NBA summer league starts next week with the Orlando Pro Summer League, which will be the only summer league the Rockets participate in this year. The duration of the league is one week and 25 games total, and the Rockets have 4 games scheduled and 1 championship day game to be determined. The Rockets released their summer league rosters yesterday and the roster is the following:
|James Anderson||GF||6'6"||215||Oklahoma St.||24||3|
|Isaiah Canaan||PG||6'0"||188||Murray State||22||R|
|Jack Cooley||F/C||6'9"||246||Notre Dame||22||R|
|Robert Covington||F||6'9"||215||Tennessee St.||22||R|
|Jordan Henriquez||C||6'11"||250||Kansas St.||23||R|
|Toure Murry||G/F||6'5"||200||Wichita St.||23||R|
|Greg Smith||F/C||6'10"||250||Fresno St.||22||2|
|Casper Ware||PG||5'10"||177||Long Beach st.||23||R|
There are a number of familiar names on the roster, including 2 Rockets' draftees, Terrence Jones and Isaiah Canaan, and 4 non-guaranteed contract holders from last season, Patrick Beverley, Greg Smith, James Anderson, and Tim Ohlbrecht. 2 former non-Rocket Vipers Tyler Honeycutt and Toure Murry as well as a bunch of rookies are also looking to show their stuff and work their way into the NBA.
With Dwight Howard's decision looming and the cap space nuance that accompanies that decision, it actually creates an interesting situation where free agent players may actually have better chances of landing on the Rockets' roster next season than some players currently with a contract. It is probably one of the oddest situations among all the summer league team, and mystifies how the Rockets will approach this summer league. [Editor's note: This was written before Dwight agreed with the Rockets]
Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith probably don't need much introduction. They were 2 of the more productive players in the league on minimum contracts last season, productive enough that waiving their partially guaranteed contracts for additional cap room is probably out of the question, since neither is likely to clear waivers without another team sinking their teeth into them.
Patrick Beverley is a testament to our international scouting, while Greg Smith is the poster boy of a D-League success story. Both players are veterans of the summer league, and veterans often dominate summer league with ease. Lesser players have done it, and it means absolutely nothing. It is entirely possible that the team will pull them after 1 or 2 games and opt to evaluate other talents more .
Terrence Jones, Isaiah Canaan, and undrafted signee Robert Covington will likely highlight summer league play along with NBA "vets" James Anderson and Tim Ohlbrecht.
Terrence Jones will get his chance to show off the versatile skills and outstanding body that once made him a top prospect in the draft. Without having to share the ball with 3 other high profile rookies this time around, Terrence Jones may take on a greater role and really put on a show in 2013.
One thing that will be curious to observe is where and how the Rockets utilize Terrence Jones. Jones certainly has the body to bang in the paint, which only rings more true when he faces the less developed bodies of incoming rookies and fringe NBA players in the summer league, but his perimeter skills have always been what makes him intriguing. An improved jump shot, consistent aggressiveness, and solid defensive display will go a long way in helping him find a spot in the Rockets' rotation, with or without Dwight Howard. We forget Terrence Jones once looked like the most NBA ready rookie on the team before the season, before James Harden's arrival changed everything, and this will be his chance to make Rockets fans fall in love with him all over again.
If Rockets pull Patrick Beverley, expect Isaiah Canaan to make a serious run at the All-Summer League team. Point guards that score well often do very well in an undisciplined setting like the Summer League, and Isaiah Canaan has the exact game to dominate this setting. In the past, players like John Lucas III, Nate Robinson, and Josh Selby all won Summer League MVP honors. Canaan's sweet shooting stroke will be on display, but the thing to really pay attention to will be his passing and pick-and-roll prowess, as both will be critical to his NBA success. It was a major weakness in his game during his tenure at Murray State, but playing with better shooters may alleviate his assist woes.
Robert Covington was not drafted, yet the Rockets did not just invite him to their summer league roster, they locked him up with a contract. The Rockets must value him enough to treat him like a bonus draft pick that fell out of the sky.
Judging from the free agent signings so far this season, it is clear that shooting is a premium skill in the NBA, as many teams not chasing major free agents have already locked down shooters that are available. Guess what Robert Covington can do? He can stroke it from outside, shooting 37%+ from 3 point range all 4 years in college, with 2 years around 45%. While the shooting percentage is not very reliable in college, 2 years of near 45% while taking at least three 3-pointers a game is hard to ignore.
Covington was also a standout in the PIT, where the Rockets found Chuck Hayes, Steve Novak, and Carl Landry, not to mention a horde of other Vipers players. Despite his 7'2" wingspan and a terrific rebounding skills, Covington will likely be a strict NBA small forward with his perimeter oriented game, even though he's listed as a Power Forward. His defense will make or break his career, as his lateral quickness is questionable coming off a meniscus injury, and the prospect of sticking in the NBA as a 3 and D wing is much worse without the D part.
