Rockets projected lineup and rotations heading into 2023-24 season

Jabari Smith Jr., Aleperen Sengun, Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Houston Rockets (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images)
Jabari Smith Jr., Aleperen Sengun, Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Houston Rockets (Photo by Alex Bierens de Haan/Getty Images) /
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Fred VanVleet (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images)
Fred VanVleet (Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets spent big in free agency to take the next step toward contention under new head coach Ime Udoka. The lineup will look dramatically different compared to last season as a result. 

The Houston Rockets are eager to exit the NBA basement. Fresh off a 22-win season that landed them the No. 4 pick in June’s NBA Draft, Houston spent almost $250 million to acquire the services of Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks, and Jock Landale in free agency.

It’s not common for a rebuilding team to spend so extensively on mid-tier free agents, and yet the Rockets are hoping to make a fast pivot toward contention. After years of toiling under the wayward leadership of Stephen Silas, the Rockets’ young core is in dire need of direction. New head coach Ime Udoka is qualified to supply it; he’s one of the best defensive minds in the NBA and a proven player’s coach. Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, and virtually the entire Celtics roster still speak glowingly of him.

Given the landscape of the Western Conference, it’s fair to wonder if the Rockets are spending too much, too soon. Houston salary-dumped several promising young players to make space for their new acquisitions and it’s still hard to picture a path to consistent winning basketball for the current roster.

And yet, the Rockets have a young core worth believing in. Jalen Green, Amen Thompson, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason, Cam Whitmore — that’s a loaded group of teenagers who all have promising NBA futures. If the vets can provide guidance as Houston’s youth movement takes shape, perhaps all that money ends up paying dividends. Houston can still play the long game, and no contract is untradeable.

Either way, the Rockets will look different next season and the changes are largely positive on paper. How much of a dent it makes in the win column is yet to be seen, but Houston has a very deep roster with a lot of talented players ready to take off.

Let’s dive into the rotation.

Houston Rockets starting point guard: Fred VanVleet

Three years and $130 million typically gets you the starting job. The Rockets are going to rely heavily on Fred VanVleet, not only as a scorer and a playmaker, but as a veteran in the locker room who can show younger players how to approach the game with professionalism and the proper competitive spirit.

VanVleet’s résumé speaks for itself. Undrafted out of Wichita State, VanVleet has spent seven years in the NBA. He has a championship and an All-Star appearance to show for it. Now, he will look to impart his wisdom on Houston’s younger core. He will also be the primary fulcrum of Ime Udoka’s offense, a veteran with considerable freedom to create for teammates and unleash his trademark pull-up 3 on unsuspecting defenders.

It’s fair to wonder how VanVleet’s production will hold up relative to his contract; he’s a 6-foot guard with a career field goal percentage of 40.2 and there’s a lot of injury history to concern oneself with. That said, VanVleet is still one of the best volume pull-up shooters in the NBA and he averaged 7.2 assists compared to only 2.0 turnovers with the Raptors last season. His ability to set the table and stretch the defense will undeniably benefit those in his orbit.

Defense has also been a calling card of VanVleet’s in the past, but he’s limited positionally by his size and declining athleticism. He will communicate and operate well within a team context, but smart offenses are going to target VanVleet on switches and squeeze until Udoka has to make tough decisions — especially if the Rockets actually manage to sneak into the postseason picture.

Primary backup point guard: Amen Thompson

It will be interesting to see how long the Rockets can justify bringing Amen Thompson off the bench. The VanVleet signing complicates the matter — you can’t really bench him after that contract, and Jalen Green has a certain stature within the organization as the former No. 2 pick — but Thompson is probably the best long-term prospect on Houston’s roster.

At 6-foot-7, Thompson might be the best pure athlete in the NBA next season. He goes from zero to 60 in a flash, scorching defenders with his blistering first step before subsequently keeping them off-balance with seamless changes of speed and direction. Thompson glides across time and space like few players in the NBA, and that’s before he even decides to elevate around the rim.

Thompson also happens to be one of the best passers in recent NBA Draft history. The big knock is his lack of a jumper, but he’s going to work hard to improve and defenses will have trouble keeping him out of the paint no matter how aggressively they sag off. He’s versatile enough to start next to VanVleet and Green, but that would still complicate matters further down the lineup.

Other players who could receive minutes at point guard: Kevin Porter Jr., Aaron Holiday