Another Summer League has come and gone for the Houston Rockets. We were treated to a team that finished 4-1 on the week and put up more highlight plays than perhaps any other team that showed up. That's all thanks to the rookies: Donatas Motiejunas, Jeremy Lamb, Royce White, Terrence Jones and Scott Machado. They all improved their standing to fans and hopefully to front offices, especially Houston's.
If you'd be so kind, continue on to find out my thoughts on nearly every Rockets Summer Leaguer from this week after the jump.
We learned that Jeremy Lamb has some fantastic scoring instincts and is more ready-made for the next level than many people gave him credit for. Think Richard Hamilton with a better outside shot and a little less improvisation. He looks incredibly comfortable with his game — he knows what he can and can't do, and it translates to a smooth sort of flow on the court that really gives a fan little reason to worry. He has a great mid-range game (including a floater that actually works), he can finish around the rim and he has a quick release from three that should help him plenty once defenders start pressing him.
The next step for Lambsanity is for him to get stronger and more powerful with his quick slash moves to the basket. We like that jumper of his, but we don't want him to get too used to it. He can get bumped around pretty easily when he's going through the lane, and while that may earn him some silly foul calls here and there, we learned from Kevin Martin last season that referees are starting to crack down on bailing players out. He'll also need to live up to his potential as a defender, because with his length and quickness, he could be a nightmare in opposing teams' passing lanes. It depends on how much he wants to work.
Bottom Line: If Lamb can develop some sort of mean streak or alpha dog complex, watch out. He's got twenty points per game in him. Now he has to evoke that potential with a little drive and dedication to perfecting his game.
We learned that Donuts is every bit as good as we have heard. He's very fluid with his movement for a young seven-footer, and while his post game needs fine-tuning, he threw a few post moves that could paralyze a veteran post defender. He's very quick with the ball around the rim and doesn't take his time putting in through the hoop. He also runs the floor extremely well and was very active both in transition and on the offensive glass. Finally, that jump shot of his looks pretty sweet. He can score from anywhere on the floor, and for a big man, that's a huge plus.
D-Mo is going to have to bulk up even more. He looks bigger than he did in his early tapes, so while that is encouraging, I could see him getting thrown out of the paint by the likes of Kendrick Perkins. He'll need to improve his face-up game — he looks a little awkward transitioning from the face-up to the actual post. Once he's there, he needs to work on translating his jumper to his post game. That thing could be lethal if he learns how to create separation a la Dirk Nowitzki. Nobody is asking D-Mo to be Dirk (and nobody should), but he is certainly capable of implementing a few Dirkisms into his arsenal without having to live up to those expectations. He'll also have to work on boxing out his opponent, but I loved his energy when going for defensive rebounds. He really attacks the ball and it looks like he has made a point of improving that aspect of his game. Now he just has to make some free throws.
Bottom Line: Donuts needs to convince us he can guard the five and rebound like one. I thought he was destined to play the four when I first saw him, but now I'm not so sure — he really likes playing in the post and his handle isn't something to behold. We'll see how he looks during the pre-season to get a better read on him, but for now, there is much to like. He's certainly ready to play at the next level.
We learned that Royce White is going to make us jump out of our seats quite a bit, both for good and bad reasons. White's passing ability is up there with many pro point guards — that's how keen he is at spotting a teammate on the floor who may be one pass away from taking good shot. Royce's gigantic hands allow him to toy with the ball and throw off defenders who aren't expecting a pass from a certain situation. By the third game, he got much more comfortable bringing the ball up, playing out of the high post and running a fast break. He also started to hit the glass and began pulling down double-digit rebounds. It looks to me like if he's motivated, he can rebound the ball just fine.
What Royce must improve is his assertiveness and finishing ability in the post. He's a strong dude and he usually gives himself good post position, but he can be a little too unselfish when he's perhaps just one quick move away from putting up a good shot. He's aware of his scoring deficiencies and I'm glad he isn't forcing bad shots, but he has the body control, the strength and the explosiveness — you can see that when he's on the break — to become an adequate post scorer. Now he just has to go take a risk with his game and get better at it. Also, the turnovers must decrease, especially the non-passing kind.
Bottom Line: Royce will take the most time to develop of the four rookies because he absolutely must be tuned in with everyone on the floor to fully showcase his game at its peak potential. He's going to have to improve his shot, increase his assertiveness in the post and prove he can guard a professional four down low. That last one may never fully come to fruition, unfortunately. But at his worst, I think he can crack an NBA rotation. At his best, there really isn't much to doubt.
We learned that the Terrence Jones at Kentucky is a much different player than the Terrence Jones away from Kentucky. He instantly showed an aggressive slashing game that wowed just about everyone each time out. His face-up game is much more polished than I ever noticed before. What's more impressive is that he kept a consistency that no other rookie aside from Lamb or Tyler Zeller showcased — he didn't have a single bad game throughout the week. Like White, Terrence looked comfortable out on the break and would bring the ball up to set up a mismatch or two. He has a very good pump-fake and is always driving toward the basket. He's going to draw a lot of fouls early on before teams realize that he's always going forward — that's a huge plus for me. He keeps the ball up when he meets contact and he's strong enough to force a good shot through contact if need be. That touch he showed off was pristine, too.
