Austin Rockets 2023 Season Preview
- By Zach Podedworny, Day 1, 2023
AUSTIN - 2022 for the Rockets was a disappointment to say the least. Star PG Rubin Wingfield had a down year, two of the Rockets best prospects in SG Quinton Rice and PF/SF Zach McCray missed significant time, and to make matters worse, the Rockets did not have a 2023 1st to fall back on. The Rockets moved on from veterans Orien Young, Alonzo Traylor, and Lorenzen Eyles in trades throughout the year as they continued their transition into a new era. The Rockets organization was hoping that the team of veterans could pull out one last gasp of playoff basketball before the inevitable rebuild, but as the season progressed, this hope was soon lost. Rockets GM ZPod4 tried to make moves to bolster the future of the franchise by acquiring as many future assets as possible to replace the aging veterans. The biggest of these trades came at the end of 2022 when the Rockets sent PG Rubin Wingfield and their 2024 1st to the Skyhawks for picks #7 and #16 in the 2023 draft. With these picks, the Rockets selected PF Zion Jefferies and C Qwan “The Swan” Songaila. Heading into 2023 the Rockets got younger, deeper, and hope to prove they are not the bottom of the barrel Western Conference team that everyone thinks we are. The Rockets could very well be the best team in Texas.
The Rockets have 9 new players in 2023, so establishing cohesion will take some time, but having a veteran head coach in Dale Hunter and excellent assistants in Scott Denson and newly acquired Earl Spencer should surely make the process go smoothly. As the chemistry builds, the Rockets aim to hit their goal of 30 wins this season. Many fans and GMs around the league may see that number as ambitious, but the Rockets are confident in their ability to close out games, even with an average age of 22.5 years old.
Starter: Jaleen Rifkind
Backups: Cassius Tyson, Joe Layton, Demarcus Jones
To start off the year, Jaleen Rifkind will be the starting PG for the Rockets. He has big shoes to fill as Wingfield’s ability to pass is like no other in the league. With plenty of other scoring options on the Rockets, Rifkind’s focus will be to facilitate the offense. Starting as the backup, Cassius Tyson has his own skill set to offer. Tyson may be the second best pure scorer on the team behind Quinton Rice, so his ability to provide scoring for the second unit will be important. Tyson did improve his ball skills during training camp, but with his attitude and ability to score the Rockets will be using him in a different way than Rifkind. Joe Layton was brought in late in free agency to be the veteran of this young PG corps. While Layton is not expected to play significant minutes, but the Rockets hope he can be tremendous leader in this young locker room. Demarcus Jones won the final PG roster spot over Robinson and Strong-Moore. Jones’ improvement in training camp alongside his passing ability gave him the chance to live his dream in the JBL.
Starter: Quinton Rice
Backups: Luke Williams, Kareem Gaines
Earning the title of franchise player this year, the Rockets are excited to be led by a player as exhilarating as Quinton Rice. The Rockets are looking to Rice to be the primary scorer for this offense. Backing him up will be his mentor Luke Williams. Williams was brought in solely to be a leader in the locker room, but the Rockets expect him to be a contributing member of the second unit. Kareem Gaines was signed late in free agency to add depth to the wings, but the Rockets look forward to how he can contribute on this team. Averaging 19.9ppg per 36 minutes last season as a part of the Crusaders, Gaines has shown his ability to score. The Rockets expect to start Gaines at both SG and SF this season as they play with their many young players.
Starter: Zach McCray
Backups: Xavier Turner, Jacob Rogers
Zach McCray is the longest tenured player on the Rockets having been drafted in the 2021 draft. McCray is a player who can do everything. With the ability to play PF, McCray is a great rebounder and passer. Newly acquired Xavier Turner from the Kings comes in to start the year as the Rocket’s sixth man. Turner is the player Rockets GM ZPod4 is most excited to see this year. Stuck deep on the Kings depth chart, Turner is excited to showcase his skills to the world and to prove his draft position was no mistake. Second year player Jacob Rogers brought in through the Blizzards trade will provide depth at small forward. His size will be useful when the Rockets want to play a taller lineup.
Starter: Zion Jefferies
Backups: Obinna Holden, Alan Browning
Top 10 pick and potential rookie of the year Zion Jefferies comes into 2023 as the starter at PF. Zion will be interesting to watch as a stretch four playing alongside McCray and Foreman. The Rockets one day hope to see Zion battling with Rice for face of the franchise. Obinna Holden brought in on a massive one year deal will help bring depth to a relatively shallow frontcourt. Holden had shown flashes on the Stars to be a solid big man and the Rockets hope to see the same from him in a Rockets uniform. Returning depth player Alan Browning showed some ability to play last year as he was given multiple starts at PF. Relegated to a reserve, the Rockets hope to get him some playing time throughout the season.
Starter: Isaiah Foreman
Backup: Qwan “The Swan” Songaila
After a tremendous year winning Most Improved Player, Isaiah Foreman returns with a max contract to lead the Rockets frontcourt in 2023. Having earned the starting job last year over Alonzo Traylor, Foreman put up an impressive 12.1 ppg alongside his 8.9 rpg while sharing the frontcourt with veterans Orien Young and Colin Stafford respectively. Behind Foreman is 2023 1st round pick Qwan Songaila. Qwan put up impressive numbers in his sophomore year at Memphis averaging 16.7 ppg and 7.8 rpg. Transitioning to the next level, the Rockets hope to provide Qwan with adequate playing time and potentially some starts down the line if he plays up to expectations.
The Rockets open up their season in Kansas City against the Knights. The Rockets’ home opener is on Day 4 against the Kings. The Rockets will be giving away Zion Jefferies bobbleheads to the first 1,000 fans who get to the game at their home opener on Day 4.