The Houston Rockets have had plenty of elite-caliber players pass through their organization since their early days in the late ’60s and ’70s. The list at small forward is slim, though, with only five players who can claim the right to be considered among the cream of the crop.
These are the best five small forwards who have graced the all-time Rockets depth chart:
Trevor Ariza had two separate stints with Houston. His first came in 2009-20, when the team signed him to a five-year, $33 million deal as part of the Disabled Player Exception the Rockets were granted for injured center Yao Ming. He averaged 14.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists, and 1.8 steals per game in what is to this day his best NBA season.
The next stint came in 2014 when several Rockets news outlets reported that the team re-acquired him in a three-team sign-and-trade with the New Orleans Pelicans and the Washington Wizards. While only acting as a supporting scorer as a three-and-D archetype at small forward, Ariza averaged 1.5 steals or more in his four seasons in Clutch City that came to an end in 2018.
His last game with the Rockets is perhaps an unfair one to judge from, as he finished the game scoreless in a Game 7 loss to the Golden State Warriors in the 2018 Western Conference Finals after an 0-for-12 shooting performance, including all of his nine shots from downtown.
Through five seasons with the Rockets, Ariza averaged 12.7 points and 4.5 rebounds per game.
Robert Reid was a dynamic small forward in his time. He played 10 of his 14 seasons with the Rockets, retiring briefly after his fifth season after Houston traded Moses Malone to the Philadelphia 76ers. After a year away from basketball at his new Florida home, he returned to Houston after the Rockets drafted Ralph Sampson with the first overall pick in the 1983 NBA Draft.
One of Reid’s most notable moments with the Rockets was a 3-pointer in Game 5 of the 1986 Western Conference Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, which tied the game with a few seconds before the end of regulation, helping the Rockets rally and reach the 1986 NBA Finals.
Reid averaged 11.9 points, 4.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.2 steals per game for the Rockets throughout his 10 years with the team.
Originally drafted with the second overall pick by the San Diego Rockets in 1970, “Rudy T.” was a monument of franchise loyalty, playing his entire 11-year career with the Rockets. His nickname is a byproduct of his long last name being way too long to fit on the back of a jersey, as the team opted to go with “Rudy T” along with his since-retired number 45.
While he is undoubtedly the greatest coach in franchise history, his track record as a player falls short of that distinction.
He had his best season in 1973-74 when he averaged 24.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game while shooting 53.6% from the field.
Rudy Tomjanovich was known for his physical and rugged style of play. He averaged 17.4 points, 8.1 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game throughout his career. He was a five-time All-Star and a reliable points and boards man.
His coaching career supplemented his place in Rockets lore, as he was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a coach before he was as a player, recently receiving the honor in April 2020.
The entire career scope of “Big Shot Bob” doesn’t do justice to how impactful a player he was for the Houston Rockets. Before he was knocking down game-winning jumpers for the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs, Robert Horry was a utility man with plenty of gifts to his game.
The 6-foot-9 Horry broke into the league as a diverse small forward, averaging double digits in three of his four seasons with the Rockets. He played a key part in the 1994 and 1995 championship teams as a starter, ramping up his scoring and rebounding averages.
He was also a dynamic defender, and his all-out hustle earned him plenty of praise during the 1995 NBA Finals, as he set an NBA Finals record with seven steals against the Orlando Magic.
Horry, a seven-time champion (twice with Houston), averaged 10.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.2 blocks during his first four years in the league as a member of the Rockets.
While many others have worn the uniform for longer, Tracy McGrady is undoubtedly the most gifted scorer and the most significant man to play at that position.
“T-Mac” came to the Rockets as part of a seven-player deal that sent Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley to the Orlando Magic, virtually swapping stars. The deal was a boon for the Rockets, as they could finally pair their tower, Yao Ming, with a gifted playmaker.
McGrady spent the better part of six seasons with the franchise, tallying 22.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game through 303 games with the team. His memorably 13 points in 35 seconds is a jewel in Rockets lore, as he singlehandedly put Houston on his back to come back against the Western Conference powerhouse San Antonio Spurs.
McGrady made four of his seven All-Star appearances as a member of the Rockets and made an incredible sacrifice as one of the league’s most potent scorers, sharing the court with Yao Ming. While their short-lived partnership didn’t yield any hardware, the memories of exciting basketball make him without a doubt the best at his position for this franchise.