Terrence is going to have to pick a position eventually. Right now, it looks like he can become a solid three or four, but not necessarily a stud at either position. I get the idea of letting a great player showcase his game as best he can no matter what position he plays, but I'm not convinced Jones is big enough to hold down a permanent spot at the four, and his handles and outside game aren't good enough to make him a permanent three. That's a problem for guys like Josh Smith and Al Harrington, and it's part of what has prevented them from becoming even better. The edge that Jones has above the other rookies, however, is that he looks capable of guarding each of those positions. We didn't learn a whole lot about these guys defensively, but I think Jones could develop into the best defender of the four.
Bottom Line: Jones is going to have to either improve that three-point shot of his or abandon it altogether, and that could go a long way toward determining his future position. People will stop biting on that pump fake if he doesn't start making more outside shots, and when that happens, he may be relegated to a face-up power forward. That won't be a bad thing, but it's going to limit his overall potential. At the end of the day, though, Jones is quickly proving to be a late-round steal. He's far more advanced in his offensive game than I ever could have realized while watching him at UK.
We learned that Marcus Morris isn't as far along as we had hoped, and while he did make a few strides and does look improved as a full-time small forward, he could get leap-frogged by other players who have shown more consistency. Marcus came out looking to score first, score second and score third, but he still looks a little rattled out there. It showed against Washington when he shot 0-4 from the free throw line and failed to find a groove against small forwards like Chris Singleton and Jan Vesely. I'm not going to call Morris a bust yet — we're a few years away from going there — but he's closer to bottoming out at this point than reaching his potential. I know Summer League isn't the best judge of players, but remember Chase Budinger? He came back as a sophomore and lit the place up. There's a certain swagger that the second-year players come back with that often shows confidence and improvement in one's game. Marcus didn't really have that — I know he's not vocal or swagtastic sometimes, but you couldn't make out even the slightest bit of self-belief. His brother, meanwhile, played every bit the opposite part.
Bottom Line: The pre-season is going to be very important for Morris if he's still around. He has the talent to become a good scorer and a mismatch at the three, but he's going to need to show more against the big boys than he did against lesser talent. It'll certainly be a challenge.
We learned that Scott Machado is a natural playmaker and if there isn't a play to be made, Scott will try to make one anyway. He's a lightening rod in transition (which is good) and a lightening rod in the half court (which can get messy), but either way, his aggressiveness put a charge in the Rockets' offense that yielded to some fun results. Machado can really pass the ball, and while he's a little turnover prone given his wild style, he can also make up for it with some gorgeous passes and a scoring ability that could be just good enough to crack the Rockets' opening day roster.
Machado will have to tone it up a notch on defense and keep his man in front of him, though if it's any consolation, his quick hands kept stealing the ball from players who may have thought they had gotten by him. He doesn't have a great three-point shot and I think losing that altogether may wind up helping him, but it may be too early to tell.
Bottom Line: Machado may have recovered just enough from a slow start to make the NBA team as a third point guard. He has work to do on both ends and needs to find his real strengths, but this could prove to be another steal for Morey that everyone else passed on.
-- Courtney Fortson unfortunately played his way out of a roster spot, or so we should think. He never settled down with the ball and kept pushing and pushing and never broke through. He's a hard worker and he has some pop to his game, especially in the lane, but he doesn't look like a pro at this point.
-- Chandler Parsons came out swinging in the only game he played, and man, he looked like someone who has put in some legitimate work. He kept saying his goal is to be more aggressive and handle the ball more and he did just that, often to positive results. His handle looked a little improved and he had some great drives to the basket. I'm not worried about Parsons in the slightest.
-- Josh Harrelson didn't do much, but he didn't really screw up, either. He's not a bad guy to have at RGV just in case, but I think the Rockets will wind up waiving him.
-- The stats don't help Zoran Dragic at all as he didn't shoot the ball well, to say the least. But I liked his game and I liked his demeanor. He won't ever be his brother, but he looked in sync with the other players and found a comfort zone, or so it appeared. The shots didn't fall this time, but for some reason, I'm a fan.
-- Greg Smith looked as scary as ever. That's what we want.
-- Manny Harris bombed. Just completely bombed. Didn't do a thing.
Final Word: This was the most fun I've had watching Rockets basketball in a while, and it wasn't even the real thing. Kudos to the assistant coaches for utilizing the players so effectively and for emphasizing ball movement, hustle and rebounding — the players responded and it provided for great basketball. I'm excited for these rookies and I hope the team keeps as many as it can as trade negotiations continue. If I had to trade one of the four, I'd move Jones simply because Lamb, Motiejunas and White provide scoring, size and inventiveness that the Rockets desperately need, but that's not a knock on Jones at all. He played fantastic ball, as did many of his teammates. It was a good week for Houston and a positive step forward.