The Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks 109-82 Wednesday night in a display of superior talent, athleticism and basketball IQ. But the most encouraging takeaway was the performance of two sophomore studs, Clint Capela and K.J. McDaniels.
Capela played 24 minutes mostly in the first half and third quarter, and when he was on the floor, he looked like the best player in the non-Beard division. He finished with 12 points, 14 rebounds, a steal and a terrific block, sending back the jam of a one-time Slam Dunk champion.
More than just the stats, Capela looked incredibly comfortable on the floor. He finished the pick-and-roll expertly with James Harden in the first half (we'll get to him) and when he didn't finish, he caught the ball and made quick decisions. His one assist came catching the ball as a roll man and kicking it out to Marcus Thornton. He made a couple of other nice passes that didn't turn into buckets.
Ask any NBA GM out there: the biggest key for development for a young player is making quick reads of the floor. The passes Capela made were the kind only players who are very comfortable in their system make. The fact that he got a double-double in less than 30 minutes on the floor against NBA bodies is just a bonus. He looks physically and mentally ready for the next step.
Speaking of physically ready, K.J. McDaniels made a statement tonight: any time he gets on the floor is must-see TV. He's easily the best leaper on the Rockets, and one of the very best in the league. Just look at this:
That's head at the rim, with hangtime to boot. Chris Walker is close to challenging K.J. for the hops competition, by the way, but he can't also throw the lobs, like McDaniels did to Sam Dekker soon after he threw the previous one down.
K.J. finished the night with 13 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. And he still is in danger of never seeing the floor. We've said it before, but this team is just hilariously deep. They're ready for another wave of injuries, if it comes.
After quite the shaky first game, Dekker looked much more comfortable, shooting 50 percent from the floor for 12 points. Once he finished that alley-oop, he breathed a sigh of relief and started to visibly play more relaxed, which is a great sign. James Harden was coaching him up hard early in the game. I'm sure his head is still spinning.
Speaking of Harden, this is the first game he played in front of new girlfriend Khloe Kardashian, who flew to Houston, sat courtside with her friends and watched the Beard play all but 4:30 or so in the first half. In the 19 minutes he was on the court, he put up a 19-6-5 line with only one turnover. Harden was flying around the court on defense and unleashed a few stepback jumpers, although the shot still looks a little rusty.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale mentioned that Harden sprained an ankle badly in off-season, wanted minutes to push himself now that 100 percent.— Jonathan Feigen (@Jonathan_Feigen) October 8, 2015
It's still the preseason, which is why I'm not commenting on specific sets or lineups — with no Ty Lawson or Dwight Howard playing, the Rockets didn't trot out the super interesting Beverley-Ty-Harden-Capela-Dwight lineup they tried in Memphis. And with so many regulars out (Terrence Jones, Trevor Ariza, Donatas Motiejunas and Montrezl Harrell also sat), this game was purely about the young guys.
Capela and McDaniels — and Dekker, to a lesser extent — showed that any time a Rockets game turns into a showcase for young guns, it's going to be very entertaining. Rockets preseason: catch the fever!