Houston's trade for Robert Covington in February has largely defined the franchise's 2019-20. The Rockets decided to go all-in on their small-ball lineup with the trade for Covington, jettisoning Clint Capela in another ideological leap. It's hard to argue with Daryl Morey's decision after Game 1 against the Thunder.
Not only has the Rockets' offense flourished without a true center, their defense has more than held up. They were the No. 4 defense in the final seven seeding games, and Tuesday's win over Oklahoma City featured a masterful defensive effort. The Rockets are humming on both ends of the floor, and even without Russell Westbrook, Houston could end round one in short order.
Covington's impact can't be overstated. But he wasn't the only marquee addition in February. Jeff Green has been a downright revelation for the Rockets in 19 games, shining off the bench in Tuesday's blowout win. The Georgetown product led all bench players with 22 points, hitting a trio of threes as he finished the night with a team-best plus-28. Green is the latest Rocket to thrive in his post-prime.
"[Green] played really well. He opens up so many other possibilities, getting guys shots or wide-open shots for himself or giving James a little bit of a break to get open," Rockets head coach Mike D'Antoni said postgame. "All he has to do is pick and pop back. If they don’t switch, he goes to the rim and dunks. If they do, then James has the ball in a great spot."
Green didn't need much time to integrate himself into the Rockets' attack. He hit six of seven shots in his Houston debut on Feb. 20, showing off a versatility desperately needed in the frontcourt. Capela and Isaiah Hartenstein were victims of the Harden trap. When teams doubled the three-time scoring champion, Capela and Hartenstein couldn't make plays in space. There were occasional ill-fated forays down the lane–often resulting in turnovers–but largely, the two behemoths would do little but waste time on the shot clock. Capela and Hartenstein would freeze, allow the defense to reset, then kick it out to a perimeter player. Defenses were thriving on Houston's inability to break down 4-on-3 opportunities.
Green doesn't share the same issues. He's downright eager to roll downhill, and he attacked closeouts with a fury on Tuesday night. Green isn't as quick as he once was, though he's still plenty mobile. His old-man and-1 vs. Oklahoma City exemplifies Houston's offensive firepower. All five players are a threat to score. The floor is constantly filled with legitimate playmakers.
Much of the conversation surrounding Green comes with a bit of an asterisk. His career inconsistency is noted ad nauseam, and there's some (fair or unfair) discussion of playoff struggles. But frankly, it seems more appropriate to cast previous biases aside.
The Rockets are the most unconventional team in basketball, deploying their resources unlike any team in the league. This isn't to say Green is any sort of superstar, but he is being used in a way that consistently plays to his strengths. He's a legitimate pick-and-pop weapon, an active roller and a true playmaker, even in transition. Dealing Capela marked the turn in Houston's season. Adding Green accelerated the evolution, marking another impact addition in the Morey era.