After Trades, Rockets Take Pace And Space To New Level

BROOKLYN — The general consensus is that the Houston Rockets made a great deal in acquiring Thomas Robinson from the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday. Robinson, selected with the No. 5 pick just eight months ago, has the potential to be one of the best rebounders in the league some day. He’s an active athlete who will only benefit from escaping the dysfunction of Sacramento.

But in making the trade and a subsequent deal with the Phoenix Suns, the Rockets traded both their starting power forward, Patrick Patterson, and his back-up, Marcus Morris. And they either compromised an offensive system that ranks in the top five in efficiency or a defense that has been just good enough to keep them on the right side of the .500 mark.

Robinson may one day start at the four for Houston, but he’s a very different player than both Patterson and Morris. And it’s unclear how he fits into how the Rockets have been playing all season.

Houston is the ultimate pace-and-space team. They play the fastest tempo in the league and they keep the floor spread, allowing James Harden and Jeremy Lin to attack the basket off of pick and rolls. Patterson and Morris played their part as stretch bigs.

At the time of the trade, 13 of the Rockets’ 15 most-used lineups included either Patterson or Morris, who attempted about 60 percent of their shots from outside the paint and accounted for about two 3-pointers per game.

Kevin McHale admitted to having seen very little of his new rookie, but he knows that Robinson isn’t that kind of player.

“We’re going to have space a little bit different,” he said Friday.

For now, the Rockets are making due with Carlos Delfino playing the four, alongside Chandler Parsons at the three. It’s a lineup they’ve used before, but only once (previous to the trades) had it played more than nine minutes together.

General manager Daryl Morey believes that his team can survive, and even thrive, with the Parsons/Delfino tandem at forward.

“It’s sustainable,” Morey told reporters on Thursday. “If you look across the league, when teams play small, they play well. Your offense goes up. Your defense goes down, but your offense goes up more than your defense goes down. So a lot of teams are playing small. We’ve got the personnel to do it. We’ve got the style that fits. I absolutely think it’s a sustainable way to play against almost any opponent.”

McHale doesn’t seem to be completely on board with that sentiment, saying that the Rockets can play Delfino at the four “situationally.” The bottom line is that the two trades took two guys out of McHale’s rotation and replaced them with a question mark.

But so far, so good. After Friday’s 106-96 win in Brooklyn, the Rockets are 2-0 with their new starting lineup, with wins over the Thunder and Nets. They’ve been outrebounded in each game, but have shot 31-for-63 (49 percent) from beyond the arc.

Over the course of the season, the Rockets’ new lineup has been excellent offensively, scoring 112.9 points per 100 possessions in 133 minutes together. It’s yet to be really hurt on the glass and held its own defensively.

Really, it’s just taking the pace-and-space style to a new level. Less size, more shooting. Delfino has played 79 minutes over the last two games after averaging just 25 per game before the trades. He knows that he can only try his best to keep power forwards like Reggie Evans off the boards, and that the Rockets can take advantage of the same matchup offensively.

“When we go small, we play against big people and we try to create space,” he said. “Sometimes, it’s not just me getting my shots or having the ball, but [it’s] rotations. They don’t rotate off me and they have more space in the paint.”

That’s exactly what happened in the first half on Friday. The Nets stayed at home on Delfino on the weak side, and the Rockets got a handful of dunks and layups off their pick and roll. Harden was the star against OKC on Wednesday, but his team managed to beat Brooklyn on Friday despite a relatively quiet night (22 points and only five trips to the line) from their All-Star.

Time will tell if the small lineup can hold up over time and keep the Lakers at bay in the playoff chase, and if Robinson has a place in McHale’s rotation this season. Certainly, 49 percent from 3-point range isn’t sustainable, but Houston does have an easier schedule than L.A. going forward.


One additional note: While the Sacramento trade makes complete sense, the trade that sent Morris to Phoenix for the Suns’ second-round pick was a little more curious. Morris wasn’t playing big minutes every night, but he obviously would have helped replace Patterson’s production if the Rockets had just made the one deal.

Morey said that he likes having high second-round picks and one has to wonder if the Rockets have already fallen in love with a player they project will be available when that Suns selection comes up. Right now, it’s set to be the No. 35 pick in the draft.

Houston got Parsons with the No. 38 pick two years ago.


  1. Chris says:

    I just heard the Rockets signed Tim Ohlbrecht out of the D-League. I hope he gets some minutes, because he really has a unique skill set for a big man – good shooter and pretty athletic! Nice pickup by Houston btw.

  2. jim says:

    February 24, 2013 at 4:39 pm
    Hold up now. Lebron is the best player in the world, but it doesn’t mean we just hand him MVP. He has serious competition between KD (as usual) and the ever-overlooked Tony Parker. Check the standings, Parker’s in 2nd, and he’s simply the motor for the Spurs. Anyone who thinks Lebron should simply be handed MVP obviously hasn’t been watching enough basketball.