James Anderson was a former first round pick by the Spurs and a stand out shooter out of Oklahoma State. Unfortunately, Danny Green took his job and just flat out ran away with it. To be fair, James Anderson is nowhere near the defender Danny Green is, or the knockdown shooter Danny Green has become, but he is a decent shooter with rather deceptive athleticism and is a smart off-ball player. His only problem seems to be consistency and defense. There is a very strong chance that James Anderson will not be a Rocket if Dwight Howard chooses to sign with Houston, but there is also a strong chance that James Anderson will simply pass through the waiver wire and get resigned again. Due to his status as the most experienced veteran that possibly need to showcase his skills for another team, James Anderson will likely get a lot of minutes as a stabilizing force on the court, hustling and telling people where to go. He's still only 24, and maybe he just needs the right situation to get on the court and contribute.
Tim Ohlbrecht got a bit of a raw deal last season. He was one of the best big men in the D-League, and, as the Rockets very often do to secure talent for the Vipers' playoff run, they called up a good D-League player, locked him up with a non-guaranteed contract, and sent him back down to dominate. Ohlbrecht was that guy last season. He's in the same boat as James Anderson, but only worse because he has no real NBA experience. He has some decent moves inside and out, works hard for rebounds and blocks, and is generally just a scrappy, hard working center. However, he does not have a skill to hang his hat on, which means he's very likely a 3rd string emergency center at best.
The rest of the guys are all undrafted rookies looking to fight for an invite to training camp somewhere, and due to the Rockets' unique circumstances, it is possible that the spot they're looking for is right here in Houston. I won't talk about all of them, but I will highlight 3 players that could conceivably play their way into NBA rosters.
Vander Blue seems like an obvious first choice, because how can I refuse the possible nickname "You My Boy?" I have loved Marquette players ever since Dwyane Wade entered the league, and Blue gets my love as he suits up for the Rockets. The school not only does a solid job recruiting, but it also produces players with solid defensive fundamentals. Vander Blue is their latest product to hit the market.
Blue was once a big time recruit out of high school, but his offense did not progress as quickly as people thought behind a sleuth of scorers like Jimmy Butler, Darius Johnson-Odom, and Jae Crowder. Nothing about Blue's college stats jump out at you, but he is an excellent wide body defender at 6'4", 200lb, with a 6'6" wingspan. He can cover both 1s and 2s with his elite lateral quickness (3rd in combine lane agility drills), and he is a smart defender that plays defense with his feet and not his hands.
He's a lethal slasher from the perimeter with an explosive first step and excellent vertical off of acceleration, however, he cannot shoot, with an awkward shooting motion that's very stiff. The upside is the fact that Vander is just 4 months older than Shabazz Muhammad, and actually the same age as most college sophomores. So while he's still a work in progress on offense, his solid progression and age actually make him a very viable project. The Rockets are short on athletic defenders from the wing, and if Blue impresses in the Summer League, he may pick up a minimum contract and find himself on one of the few NBA teams that actually develops serious projects into NBA players.
Jack Cooley was born in the wrong era of basketball. If he was born 20 years earlier, he would have been an adequate backup for Bill Laimbeer. Not that Cooley is dirty or anything, but he's an old school, no nonsense, ornery old man stuck in the 21st century. He does all his work in the paint, forcibly carves out spaces with his wide body, and he's not afraid to dish out a little pain in the process. He sticks out his elbows in the paint to clear space. His picks are like stone walls. He is not the fastest guy, nor can he get off the ground, but you cannot move him off the block, and he's going to box you out for the rebound. He's one of the most prolific rebounders to enter the league this season, and coaches will love his tough nose attitude. I doubt he will end up on the Rockets' roster, but I can see him playing very effective minutes off the bench in the summer with his Chuck Hayes-like style.
Last, but not least, Patrick Beverley's fellow Razorback, B. J. Young.
Every year a guy like B. J. Young enters the league and gets relegated to the D-league. Not because he does not have talent, but because he has no place to play on an NBA court.
Young is a combo guard whose only discernible skill is to score, which would be fine if he were tall enough to be a shooting guard or shoots well, but neither is true in this case. To be fair, Young shot spectacularly his freshman, banging in 40% of his 3 point attempts, 50% of his shots from the field, and 74% from the line. He was on route to be a first round pick, but he chose to stay in school for another year to hone his skill and everything just fell apart. All his shooting percentages went from excellent to abysmal. He did slightly improve his passing, but it was not enough to cover up his steep decline in shooting. He went from possible lottery pick to undrafted.
Why exactly am I highlighting an undersized shooting guard who can't shoot? Because B. J. Young is unbelievably fast for a 6'3" guy and an absolute terror in transition, and at some point in time, he had a legit chance at 40/50/90. If this kid figures out how to shoot the ball with confidence again, guess what? We just picked up a first round worthy shot creator for half the price and none of the hassle.
Rockets really put together a solid squad for the summer league, and with all the "experience" on the roster, they can dominate the league easily. Just remember, nothing about the Summer League is real. The Orlando Pro Summer League is not even open to the public. For all we know the whole thing could just be a carefully choreographed show for the TV viewers, where Miami inevitably comes out on top. Don't look too deep into Summer League numbers, just enjoy the basketball and forget about the free agency frenzy for a while.