projects as an absolute fantasy superstar, but he remains very raw could still be a couple of seasons away from fully tapping into his tantalizing potential. He will be big target in the middle rounds next season, but it’s very likely he gets over drafted. With a talent like Smith, it’s difficult to project accurately because if you are late, you will be left out in the cold, but as we will see with Jalen Green shortly, the path to fantast greatness isn’t always linear. The hope here is that a new coach will actually run a coherent offense that features plays built for Smith, as opposed to whatever we saw last season. When you’re an elite catch-and-shoot guy, it’s hard to get going when your lead ball-handlers are just freelancing all the time.Tari EasonSF, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 82 6 21.5 3.6 8.0 44.8 1.3 1.8 75.2 0.7 2.1 34.3 9.3 6.0 1.1 1.2 0.6 1.2
ADP: 139/139 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 103/97 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 158/145 (8/9-cat)
Eason was a popular late-round pick as a rookie because he absolutely dominated the preseason and had some incredible college stats. While Eason had an up-and-down season from a fantasy perspective, he is a per-minute beast and was really hampered by only playing 21 minutes per game. The emergence of KJ Martin Jr. really put a handcuff on Eason’s ability to produce consistent value, but the Rockets were messy as a unit and Eason was often the last one to eat at the trough.
Similar to many players on the Rockets, Eason could have a bright future if a couple of things break his way. There is always inherent value in being a player that can contribute without having the ball in his hands and the energy and aggression he brings to the court are always pluses. It’s impossible to try and predict how the Rockets rotation will shake out next season, but Eason should be a player to keep tabs on.Kenyon Martin Jr.SF, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 82 49 28.0 5.0 8.8 56.9 1.8 2.7 68.0 0.8 2.6 31.5 12.7 5.5 1.5 0.5 0.4 1.1 21-22 HOU 79 3 21.0 3.5 6.6 53.3 1.0 1.6 63.4 0.8 2.1 35.7 8.8 3.8 1.3 0.4 0.5 0.8 20-21 HOU 44 7 23.4 3.6 6.9 52.1 1.4 1.9 72.3 0.8 2.0 37.9 9.3 5.4 1.0 0.6 0.9 0.8
ADP: 105/72 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 128/121 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 184/184 (8/9-cat)
Martin managed to play all 82 games this season and was a real treat to watch from a pure athleticism standpoint. His fantasy value leaves a lot to be desired, but Martin is a gym rat and he is a locked to have at least two jaw-dropping plays per game. The moment you forget where he is on the court is usually the very moment he is gearing up to dunk on your head. It was a great turnaround after Martin requested a trade in the summer; he slid over to small forward and improved a ton rather than sit and sulk.
Over the final 22 games of the season, Martin averaged 15.0 PPG and 5.2 rebounds on a whopping 59.2 FG%. The problem with Martin is that while his dunks might energize the crowd and demoralize the opposition, it still only counts for two points in fantasy. With Tari Eason breathing down his neck and his limited defensive upside, Martin remains a much more entertaining player to watch than roster.Jalen GreenSG, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 76 76 34.2 7.4 17.9 41.7 4.8 6.1 78.6 2.5 7.3 33.8 22.1 3.7 3.7 0.8 0.2 2.6 21-22 HOU 67 67 31.9 6.1 14.2 42.6 2.8 3.5 79.7 2.3 6.8 34.3 17.3 3.4 2.6 0.7 0.3 2.0
ADP: 72/68 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 97/145 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 135/200 (8/9-cat)
Green was one of the most disappointing draft picks this season because he was a wrecking ball to your FG%. If you managed to draft him with a punt-FG% strategy, than congratulations, but for everyone else his constant 6-of-24 games were an eyesore. Green finished his rookie campaign with such a flurry of efficiency that many simply expected him to keep the good times rolling. Spoiler alert: the good times were few and far between as a sophomore.
It’s hard to put all the responsibility solely on Green’s shoulders as he remains a hyper-talented 21-year old whose only major problem is his atrocious shot selection, but anyone who watched him this past season got PTSD from the endless array of 30-footers that never had a chance. Like most precocious young scoring prodigies, Green simply needs a steady hand at the helm to rein him in when he starts to go off the rails. Suffice it to say that was not present this past season.
