It has been a strange season, to say the least, for Houston Rockets forward Tari Eason. What started off as a seemingly benign lower leg injury which caused Eason to miss the first six games of the season has now kept him out of the lineup since January 3. Eason has appeared in just 22 games so far this year, averaging 9.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.2 assists.
But those stats don’t do his impact justice. Looking inside the numbers, Eason is far and away the most impactful player on the Rockets. The Rockets are outscoring opponents by 11.6 points per 100 possessions in Eason’s 474 minutes. That figure ranks in the 95th percentile league-wide. And it’s easy to see why. The rangy forward is a tenacious defender, an imposing presence on the glass, and a capable outside shooter having connected on 36% of his three-point attempts thus far this season. Dillon Brooks, having freshly signed a four-year, $86 million contract in the offseason, is the team’s starter at the small forward position, flanked by second year forward Jabari Smith Jr. at power forward, and third year man Alperen Sengun at center. But the belief is that Eason is Houston’s future at the position.
If the team opts to build its identity around the offensive talents of Sengun, Eason’s length and defensive versatility will be a necessity in the lineup. Sengun struggles in pick and roll coverage and defending mobile centers, and thus, it will be imperative for Rockets head coach Ime Udoka to surround him with players like Eason to mitigate those weaknesses. Eason’s absence factors largely into why the Rockets, now just 21-24, have plummeted in the standings after such a promising start to the season. An already thin depth chart has been thinner.
It’s anyone’s guess how Rockets general manager Rafael Stone will approach the trade deadline. Houston has been rumored to be interested in acquiring a backup big man and a playmaker in the backcourt, armed with second round picks, future pick obligations owed from the Brooklyn Nets and several large expiring contracts to go shopping. But the biggest addition this team could make might just be getting back a healthy Eason.