Let's Make A Deal
HOUSTON - The dust has settled. Another trade deadline has come and gone – more quietly perhaps than most might have imagined when the week began. Not surprising, however, is the fact Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey managed to keep his deadline deal-making streak alive: this is his sixth season as the Rockets GM and he has made at least one move at the deadline every time – not exactly Ripken-esque granted, but it provides at least a noteworthy footnote to keep in mind the next time the tea leaves seem to indicate nothing is brewing within the bowels of Toyota Center.
To recap: the Rockets made two moves over the course of the past 24 hours: the first sent Patrick Patterson, Cole Aldrich and Toney Douglas to Sacramento late last night in exchange for Thomas Robinson, Francisco Garcia and Tyler Honeycutt; then Thursday morning Houston consummated the deal that sent Marcus Morris to Phoenix in exchange for the Suns’ 2013 second-round draft pick.
The plum in all of this is of course Robinson, the fifth overall selection in the 2012 NBA draft and last year’s Big-12 Player of the Year. The 21-year-old is a physical specimen, measuring nearly 6-9 at last year’s combine with a wingspan of 7-3 while weighing in at an absurdly chiseled 244 pounds. Robinson came by his top-5 selection honestly – here’s what NBA draft expert Jim Clibanoff had to say about the University of Kansas product leading up to the draft:
“We’re huge fans of motor and Robinson probably has the best motor in the draft and I imagine he’ll have one of the higher level motors in the NBA. He just wants to outwork people. I can’t see him taking half of a possession off, let alone a full one. Some people question how big he is but if Dennis Rodman was one of the best rebounders of all time at 6-8 and Kenneth Faried was able to come right into the league and average 10 (points) and 8 (rebounds) per game in just 20-something minutes, then there’s no reason why Thomas Robinson won’t be able to duplicate that kind of success. Players with worth ethics like his, even though he’s more power and grit than polish right now, you have to think he’ll put the time in during the offseason to perfect or correct whatever deficiencies exist in his game.”
Robinson got off to a slow start this season in Sacramento and if you simply go by his per-game averages, there’s little that currently leaps off the page. But many made a similar mistake when evaluating the Omer Asik acquisition last summer and we all know how that assessment worked out. Dig a little deeper and it quickly becomes clear that Robinson has already shown the chops to be an elite rebounder in this league. His offensive rebound rate ranks him seventh among all power forwards and his overall rebound rate is higher than noted glass cleaners David Lee, Blake Griffin and Kevin Garnett. That sort of rebounding prowess out of the four-spot is something Houston has sorely lacked for the vast majority of this season.
Offensively, there’s no question Robinson is raw. He has the beginnings of a nice midrange jumper, but there’s little in the way of refined polish to his game at present. Right now his scoring is most likely to come via put-backs, transition finishes and hard rolls to the rim as the pick-and-roll big.
As with virtually every rookie in NBA history, he’s got plenty of work to do on the defensive end as well. But with his motor and physical tools, there’s no reason why he can’t rapidly develop into a plus defender. For proof, look no further than his work as the big defender in screen-and-rolls in which he ranks in the 80th percentile according to Synergy Sports, limiting opponents to a paltry .657 points per possession – not too shabby given the fact he played on a Kings team that ranks dead last in the NBA in defensive efficiency this season.
Thursday afternoon, Morey shared his thoughts on Robinson and the other pieces Houston acquired in its two deadline deals.
“Thomas is a guy people are going to love,” said Morey. “(He’s) high-energy, runs the floor, led the country in rebounding when he was at Kansas. He’s a guy we really think has the potential to be a starting big man in this league and has a lot of upside. Obviously he’s still young, and he’s somebody who’s going to compete for minutes and try to help us win down the stretch.
“Francisco Garcia is a guy we think will slide right in; solid veteran; great, great guy, who can shoot the ball and should be a really solid guy for helping us down the stretch. Tyler Honeycutt is a guy who is more future-based, but has talent and is someone we’ll be taking a look at over time.
“The pick we got, we do like this draft, we really like where I think we’ll end up – probably somewhere in the 30-40 range. We’ve obviously had success in that range in the past. That pick also has a lot of advantages contract-wise, getting somebody early in the second (round).
“I think both moves hopefully make sense given what we’re trying to do which is to get back to being a title contender.”
As with all moves made by the Rockets, Morey’s last point stands at the center of what these trades are all about. The Rockets are serious about making the playoffs this season, but the prime directive is, was and always will be making an extended run at an NBA championship. It’s worth noting, however, that those goals are not mutually exclusive. To be sure, Houston will miss Patrick Patterson’s and Marcus Morris’ production, professionalism and attention to detail, especially given both players’ progression into legitimate three-point threats this season. But these trades also speak to the confidence Rockets’ management has not just in Robinson’s pro potential, but that of the talent already on hand as well. Donatas Motiejunas has worked tirelessly to ready himself for this exact opportunity. Greg Smith has already made his presence felt multiple times this season. And Terrence Jones is yet another young, talented big with plenty of upside.
Not to be overlooked in all of this, however, is the opportunity for Houston to further maximize its small-ball lineups. The Rockets already boast a top-5 offense, but when they go small by putting Chandler Parsons and Carlos Delfino at the three- and four-spots, the team’s offense takes off into the scoring stratosphere. The five-man lineup of Lin-Harden-Parsons-Delfino-Asik has played together for a total of 115 minutes this season according to NBA.com and during that time Houston has produced an offensive rating (points per 100 possessions) of 113.2 – a number that would rank No. 1 in the league. What’s more, that group plays at the highest pace of any Rockets’ quintet and it has outscored opponents by an average of nearly 11 points per 48 minutes over that span. In short, that unit has been downright dominant due to the floor spacing it can create – something Oklahoma City discovered Wednesday night, much to the Thunder’s chagrin.
“As you saw yesterday, we play best when we’re playing small with Delfino and Chandler playing the 3-4 spots,” confirmed Morey. “We feel like we can win that way, too. So while it’s tough to lose Patrick’s defense and professionalism, we feel like the guys who are stepping in (can contribute).
“And then when the coaches feel Thomas is ready to unleash him, I think he’s a guy who’s going to really be able to screen-and-roll, finish, very athletic, super high-energy, runs the floor – we’re real excited about Thomas.”