- The Houston Rockets lost forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in free agency and are now reportedly “determined” to land Carmelo Anthony.
- Landing Anthony might be a downgrade for the Rockets, as he can’t replace the defense Ariza and Mbah a Moute brought to the floor, and he has previously complained about a smaller role on offense.
- By losing Ariza and Mbah a Moute and bringing in Anthony, the Rockets may lose the formula that made them such a threat to the Warriors.
The Houston Rockets have lost two keys pieces from the team that brought them within one half of knocking off the Golden State Warriors to make the NBA Finals and may now be compounding the problem.
Both Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute left in free agency to join, respectively, the Phoenix Suns on a 1-year, $15 million deal and the Los Angeles Clippers on a 1-year, $4.3 million deal.
Following the exit of Mbah a Moute on Monday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that the Rockets will now focus on landing Carmelo Anthony, saying they’re “determined” to get him. Wojnarowski previously reported that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Anthony are expected to part ways this summer via a buyout or trade.
For the Rockets, it’s a series of moves that may be a step backward from last season. Part of what made the Rockets so deadly was their numbers-based attack centered on James Harden and Chris Paul pick-and-rolls. With the two playmakers at the head of the attack, they could drive the paint for their shots, hit the roll men, or pass it out to their bevy of three-point shooters. On the other end, those three-point shooters were rangy defenders who could switch across multiple positions to make life difficult on opponents.
Ariza finished third on the Rockets in three-pointers made. Meanwhile, Mbah a Moute shot a tidy 36%, good enough to keep him on the floor, mainly because his defense and rebounding was so vital to the Rockets’ attack. In a league where “3-and-D” players are increasingly important, the Rockets had three players (including P.J. Tucker, still on the roster) locking down the perimeter and spacing the floor.
On paper, adding a prolific scorer and former star like Anthony might seem like an upgrade, but he can’t replace what Ariza and Mbah a Moute brought to the Rockets. Replacing them with Anthony could end up being a downgrade.
Anthony struggled as a third star last year on the Thunder, and at the end of the season, made it known he didn’t enjoy being relegated to catch-and-shoot opportunities and fewer touches. It didn’t help matters that Anthony scored 16 points per game on just 40% shooting. At 34, Anthony has also lost a bit of his quick first step, and his ability to finish at the rim.
The Rockets last year also eschewed the area from which Anthony thrives on offense – the midrange. That area has historically been Anthony’s bread and butter, and while he can be a catch-and-shoot three-point weapon, it is clear he is not happy with that role. Anthony’s preference for isolating from the elbows and high post seemingly wouldn’t jive with the Rockets’ system.
Furthermore, Anthony doesn’t bring the same defensive impact that Ariza and Mbah a Moute did. Anthony has always been a lackadaisical defender, but even when engaged now, he’s often not able to keep up with smaller, quicker players on the perimeter. He’s best suited to defending big men as a power forward, but in today’s NBA, that still involves scrambling around the perimeter.
Mbah a Moute fell out of the Rockets’ rotation in the Western Conference Finals as he struggled with a shoulder injury. But it was Ariza who defended Kevin Durant most of the time and did an admirable job. The Rockets roster allowed them to switch every screen, closing the gaps the Warriors’ chaotic system creates. Take out Ariza and replace him with the plodding Anthony, and suddenly there would be a target for the Warriors on almost every possession. If the Warriors play Anthony off the court on the defensive end, then the offensive benefits he might bring would be negated anyway.
The Rockets may have other moves up their sleeves – GM Daryl Morey is one of the leagues’ savviest executives and would likely know that this current Rockets roster, plus Anthony, would represent less of a threat to the Warriors.
The Rockets got to the brink of the NBA Finals riding Harden, Paul, a devotion to three-pointers, and a switch-heavy defense. They might have taken down the Warriors if Paul didn’t get hurt and miss the final two games. To follow that up with a summer where, so far, they’ve lost some of what made that team so great doesn’t appear to move them any closer to the Warriors’ level. Barring other moves, Anthony doesn’t seem like the answer.