You could say Kevin McHale’s change in the lineup last night was a one-time adjustment, meant to match up with a smaller, hectic 76ers lineup that started Thaddeus Young at power forward, but the results of playing the two centers at once justify scrapping the ‘Twin Tower’ idea altogether. In 92 minutes, the Rockets were minus-35 in point-differential when Howard and Asik were on the floor, scoring at a rate that would’ve ranked far and away dead last in the league. Defensively, they flirted with the bottom ten in efficiency, that side of the court being where the two centers would be effective.
But not when they’re paired together.
Enter Terrence Jones, the second-year forward who started in Asik’s place in last night’s overtime-loss. He had 10 points, 11 rebounds, three blocks, and two threes in 37 minutes. Pick and choose which of those statistics is most surprising, whether it’s the threes he helped stretch the floor with, the rebounding that was very good for the playing time he was given, or even just the fact that he played 37 minutes even if the game went to overtime.
Or maybe Asik all but joining ‘Club Trillion’ in only four minutes of play stuck out more than whatever Jones did. It’s too early to peg just how many minutes he will receive if he continues coming off the bench, though he only played 10-15 minutes when he was a backup for the Chicago Bulls. Who knows what McHale has in store for Asik and the Houston’s rotation going forward.
Jones playing 37 minutes was also surprising, as mentioned earlier, but he made them count. 30 of them were with Howard, resulting in Houston being plus-eight in point-differential in that timeframe. The starting lineup with Jones and Howard was even better as they logged 25 minutes as a unit and were plus-11. Defensively, they had about the same efficiency as any lineup featuring Asik and Howard together, but the offense was so much better. It also helps when Jeremy Lin makes, say, nine three pointers, though his defense continues to be a question mark going forward.
It was obviously only one game (I feel like I’ll have to type ‘SMALL SAMPLE SIZE ALERT’ in every post for another month) and the absence of James Harden and Michael Carter-Williams, the triple-double of Tony Wroten, and the 36-point outburst of James Anderson were just a few reasons to take last night’s results with a whole saltshaker.
But Houston’s experiment with playing Terrence Jones at power forward was a necessary one, in my couch potato opinion, regardless of the opposition. Tonight, the Rockets match up with the Knicks, another team featuring a small ball starting lineup. Let’s see what McHale does next.
All stats are from NBA.com.