These moves signal a significant change in Houston’s rotation, as Patterson and Morris were the beneficiaries of the majority of the playing time at the power forward position and thus leave a major hole to fill.
Over the past three games, coach Kevin McHale has opted to start Chandler Parsons at the 4 while moving Carlos Delfino into the starting lineup to replace him at small forward. This move, however temporary, suits Houston’s up-tempo offense and has resulted in two impressive wins over Oklahoma City and Brooklyn, albeit accompanied by a narrow loss to the Washington Wizards.
Though Parsons has filled in admirably at the power forward spot, posting averages of 17 points and six boards per game over the past three contests, his perimeter skills make him better suited to the small forward position, and he should return to that role before long. And while Parsons should still play the 4 during some stretches, Houston’s bevy of alternate options at the position should ensure that he starts and finishes most games on the wing.
So who should the Rockets turn to as the starting power forward for the remainder of the season? Well, the question is a bit tougher than it seems.
While Robinson seems like the obvious candidate due to his past college success (2012 Big 12 Conference Player of the Year) and high draft position (fifth pick in the 2012 draft), he has limped through a bumpy rookie campaign and may not be ready to shoulder a full starting role at the present time.
Fortunately, the Rockets happen to boast three other top rookie power forward prospects with an intriguing variety of talents.
First is Royce White, a talented Boris Diaw clone whose well-documented anxiety disorder has kept him at odds with the organization throughout the season. White is currently playing in the D-League with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and is likely to stay there until he reaches a resolution with the Rockets brass.
While White’s future status is very much up in the air (or rather not, due to his crippling fear of flying), Houston’s two other rookie 4's have both shown impressive flashes during limited action this season.
Terrence Jones has appeared in only 11 games so far for the Rockets, but has flashed some elite athleticism while on the court and put up great numbers when given the minutes (most notable was a 12-point, eight-rebound performance in 30 minutes against the Jazz).
Meanwhile, Donatas Motiejunas, the rookie from Lithuania, has stepped up recently in an expanded reserve role, averaging 8.8 points and three boards per game in his past four appearances. A legit seven-footer, Motiejunas can play either the 4 or 5 and stretches the floor effectively with his three-point shooting ability.
Of these two, Motiejunas looks like the more NBA-ready player at the time being. Though he lacks Jones’ explosiveness, Motiejunas has pro experience from playing overseas, and his superior consistency as a shooter makes him the preferable option here.
Rounding out the Rockets’ low-post rotation is Greg Smith, a second-year player out of Fresno State who has played well this season as an efficient low-post finisher and rebounding presence. But while valuable as a role player, Smith’s low ceiling and lack of versatility should keep him near the 15-minute threshold.
Houston clearly has a great many options in the post to fill out the rotation around Omer Asik. But while the future at the power forward position remains murky due to the impending free agency of stars like Josh Smith and Paul Millsap, the solution at the 4 seems clear for the time being.
Ultimately, Robinson should develop into Houston’s go-to option at the power forward spot going forward. He has the highest ceiling of any of the Rockets forwards, and his effort on the glass and defensive presence could enable him to become a defensive anchor that Houston so desperately needs.
The majority of the reserve minutes behind Robinson and Asik should be split between Motiejunas and Smith. Together, they form a towering inside-outside combo that should help keep Houston’s second unit afloat both offensively and on the glass.
Parsons, meanwhile, may continue to be the best option at the power forward spot to close out games. With an increasing number of teams opting to finish with small lineups this season, Parsons’ combination of size and skill makes him an ideal stretch 4 with the game on the line. Furthermore, by placing him at the 4, the Rockets will be able to deploy another shooter in Delfino to hit clutch shots.
As a rookie, Robinson's minutes should continue to depend on his production. Despite his lack of success in Sacramento, Robinson could develop into a double-double machine in Houston, and he has the size to potentially finish games at the center spot. Either way, he will gain much needed experience from the opportunity to start for the Rockets and should continue to improve going forward.