Though the young Houston Rockets (10-29) have lost 11 of 12 games and own the Western Conference’s worst record, widespread injuries aren’t a big reason why. Excluding Jae’Sean Tate, no other rotation player has missed more than seven games due to illness or injury.
So, when Houston’s burly, defensive minded forward returned Thursday from his multi-month absence with a right ankle injury, something had to give for head coach Stephen Silas.
Though Tate is technically a forward, he’s an adept passer and facilitator, and that allowed Silas to play without a backup point guard. Rookie TyTy Washington, who had averaged 11.9 minutes over Houston’s previous 11 games, did not play. Another casualty was reserve wing Garrison Mathews, who has averaged 12.8 minutes per game this season but played only four in Tate’s return game.
It’s also worth noting that Tate, who came off the bench, took the usual role of rookie starter Jabari Smith Jr. in Houston’s attempt at a closing lineup. The other four starters — Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, Eric Gordon, and Alperen Sengun — were all on the court with Tate.
Jae’Sean Tate’s impact in the rotations:
Gordon – 31 MPG – (Unchanged)
KJ – 23 MPG – (Unchanged)
Tari – 20 MPG – (Unchanged)
Garuba – 16 MPG – (Unchanged)
Mathews – 4 MPG – (-10)
TyTy – 0 MPG – (-10)
Jabari – 20 MPG – (-10)
Bruno – 0 MPG – (-7)
Sengun – 32 MPG – (+10)#Rockets
— Paulo Alves (@PauloAlvesNBA) January 6, 2023
Moving forward, however, Smith’s abbreviated minutes total (20) and his late bench stint is likely an anomaly, since he was in both early foul trouble and scored just 3 points on 1-of-5 shooting (20.0%). For developmental reasons, and in a rebuilding season, it’s hard to envision the Rockets playing their No. 3 overall draft pick from the 2022 first round such limited minutes on a regular basis.
Silas also made a change to Houston’s center rotation by not playing Bruno Fernando. But that didn’t appear to be directly related to Tate, since the Rockets had one of Sengun or Usman Garuba on the court at all times. Rather, that looked to be a decision to stick with two centers instead of three and/or perhaps to reward Sengun for his strong play (20 points, 14 rebounds in 32 minutes) with more playing time.
In the end, Tate played just over 19 minutes as part of a minutes limitation due to his long layoff. For now, Silas can largely find those types of minutes by benching the likes of Washington and Mathews.
But if the Rockets want to scale up Tate’s minutes, more cuts will need to be made from elsewhere — or perhaps a deadline trade of veteran guard Eric Gordon could do the trick. Such a move could also free up minutes for the likes of Washington and Mathews again. Stay tuned!