In the modern NBA, it's extremely rare to extract much value out of draft picks outside of the top 40 slots. Even rarer is it to see an undrafted player excel after being passed up 60 times in the draft. However, in recent years, the Rockets have bucked that trend, with undrafted players earning major minutes for the Rockets squads.
Daryl Morey's statistical analysis deserves most of the credit as it identified these targets where others had missed, but circumstances played a huge part in these players' staking at least temporary claims to rotation spots.
By signing these players to multi-year contracts, the Rockets maintained club control over them if they did break out, allowing the team flexibility with their development. Greg Smith, who is still under contract for this season, took advantage of a lack of depth in the front court to show the Rockets some promise in brief minutes last year. Ish Smith, the tiny point guard with elite quickness and solid passing skills, found a spot before being traded in the Shane Battier trade.
Going further back, Chuck Hayes, a ten-day contract player, earned a multi-million dollar extension that saw him start two seasons at center.
Now, the Rockets have a new prominent undrafted player in camp, Scott Machado. Machado, who believes he can unseat Jeremy Lin as the Rockets' starting point guard, nearly averaged a double-double last season at Iona and would seem to figure prominently in the Rockets' backup competition.
Though Machado was playing against other small schools in the MAAC, you can't discount his numbers. He showed solid three point shooting (>40% 3P%), improved ball skills in transition, and has the body of an NBA point guard. I've predicted that Shaun Livingston would win the backup job because the odds are always against undrafted free agents, this would seem to be the ideal year to come to the Rockets as a young unproven player.
The team is going into next year in an apparent evaluation year, eager to give young players shots at earning playing time, and blew it big time last season when they waived another undrafted point guard from a smaller school, a man by the name of Jeremy Lin.
In scouting undrafted players, Morey has talked about the need to see at least one elite skill. In Greg Smith, they saw his size and mobility, in Ish Smith impressive quickness, and Chuck Hayes enormous strength. If Machado can convince them that his passing ability is elite, he has a solid chance at making the squad. Though the odds are against him, he seems to be in as good a position as he could hope for.
In the end, there are always five Marcus Cousin's and Marqus Blakely's for every Chuck Hayes and Ish Smith, but we'll have to see what Machado shows in training camp before we make any quick judgements.
Can he emerge from the 21 players in camp to earn his NBA contract? Only time will tell.
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