The Houston Rockets capped off an exciting Summer League experience by defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 92-77, propelling the Rockets to a 5-0 record for the week.
Today's contest didn't differ much from the rest. We won, and each individual performance hardly deviated from what we've come to expect over the last seven days. Chase Budinger had another outstanding game, scoring 25 points on only 9 shots. James White had another underwhelming scoring output, with only nine points on 2-11 shooting. And Joey Dorsey continued to wreak havoc underneath the basket, collecting 20 rebounds...to go along with five assists. I'm already picturing it: Dorsey and Andersen, the next C-Webb and Divac. It's fun to dream.
With the 2009 Summer League in the bag, it's time to take a look at (nearly) each individual player and gauge his performance, as well as his future with the Rockets.
(in descending grade order)
Joey Dorsey: A+
It was the perfect week for the Kraken. The brunt of my praise doesn't pertain to the fact that he lead the Summer League in rebounds, blocked shots at will, and showed off his passing touch. Instead, I was overly impressed by how committed Dorsey was to his role on the floor. He didn't try to score against weaker competition; only when he was clearly lined up for a post move did he utilize the spin or the power dribble. Every time Dorsey caught the ball, he would hand it back off to a guard, and immediately find position down low for a rebound or entry pass. He played very maturely and very efficiently, and did what was asked of him: to rebound and play defense. The passing skills were an added bonus. Joey's performance should guarantee him a spot on the opening day roster.
Chase Budinger: A
What was the most impressive aspect of Chase Budinger's Summer League performance? He improved from each game to the next. As his role on the squad became clearer, Chase adjusted swiftly and without any problems. You could tell that Bud Light was much more comfortable with the offense in Game 5 than he was in any other contest. His catch-and-shoot plays were much smoother, and he began to attack the basket with more grit than he had shown earlier in the week (if you didn't see a couple of his dunks, they were really nice).
Chase does need to work on his defense, especially against the drive, but with his athleticism and quickness, it should only be a matter of motivation and committment. That's good news for us, as Budinger, once projected to be a lottery pick, is already playing with a chip on his shoulder. If he can prove to Daryl Morey and the Rockets that he is capable of being a reliable, but not necessarily imposing defender, Budinger should have no problem finding a spot on the active roster by the All-Star break.
Will Conroy: B+
Will Conroy, aside from piling up a bunch of three point plays, didn't dazzle anyone in Las Vegas. To begin with, there wasn't much hype surrounding Conroy, and for good reason. He, much like our own Kyle Lowry, is hardly noticeable in the boxscore and even on the court at times. But he doesn't do anything wrong. In total, Conroy turned the ball over only six times - Jonny Flynn had seven turnovers in his first game! Conroy ran the offense well and jumped at every chance to drive at the bucket. I don't remember anyone easily beating him off the dribble, and his toughness and dedication to hard-nosed basketball surely impressed the Rockets' front office. I thought he did just enough to earn consideration for a roster spot, and while he may not find any room initially, there is a chance he could receive a call-up or two during the regular season.
Jermaine Taylor: B
I liked what I saw from Jermaine Taylor the minute he touched the ball in his first game. He possesses the ball with strength, and he attacks the basket with the determination of a scorer. From what I've heard, Taylor can shoot it well from deep. He may not have lit the nets up this week, but you can see why the Rockets spent a couple million to get him. He's got plenty of tools to succeed on both the offensive and defensive end. Unfortunately, they didn't translate to points this week, so I'll give him a B. But don't let that discourage you about the talent that Taylor has. He's got just as good of a chance to make the team as anyone else on the summer squad. But there may not be room for both Taylor and Budinger. It's going to be a tough decision for Morey to make, assuming he can't take each of them.
Maarty Leunen: B-
Maarty has some nice touch from long range, but his shot didn't fall too much in the team's five games. Nevertheless, Leunen played farely well against much tougher and more physical big men. He rebounded well, and he, like Dorsey, showed that he can pass from anywhere on the floor. I don't see a place for Maarty on the Rockets this year, but if he keeps working, he could get a call-up if Dave Andersen, Carl Landry, or Chuck Hayes were to go down. Another season overseas would definitely help Leunen's case for a permanent roster spot next season.
James White: C
For a guy who scored 26 points per game in the NBDL last season, I expected more. Call me what you want for raining on White's parade - after all, he did have three fairly successful games, scoring 16, 14, and 14 points. But a good chunk of those points came from the free throw line, and while it's great to see a player who can collect charity trips consistently, I would have liked to see more polish from White. I wanted to see White, who was considered to be our top scorer coming into Vegas, take over games and (deep breath) impose his will upon the competition. But it never happened, not even once. Instead, he collected scrap points. He drove to the basket quite recklessly at times, and you just know that he's going to have an even tougher time against NBA competition.
For a well-known finisher, White failed to finish effectively throughout the week, and especially against the Lakers. He's athletic as hell, is fast as hell, can defend, and can make his free throws, but his shortcomings with his ballhandling, outside shooting, and basic coordination are going to hold him back in the NBA. From what I saw from White this week, he doesn't look ready. Even after years with the Pacers and the Spurs, even after time spent playing in Turkey and in the NBDL, Flight White still does not look ready for take off.
However, it remains to be seen what his status with the team is. There's a good chance he could still make the active roster, but with how Budinger, Dorsey, and even Taylor played this week, you have to wonder if he missed his chance to impress the men upstairs.
Brad Newley: C
Newley's got a solid outside shot, and he has good size for a shooting guard. But he lacks athleticism and quickness, and he's not good enough in any other areas to make up for it. While he can score well and hustles to every ball, he's not an NBA-caliber shooting guard. I'd be shocked if he got a call-up at any point this season. And if he doesn't make the team, it's more than likely that he goes back to Australia, though that's a blind assumption. Knowing my luck, there's probably some contract situation that's preventing him from returning to an Australian club or something.
Garrett Temple: C
There wasn't a whole lot to expect from Temple in the first place, but with a 6'6 point guard on the market, the Rockets decided to stick him on the SL roster. He's very athletic, very long, and can get to the basket against smaller guards. But Temple didn't look comfortable as a point guard. He only had two assists in the 62 minutes that he played this week, to go along with nine turnovers. He won't be playing for the Rockets this season - his game, at least at the point guard position, isn't ready yet. Yet, I do think he will eventually find a way into The Association. Just not sure when that's going to be.
Mike Green: C
Initially, I was impressed by how Green ran the offense and passed the ball. Then I saw Green's defense, and I jumped off the bandwagon ASAP. He's got good basketball skills, but he can't keep up with bigger, faster guards. Green is probably better off playing in Europe for a few more seasons before trying to come back to the NBA. If he decides to try again next year, though, it most likely will not be with the Rockets. We pride ourselves in defense, and Green does not defend well enough to merit a good look.
Other players of note:
Daryl Watkins - Didn't play much, and didn't do much in those minutes. He's in between a good offensive center and a scrappy, Dorsey-like center. The Rockets are going to want one or the other. Watkins won't cut it.
Rod Benson - Sorry, Boom Tho. You're going to be back in the D-League this year.
Charles Gaines - Sam Hinkie has stated how much he and the Rockets like Gaines. Then he said that they "probably won't have room for him." So much for that.
So, now what?
Overall, it was a good week for the Rockets. Going 5-0 is nice, but to see the talent displayed by Budinger, Dorsey, Taylor, and others was a treat. Now the Rockets have some more time off until training camp and preseason ball begins. There will be practices before that, of course, but I'm not going to cover that. So, for now, we wait.