Green is on the precipice of NBA stardom right now, but he’s also drifting towards the dreadful good stats on a bad team label that some players spend a career trying to shed. With a little offseason mentoring and the addition of an adult on the bench, Green could graduate from fantasy bust to fantasy stud by the end of next season. Those who got burned this past season are unlikely to invest the sort of fantasy capital to snag him in the late-middle rounds, but with the right build that can mitigate his weaknesses, Green remains the kind of player that can get hot at the right time and lead your fantasy team to the promised land.Jae'Sean TateSF, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 31 7 21.8 3.5 7.4 48.0 1.6 2.2 72.5 0.4 1.5 28.3 9.1 3.8 2.7 0.7 0.2 1.5 21-22 HOU 78 77 26.3 4.7 9.3 49.8 1.7 2.4 70.7 0.8 2.6 31.2 11.8 5.4 2.8 0.9 0.5 1.8 20-21 HOU 69 57 29.3 4.5 9.0 50.6 1.5 2.1 70.3 0.9 2.8 30.6 11.4 5.4 2.5 1.2 0.5 1.4
ADP: NA/NA (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 334/345 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 249/241 (8/9-cat)
Tate is at the wrong end of the Rockets PF glut and while he remains a talented scoring forward, his inability to stay healthy last season really cost him any chance at providing any sort of value for fantasy. He’s already an undersized forward at 6’4’’, but the nagging ankle injuries really robbed him of the explosiveness he needed to be effective. Some run at backup PG wasn’t enough to rehab his value, though that versatility is vital for the Rockets. Tate remains under contract for the next two years, but it’s unlikely he is going to be able to leapfrog any of the other talented wings on the depth chart.Usman GarubaPF, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 75 1 12.9 1.1 2.4 48.6 0.4 0.6 61.7 0.3 0.8 40.7 3.0 4.1 0.9 0.6 0.4 0.6 21-22 HOU 24 2 9.9 0.8 1.8 43.2 0.2 0.3 71.4 0.2 0.8 25.0 2.0 3.5 0.7 0.4 0.5 0.3
ADP: NA/NA (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 250/242 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 317/308 (8/9-cat)
Garuba was able to suit up for 75 games in his second year, but nothing about his game jumps off the screen. Garuba has solid defensive chops, but he doesn’t really have the length to play center and that means he’s the fourth or fifth best PF on the Rockets. It would be nothing short of remarkable to see him join the regular rotation next season.Josh ChristopherSG, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 64 2 12.3 2.4 5.1 46.5 0.7 0.9 75.0 0.3 1.4 23.6 5.8 1.1 1.1 0.5 0.2 0.9 21-22 HOU 74 2 18.0 3.0 6.8 44.8 1.1 1.5 73.5 0.8 2.6 29.6 7.9 2.5 2.0 0.9 0.2 1.5
ADP: NA/NA (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 309/323 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 387/408 (8/9-cat)
Christopher is the rare two-guard who can’t shoot from deep. Like most players on the Rockets, he is only in his second season and remains talented, but raw. He was able to play 64 games this past season and while he is a former first-round pick, Christopher doesn’t really have the upside or opportunity to make a leap the way the Rockets are currently constructed.Darius DaysPF, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 4 0 6.3 1.3 3.0 41.7 0.5 0.5 100.0 0.8 2.5 30.0 3.8 1.5 0.3 0.0 0.3 0.0
ADP: NA/NA (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 504/496 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 464/423 (8/9-cat)
Oh look, another PF on the Rockets. Days only played four games this season at the NBA level, as he spent most of the season playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the G League.Frank KaminskyPF, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 35 0 6.7 0.9 1.8 49.2 0.4 0.5 87.5 0.4 0.9 39.4 2.5 1.5 0.9 0.2 0.1 0.3 21-22 PHO 9 20.1 4.0 7.3 54.5 2.0 2.2 90.0 0.6 1.7 33.3 10.6 4.6 1.4 0.9 0.8 0.6 20-21 PHO 47 13 15.2 2.6 5.5 47.1 0.8 1.3 61.7 0.7 1.8 36.5 6.6 4.0 1.7 0.3 0.4 0.5
ADP: NA/NA (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 402/495 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 453/436 (8/9-cat)
How the might have fallen. Kaminsky was a college legend and then became infamous for being the centerpiece holding up a trade between the Celtics and the Hornets receiving anywhere from four-to-five first round picks. Kaminsky was never a great or even good NBA player, but he can still shoot even if no one wants to give him the opportunity. He started the season on the Hawks while finishing with the Rockets, but he still shot 39.4% from deep on the whole.TyTy Washington Jr.PG, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 31 2 14.0 1.9 5.2 36.2 0.3 0.6 55.6 0.6 2.6 23.8 4.7 1.5 1.5 0.5 0.1 0.5
ADP: 140/135 Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 411/403 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 447/441 (8/9-cat)
Since the Rockets decided not to have a capable backup point guard at any point this season, Washginton fell into the role by default. He even managed to start two games when Kevin Porter Jr was out in March, but to call Washington a project would be an understatement. Washington was a fun story on the Rockets, but he was never a serious option as a backup point guard, just like the Rockets were never a serious team this season.Daishen NixPG, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 57 7 16.0 1.4 4.2 34.2 0.4 0.6 66.7 0.7 2.5 28.6 4.0 1.7 2.3 0.5 0.1 1.5 21-22 HOU 24 10.9 1.1 2.8 40.3 0.7 1.3 53.3 0.3 1.1 26.9 3.2 1.4 1.7 0.6 0.0 1.1
ADP: NA/NA (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 325/375 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 391/462 (8/9-cat)
Nix has already lived the American dream, being born in Alaska and going to high school in Las Vegas. He’s got great size for a ball handling guard and made a solid attempt to try and make the backup point guard minutes, but shooting 34.3% from the field was never going to cut it. Nix is a deep, deep sleeper for next season, but it’s within the realm of possibility that he makes a leap.Boban MarjanovicC, Houston Rockets
Season Team GP GS MPG FGM FGA FG% FTM FTA FT% 3PTM 3PTA 3PT% PTS REB AST STL BLK TO 22-23 HOU 31 0 5.5 1.3 1.9 68.3 0.6 0.9 74.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 3.3 1.9 0.3 0.2 0.1 0.5 21-22 DAL 21 5.7 1.9 3.1 60.6 0.6 1.0 59.1 0.0 0.1 33.3 4.5 1.8 0.1 0.0 0.1 0.6 20-21 DAL 32 3 8.3 1.9 3.8 50.8 0.9 1.1 82.4 0.0 0.3 12.5 4.8 4.0 0.3 0.1 0.2 0.3
ADP: /141 (Yahoo/ESPN) | Total Value: 418/418 (8/9-cat) | Per-Game Value: 465/463 (8/9-cat)
Boban is your favorite player’s favorite player. He’s never really gotten a fair crack to play big minutes for a whole season, but he is a per-minute beast and can still score and rebound in the paint with the best of them. The problem is that he is laughably slow and any competent team will end up targeting him in pick and rolls to death. If your team ever needs a four-six minute burst on offense, Boban is your guy, now and forever.
