LAS VEGAS — Nick Johnson is dealing with a calf injury, he said yesterday, and it's one that could potentially sideline him for all of Las Vegas Summer League.
"I'm not sure, we'll see what happens," he said when I asked if he'd suit up for the Rockets before they leave Vegas next week. " It's nothing, just don't want to turn it into a nagging injury."
Johnson was supposed to operate "nearly entirely at point guard," Jonathan Feigen reported a few days ago, but that's clearly not going to happen. Daryl Morey says all of the Rockets players in SL without contracts — save for Christian Wood's partially guaranteed deal — are "banged up" and sat our their first game Friday night. There's been no word on when any of them will see the court, if at all.
The former Pac-12 Player of the Year said he's been working on "everything" so far this offseason, and the work began as soon as the season ended. He needs to learn the system better, improve on his body and take lots and lots of jumpers. Considering Morey likes his point guards to shoot three-pointers and Johnson shot just 5 of 21 from deep last year, that should be his chief priority this offseason.
Rockets fans frustrated with the lack of playing time Nick got as a rookie — especially in the playoffs when Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni struggled on defense — but it was clear from speaking to him that he just didn't see enough of the court, during the season or in practice, to feel comfortable.
"I didn't get so many practices in just because of the way our team was winning during the season, so I'm just trying to get in tune with the system and things like that," he said. "I'm just going to keep working on my game and getting more comfortable with the team and everything like that, but I think this past year was key for me, some of the practice reps I got and in the game a little bit, just being around the guys a lot, I can take that into next year, definitely."
I don't know how likely it is that JET returns next year, or how likely it is the Rockets don't waive Prigs and his partially guaranteed contract. Johnson and Patrick Beverley are the only sure things (assuming neither of them are trade fodder, but I doubt that) to be on the roster at the point.
Every rep Nick can get is imperative to his development. He needs to shoot more, he needs to run the offense for long stretches, and he needs practice shooting on the weakside of the pick-and-roll. He has a chance to be a part of the Rockets' future, but this is a key year for him. I hope this calf injury goes away soon so he can start putting in the work he needs to.