    I can finally say you are an idiot???? LBJ up only to this stage? at this time just dont include the future?? LBJ not the MVP? What the fuk are you watching guys???? NBA Legends etc. are saying he is even the coaches, even popovich the coach of spurs said that? and you pick parker? Yes they pick the most win for MVP but can they win championship??

  3. Karlo Garcia says:

    Harden is 1 of many most improved players.

  4. jake s says:

    Knicks, Clippers, Rockets. Name three teams that are all show and no substance. Knicks- Live and die by the three ball. It will work sometimes, but you can’t sustain that. Clippers- Live and die by the lob. Take Blake Griffin out of their offense, they will have a bad night. Rockets- Little to no defensive presence on the court vs. real championship contenders. Transition defense and half-court defense are imperative in the playoffs.

  5. tory says:

    me likes it

  6. kenny says:

    durant was the best the last 2 years and got screwed out of the MVP and I’m afraid it will happen again what does he have to do to win the MVP

    • johnny says:

      He’s not the MVP because the thunder would still be a good team without him. Did you see what happened to the Cavs record when LeBron left? Nuff said.

  7. Sean says:

    This is great! The rockets have received a quality young big man that can play.
    Want to see the story of another fast-paced team?
    Check out

  8. Fair Palmer says:

    Rockets lost to Wizards on 2/23/13 in DC.

    It is reported that, coach “McHale limited Jeremy Lin, who scored five points, to 26 minutes due to illness.”

    Whose illness? Or, simply the coach intended to limit Jeremy Lin’s development/success? Limiting his minutes on the court regularly would do.

    It appears to me that it is the coach’s “mode of operation” to bench Jeremy Lin at 6 minutes into the first quarter at most games whether he plays well or not. In contrast, other players would stay in the court for 10 to full 12 minutes in the quarter despite their performance.

    I have watched every Rockets games since the beginning of the season. The coach’s “rotational” use of the versatile Jeremy Lin is mind-boggling. It has made the Rockets games less appealing for me and many of my friends.

  9. there bench were now weaker while the starters got better a little bit

  10. Earlsanity says:

    hahahaha MORRIS for Second round pick? are you serious?

  11. SHAQKOBE says:

    but if they not get Dwight, the Rockets will settle for David West or Carlos Boozer,
    worst happen they will pick up DREW GOODEN….

  12. Michael B. says:

    i think its ok, the play style is totally different, they will have a lot of trouble in the rebounds, but lets see how it goes for the next year, Harden MVP?, i dont think so…he still lacks in the consistency and is in the transition into changing from the 6th man to become a star to soon, mmm no, it might be the most improved player, the MVP right now is lebron james, if he continues to do those numbers, man there will be no doubt he will repeat this year, and the Heat is playing a nice all around basketball, i like what they are doing so far, great job.

  13. Richard R says:

    What the rockets have done is prolonged ther development of their young team but when robinson becomes a great rebounder and chandler parsons begmes a good P&R roll man they will be unstoppable. and those to early second round pics will help build up the bench for their thin roster.

  14. NH says:

    Now to rockets have will have enough cap space to sign andrew bynum to a max deal and also get josh smith.
    So the our starters would be :

    J. Lin
    J. Harden
    C. Parsons
    J. Smith
    A. Bynum

    if that happens we’d have a championship ring

    • try again says:

      You forgot about Omer Asik. Who is already more reliable and has proven more valuable than Bynum (defensively speaking). Smith and Asik Would be better options for the two point guards in Harden and Lin. Bynum is a ball stopper, which would hurt Harden’s scoring. Also Bynum doesn’t like to play pick and roll, so he would not fit their offense. Asik and Smith would be incredible with Harden facilitating. Smith spreading the 4 and Asik setting screens and getting O-Rebounds the guards would have a field day. I could go on but I digress,take out Bynum (I’m not a Bynum fan by the way) who isn’t deserving and you have yourself a championship caliber team.

    • rolly says:

      Dont waste money on someone who has a bum knee…

    • choppers says:

      Better put an * next to Bynum, especially if you make the playoffs, he is notorious at injuring himself late in the year.

    • TheStarMiddleschooler says:

      I think your on Acid….

  15. Rico says:

    I guess they will give more time to the 3 rookies, especially if Royce pans out.

    But basically they have the youngest bench in the NBA.

    and if White pans out, then add White in the mix

    I guess with the way they love the 3 ball – Garcia will get some PT too

    so their rotation probably


    • eMeS says:

      i really hope they are not going to play Motiejunas at center, he is definetely better playing 4. He could be playing center after a year i guess, that’s if he gains some weight, muscle, because now he is just not built center like….