Fantasy star might be extreme considering the Rockets didn’t have anyone finish in the top-50, but it has to be Alperen Sengun, especially when you consider he succeeded in spite of his coaching. The best way to describe Sengun is steady, he never really had a stretch where people were talking about him as the next big thing, but it could be coming. The Rockets handling of Sengun was reminiscent of how poorly the Thunder treated Domantas Sabonis his first season in the NBA, as a catch-and-shoot big man who just hangs out in the corner.
It’s impossible to understate how different the Rockets will look next season once they have actual plays, rotations and a cohesive offensive system and Sengun is going to be the big winner of it all. He’s got great touch around the rim and the passing DNA to boot. There is still massive room for improvement, as he has to bulk up a little and learn to demand the ball instead of just being content to observe. The sky is the limit for his fantasy value and it wouldn’t be shocking to see his dimes nearly double from 3.9 this season to the next. As long as he can maintain his effectiveness in the defensive categories — and improve on defense overall, as that will be the key to solidifying his playing time — his floor will be assured and we could easily be talking about him as the Most Improved Player in the league a year from now. One wonders what would happen if Victor Wembanyama was asked to play center, however.
One to Watch
Jabari Smith was a consensus top-three pick in last year’s draft, but he fell out of the Rookie of the Year race almost instantly and Paolo Banchero was deemed to be the right choice at number one after only the first week of the season. Smith might have blossomed late, but the race between the two is a lot closer than it might appear to the naked eye. Smith is already a much better defensive player and his shot blocking has him looking more like Evan Mobley with a 3-point shot than just another competent two-way wing.
From just a physical tools standpoint, Smith is a 10/10, but he was so bad to start the season, it’s hard to erase those imprints from your memory. The good news is that expectations are going to be managed and it’s unlikely he goes off the deep end like Jalen Green did. It shouldn’t be shocking that s 19-year project struggled in his first season in the NBA with virtually zero support from his coaching staff.
At one point Smith is going to make a leap that puts him in the realm of guys like Anthony Edwards and Scottie Barnes, but it’s impossible to know if that will happen next season or if he still needs more time. The future is incredibly bright for Smith as long as the Rockets don’t screw it up.
One Burning Question
Chucker or cornerstone? This actually applies to both Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green, but they represent two sides of the same coin. Porter has been a chucker all his life, but last season he really controlled the chaos and at times looked like one of the more dominant point guards in the league. When he is firing on all cylinders, he looks like De’Aaron Fox and when he’s not, he’s Dion Waiters. Considering all the barriers that were placed in front of him on the Rockets, I’m inclined to believe that Porter’s season wasn’t a fluke and that he has solved the problem of being his own worst enemy. Porter was always a guy who could maybe give you some value if you had the right build around him. This version of Porter contributes in so many categories that he’s become the player that solves problems on your team instead of creating them.
As someone who not only targeted Jalen Green this past season, but overpaid for him and kept him despite his attempts to destroy my team from within, it’s hard for me to remain objective. If you were compare to him to another second-year future star who averaged 22.1 PPG, 1.9 3PT, 3.2 boards and 3.2 dimes on .423/.343/.840 shooting splits, Green’s 22.1 PPG, 2.5 3PT, 3.7 boards and 3.7 dimes on .416/.338/.786 don’t look so bad. When I tell you player A was Devin Booker, then really Green’s “lost” season doesn’t seem so catastrophic. You can only take that many ill-advised shots for so long before it imprints on you or you alienate your teammates. Green shouldn’t get a pass for last season as much as he should get a mulligan. If he takes 18 shots a game next season and misses close to 11 of them, then he will need more than a coaching change to resurrect his fantasy star status.
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