On Tuesday’s episode of the Dunc’d On Podcast, Nate Duncan and Danny Leroux discussed the idea of the Houston Rockets trading for Bulls center Robin Lopez.
This comes in part because of the news that Clint Capela will miss up to six weeks with ligament damage in his thumb and Houston could certainly use a fill-in at the center position.
Duncan and Leroux did not suggest any hyper-specific trades but Leroux suggested the framework of the possible deal as:
“I had floated the idea of them trading Brandon Knight and an asset for Robin Lopez, not because Lopez is a perfect fit though he is a capable center and there is some value in that, but also because it’s a way for the Rockets to get off of 2019-20 money”
The Rockets have oft-discussed issues with the amount of money on their books but it costs to be a winning team, and Houston has found a way to succeed even after not extending contracts to defensive-minded forwards Trevor Ariza and Luc Richard Mbah Moute last offseason.
At the time of this writing, Houston is sitting at 25-18, good for fourth in the Western Conference, an amazing turnaround after their rough start to the season. But even with all of their recent James Harden-led success, the Rockets still rank 26th in the league in defensive efficiency, a worse rating than the 10-34 Bulls.
Lopez, while not the the traditional rim-runner or floor-spacing big man that the Rockets would usually go after, still provides a huge defensive upgrade over any big on their roster not named Clint Capela.
Per NBA.com, opponents are shooting 7.1 percent worse when defended by Lopez, a testament to how good he is at using his length to frustrate scorers at the rim, and occasionally on midrange closeouts. Of course, he is too slow-footed to play in a switching defensive system, but the Rockets have not went to that strategy as much as they have in past years.
If the Bulls do decide to use their cap space to acquire draft assets rather than going after free agents, the Rockets-Bulls deal floated by the Dunc’d on Podcast makes a TON of sense.
Brandon Knight, the oft-injured 27-year old guard, still has some promise despite was has been an awful stinit in Houston. He has said all the right things, and by all accounts seems like a great guy who has just had some awful luck with injuries. And it is important to remember, this is a guard who as recently as the 2015-16 season, was putting up 19.6 PPG.
Knight is certainly thankful just to have a chance to prove himself again on the NBA stage.
Brandon Knight (@Goodknight11) on scoring Monday for the first time since Feb/2017 because of major knee surgery: "To be able to put my name in the stat book,the scoring column,that felt good.Once you've been out for so long u start to be thankful for the little things." #Rockets pic.twitter.com/SNdSU68yIQ— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) December 19, 2018
Houston is gearing up for the stretch run. And Lopez would be perfect to be stationed right in the middle of the paint as the Rockets defensive anchor until Capela is 100 percent.
Another interesting note--though Mike D’Antonio, Daryl Morey and co. definitely aren’t as concerned about it--is that Lopez is shooting a (obviously) career-high 0.9 3-point attempts per 36 minutes, while hitting them at a 28.6 percent rate.
His brother Brook has notoriously turned himself into one of the NBA’s premier 3-point shooting centers, taking 8.7 attempts from 3-point range while hitting 37.8 percent of them. Now no one is expecting Robin to turn into Brook overnight, but on a team that leads the league with 43.3 3-point attempts per game, there is precedent for Lopez to become an interesting (last-ditch) pick-and-pop option, considering how skilled he is at screening combined with the offensive gravity of Harden.
The Rockets are the same team that reportedly offered four-first round picks in an effort to get Jimmy Butler, so it is not insane to think that the Bulls would be able to extract a first-round pick for the Rockets as long as they were willing to take money back.