  16. davesmall1 says:

    When a team decides to give up on a very high draft choice, it could be they’ve decided that his skills aren’t as good as advertised. Better to get what you can for him now, than to wait until the other teams find out.

    So when a team trades a player like that early, I think the likelihood of that player becoming an all-star drops precipitously.

    Daryl Morey has been enamored of top picks. He acquired Thabeet (drafted #2), Harden (#3), Jonny Flynn (#6), Jordan Hill (#8), and Terrence Williams (#11). In the Harden case, he knew there was a financial issue that drove the trade. In the other cases, he rolled the dice and lost.

    That’s not a bad thing. You can’t hit a home run with the bat on your shoulder.

  17. Hardenfan says:

    Harden deserves to be MVP this year! Look at what he’s done for Houston! They are actually going to make the playoffs & he’s made the other Houston Rockets players recognizable (except Jeremy Lin). I didn’t even know who Parsons, Delfino, etc. were until Harden played with them (terrible, I know, but I think that’s true for alot of people). I like Durant & Lebron as well but they have more talent surrounding them w/ Westbrook, Wade, Thabo, Bosh, etc.

    • shutup nba noob says:

      Most true nba fans knew who Parsons, Delfino, Asik, etc before Harden played with them.

    • guest1234 says:

      I wouldn’t list Thabo as a player with “more talent” than players like Lin and Asik, Hardenfan. Parsons and Delfino have been productive players well before they played with Harden. Also, anyone who says that someone other than Lebron should be MVP hasn’t been watching enough basketball this season.

      • The french durantula says:

        I totally agree. Even though im not a fan of lebron, and would like kd to win it, lebron is by far the best player on earth

      • choppers says:

        idk, Kobe was the best player year after year, yet some how Nash collected 2 MVP rings…..A lot of it is politics, Kobe should have won MVP many many years.

      • Takwach25 says:

        Hold up now. Lebron is the best player in the world, but it doesn’t mean we just hand him MVP. He has serious competition between KD (as usual) and the ever-overlooked Tony Parker. Check the standings, Parker’s in 2nd, and he’s simply the motor for the Spurs. Anyone who thinks Lebron should simply be handed MVP obviously hasn’t been watching enough basketball

      • SmoothMM says:

        The MVP discussion is off topic but: why is Chris Paul not considered in the MVP discussion? He should’ve won one that year when Kobe got it (also the same year the Hornets went to 7 games with the Spurs in the Semi-Finals) and he’s helped the Clippers superbly. I’ve always been curious as to if the MVP is based on the best player in the league, or the most valuable on their team where without that player, the team wouldn’t strive as well.

      • Andy says:

        It’s the player most valuable to their team, which is why TP is in the running.

    • rolly says:

      He can be the MVP but not this year, this year belongs to the king, LBJ.

  18. Number1HoustonRocketsFan says:

    They have a better chance of beating the Spurs than the OKC. If the Rockets stay 8th and the Spurs get 1st, Rockets have a chance of pulling off an upset in 6 or 7 games. Then they either face the Grizz, or the Nuggets. If Nuggets win, the Rockets will probably finish Nuggets in 6 or 7 games, then in the Conference finals, Rockets will then lose to OKC in 5.

    • Breeezy says:

      On what do you base that claim? Interesting foresight of the West to say the least.

    • Mark says:

      Sorry, I just can’t see the Rockets upset the Spurs. And in my opinion, I think the Rockets have a better chance to upset the Thunder.

    • Takwach25 says:

      If the Rockets play either San Antonio or OKC they’ll be out in the first round in 5 games. OKC is simply an offensive juggernaut, and the Rockets don’t really have anybody that can sustain KD. The Spurs would sweep them. They’re the only team to have a top 5 offense AND top 5 defense. Tony Parker is the best PG in the league right now, Duncan forgot he’s 36 and is playing like he’s 26, and let’s not forget Kawhi Leonard/ Danny Green are great shooters, along to go with the deepest roster next to the Clippers. If the Rockets want to advance, they have the best chance against Memphis

      • TheStarMiddleschooler says:

        Im a OKC fan but i think Rockets are better then the lakers and have better Teamwork then the Spurs. Im Scared of the Rockets now. T-ROB J-LIN and the FEAR THE BEARD? There going to confrence finals and losing to OKC

  19. big bang theory says:

    if the rockets make a first round upset with one of the 4 top teams in the western conference i wouldnt be shocked, They score like nothing, most 120+ points games this season i believe.

    • Andy says:

      Nothing against Houston, I’m not a fan but I don’t mind them, but the playoffs are different. Offense can get you in, but you’re going nowhere if you can’t defend. 8th seed against the Spurs would be an incredibly tough matchup for them.

      • javier says:

        i am a lakers fan i am impressed of what they are doing kobe i give it up 2 him thats how he should play games

  20. The Rocket says:

    Morey’s a genius