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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Dillon Brooks, Grizzlies
Dillon Brooks (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images) /

Houston Rockets starting small forward: Dillon Brooks

Here’s where matters get a wee bit complicated for the Rockets if Amen Thompson is too good to bring off the bench. Dillon Brooks could be a tremendous sixth man, but he evidently wants to be a featured player on offense and the Rockets gave him $86 million guaranteed over four years. So, there’s incentive on Brooks’ part and Houston’s part to not bench him.

In the short term, however, starting Brooks is the easy move. The contract isn’t that exorbitant under the rising cap, honestly, and Brooks can absolutely impact winning and change the culture around Houston. He made second team All-Defense last season and it was well deserved. The Rockets paid a premium for one of the best wing defenders in the NBA. That’s not so crazy.

Brooks is a definite tone-setter. He will compete relentlessly on every possession and give the Rockets their long-missing answer to the best offensive engines in the NBA. Brooks is remarkably strong at 6-foot-7 and he can comfortably toggle between one through four depending on where the priority matchups lie.

The offensive end is the big question mark for Brooks, who can no doubt score the basketball. It’s a question of how efficiently he can score the basketball; last season his field goal percentage dipped below 40 percent and he hasn’t broken the league average from 3-point range since 2020. Brooks takes plenty of 3s, but that needs to be his primary focus in Houston. Hopefully Ime Udoka can quickly and forcefully define Brooks’ role as a 3-and-D wing. VanVleet, Green, Thompson, and Porter should be the Houston players generating the bulk of the offense.

Primary backup small forward: Jae’Sean Tate

Jae’Sean Tate avoided the Rockets’ peripheral fire sale and he should be cemented as the team’s primary wing reserve next season. Kelly Iko of The Athletic reports that Tate is considered an “important piece” of Ime Udoka’s puzzle, and that he has been an early defensive standout in summer workouts.

Listed at 6-foot-5, Tate has been used all over the floor for Houston in recent years. He’s probably not a true five-position defender, but Tate can hang with guards on the perimeter and wage battle with bigger players in the frontcourt. He shouldn’t get too many true “small-ball center” minutes with the personnel elsewhere on Houston’s roster, but he can toggle comfortably between either forward spot while offering decent rim finishing and passing for his position. The 3-point shot is there, but it could stand to get better.

Other players who could receive minutes at small forward: Cam Whitmore, Amen Thompson, Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., Jeff Green

Cam Whitmore was universally considered a top-10 prospect in June’s NBA Draft. He was the No. 6 player on the FanSided board. He fell into the Rockets’ lap at No. 20, a miracle for a Houston team still looking for its next true star. There’s a world in which Whitmore eventually emerges as that next star.

The Villanova product will probably be a victim of depth in his rookie season, but he won MVP at Summer League and the talent is undeniable. If he can win over Udoka with his defense as a bulky 6-foot-7 power athlete, that could spur him to more minutes early on. Offensively, Whitmore is a good enough 3-point shooter and he’s nearly impossible to keep out of the paint once he’s rumbling down the lane. His strength and first step combo has been compared to Anthony Edwards, which is setting the bar way too high holistically, but it does speak to the absurdity of Whitmore’s draft-night tumble.