A year ago, the Houston Rockets won 65 games and pushed the Golden State Warriors to seven games in the Western Conference Finals. The Rockets even had 3-2 lead in that series, but an injury to Chris Paul late in Game 5 all but sealed Houston’s fate.
Then, over the offseason, the Rockets lost Trevor Ariza, a key piece of their run last year. They decided to essentially replace him with Carmelo Anthony, which failed miserably.
It was blatantly obvious early on in the season that Houston missed Ariza, as its defense lost a vital piece and the Rockets lost an edge as a team overall.
Houston ended up recovering to win 53 games, but it fizzled out in the second round of the playoffs in a six-game loss to the Warriors.
You have to wonder how different the Rockets’ season would have been had Ariza not departed, so here are three reasons Houston should try to bring Ariza back this summer.
Toughness is an underrated commodity in the NBA. While talent certainly reigns supreme, toughness can make all the difference in a playoff series between two otherwise evenly matched clubs.
Ariza brought that brand of toughness to the Rockets last year, and when Houston lost him to the Phoenix Suns in free agency, it also lost a piece of the team’s beating heart.
While Chris Paul and P.J. Tucker are tough guys in their own right, having Ariza around as well made the Rockets that much grittier. It’s one of those things where Houston discernibly felt his absence.
Bringing him back into the fold would go a long way in the Rockets re-assuming the identity they had built during the 2017-18 campaign.
2. More Shooting
The Rockets’ entire offense is predicated on floor spacing, and Ariza would provide even more of that for Mike D’Antoni.
While Ariza isn’t exactly Kyle Korver, he is still a decent three-point shooter, as he shot 36.8 percent from downtown during his final season with the Rockets last year.
The mere threat of Ariza’s shooting ability at the four opens up the entire floor for the Rockets, and while Houston already has numerous shooters on its roster to begin with, adding Ariza would only make them more lethal in that category.
In today’s NBA, it’s about having as many shooters on the floor as possible, especially when you have a guy like James Harden constantly handling the ball. Surrounding Harden with countless shooters is ideal.
1. Defensive Versatility
That brings us to the biggest reason why the Rockets need Ariza back: defensive versatility.
A major factor in Houston’s success against the Warriors in 2018 was Ariza’s ability to switch everything on the perimeter, which nearly eliminated Golden State’s pick-and-roll with Stephen Curry.
Ariza has the length, the footspeed, and the instincts to seriously bother any of the elite point guards in the NBA, allowing him to completely blow up high screen-and-rolls.
The Dubs had a heck of a lot of trouble figuring the Rockets’ defense out last spring, and that had everything to do with the fact that Houston had the ability to switch everything with Ariza and Tucker.
Re-signing Ariza would provide the Rockets with that same versatility that they sorely missed in Games 5 and 6 of this past second round when Curry lit them up.