Three concerns for Houston Rockets out of 2023 All-Star break
After a week off for the 2023 All-Star break, the Houston Rockets will begin their finishing stretch of the 2022-23 NBA season with uncertainty and questions that honestly have no definitive answers.
Their 13-45 record is worst in the NBA, as is Houston’s offensive rating (110.0). Their defensive rating (118.4) ranks 28th among the league’s 30 teams, and their net rating (-8.4) is No. 29.
If the Rockets finish with the NBA’s worst record, it will be their third straight season to do so. They do at least own their own first-round draft pick in 2023, though the league’s recently flattened lottery odds mean that acquiring a perceived generational talent like Victor Wembanyama or Scoot Henderson is still unlikely.
As for the current group and its development, it’s worth noting that they also aren’t healthy. Kevin Porter Jr. has missed over a month with a left foot injury, while backcourt mate Jalen Green strained his left groin in the final game before the All-Star break.
Here are three concerns the Rockets have as they resume play.
What is the status of the starting backcourt?
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Point guard Kevin Porter Jr. missed 17 games before the All-Star break due to a left foot injury that caused him to wear a walking boot at one point. Although he has recently been seen increasing his workouts in preparation to be able to return at some point during the final 24 games, Houston’s coaching staff understands he isn’t likely to be the same effective point guard that averaged 19.2 points, 5.6 assists, and 5.5 rebounds before the injury.
Many would think that the return of Porter to the backcourt would be a wonderful thing as he resumes the ball-handling duties and helps Houston get back on track. But as he is coming off the injured reserve list, his teammate, Jalen Green, may be briefly headed there.
Green suffered a left groin strain during Houston’s final game before the All-Star break in Oklahoma City as he was trying to defend Josh Giddey. He was immediately taken to the locker room for medical attention and was unable to return that night. An MRI confirmed Green’s injury, which is considered to be a mild strain.
It will be the second time in less than a month that Green has had to spend some time off the court due to injury. Earlier this year, the second-year shooting guard suffered a contusion in his right calf that caused him to miss three games for the Rockets.
Will Jabari Smith Jr. get over the rookie wall?
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Things are always challenging for rookies coming into the NBA. They must learn how to adjust their games on so many levels while playing against some of the same impressive veterans they have previously watched on television for years.
In Houston, Jabari Smith Jr. must learn to overcome adversity and learn from the growing pains of the first half of the season.
Smith, 19, was selected with the No. 3 overall pick in the first round of the 2022 NBA draft. The 6-foot-11 forward immediately had high expectations heaped upon him to perform on a team that consisted of players that were not yet legally able to buy alcohol.
As of today, he’s averaging 12.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game, which could be better when evaluating a top-five NBA selection.
The one thing that stood out to the Rockets when they evaluated Smith coming out of Auburn was his ability to spread the court with his shooting, especially from 3-point range. His current 30.3% average is different from the numbers the Rockets expected before the All-Star break, as he finished the month of January hitting only 17% of his shots from beyond the arc.
It has not been all doom and gloom for Smith this season, as he has shown flashes of his potential. In a Jan. 13 loss to the Sacramento Kings, he scored a career-high 27 points to go with 8 rebounds and 3 blocks. He has increased his scoring every month, and over his last eight games, he has scored double figures in six of those contests.
If he can succeed like Green didin the second half of his rookie year, the Rockets will have taken a successful step in their rebuild.
Will Stephen Silas be the scapegoat?
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Head coach Stephen Silas has taken a lot of criticism this season because of his team’s lack of development and its 13-45 record. The team has had six multiple-game losing streaks, including the current seven-game skid. The team currently has no identity on either end of the floor, and the chemistry among the players seems to be off.
It is hard to expect the young Rockets to be successful when the only veteran that gets consistent playing time is Jae’Sean Tate, who is also the oldest player in Houston’s starting lineup after Eric Gordon was traded to the Los Angeles Clippers. Once Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green return, they won’t have a single starter over the age of 22.
Silas oversees making the team successful, but how can that be done when he has no veteran leadership to turn to on his roster? General manager Rafael Stone’s job is to provide his head coach with the necessary pieces to improve the team, but with the current rebuild, that has not happened in the three years Silas has been in Houston.
Every tactic Silas has tried this season to get through to his young core of players has only been a temporary fix. He scolded them earlier this season about their lethargic effort on the court, which got through to them for about two games before they fell right back into their old habits. His softer approach had a similar short-term effect.
With this being the final fully guaranteed year of Silas’ contract, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta may have seen enough and could want a new head coach to continue this rebuilding plan.
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