Editor's Note: With Las Vegas Summer League officially over for the Rockets, and all of the free agents save Jason Terry signed, we decided we're not going to sit around and wait for Daryl Morey to make a deal to give you some reading material. So, starting today, we're going through the season of every Rocket that ended the year on the roster (we already covered the ones that didn't end the year here). We're starting today with the three rookies, lumped together. Enjoy,
At pick 41 in the draft, Nick Johnson was pretty widely seen as a steal, and his debut in the Summer League would've worked as proof of that. Though it wasn't the highest of competition, there were games that he just took over last summer, including a triple-double with 15-10-10 against Brooklyn. In a small sample, Johnson looked great for such a young age. Especially when he did stuff like this.
Nick Johnson's season wasn't as exciting. Drifting in and out of the D-League as needed, Johnson played in a total of 28 games, averaging just over 9 minutes and just under 3 points per contest. Johnson just served as a body if and when the Rockets needed to field a fifth player.
A superb athlete, Johnson's technical abilities were not stellar. All of that said, he did in fact win one of the most bizarre games of the Rockets' season in Minnesota. With Harden fouled out and Motiejunas carrying the team through overtime, Johnson hit a last second layup with a surprising amount of poise.
Unfortunately, we should expect to see generally the same out of Nick Johnson, which is to say we might not see much of him at all. With Patrick Beverley returning and Jason Terry likely joining him, Johnson will remain the very, very last option at the point guard position, even with no Isaiah "Why Would We Trade Him" Canaan in front. Still, as we've seen with Morey in last two years, it is hard to bet against natural ability and talent. There is always time to improve, especially at Johnson's age, and you cannot teach somebody to jump like he can. Johnson's game is currently all potential, and it is yet to be seen how much he is possibly capitalizing on that potential.
This year's Summer League was when that potential and that possible improvement was supposed to be seen. However, thanks to a nagging calf injury, Johnson was sidelined for the entire week in Vegas. While his speed and athletic abilities would be welcomed additions to the Rockets' rotation, his future with the team is heavily based on his improvement within the team's system.
Sunday July 19, 9:36 p.m. EST: Nick Johnson was included in a trade along with Kostas Papanickolau, Joey Dorsey, Pablo Prigioni, and a 2016 protected first round pick for Denver's Ty Lawson and a 2017 second round pick.
I'll be honest: I was very excited about Kostas Papanikolaou, and I'd be lying if I said most of it wasn't as a result of his absurd shot around the side of Anthony Davis during the preseason. After that, I immediately went to YouTube to find his overseas highlights. I highly recommend them. I mean, this dude is fun. He can hit threes. He can find the open man, and he usually does so with some flash. He made LARRY SANDERS! quit basketball. I love this guy. And I love that no one can correctly pronounce his name.
Unfortunately, his statistics didn't match my enthusiasm or expectations. Though he was injured for a good portion of the year, Big Papa appeared in just over half of the Rockets' games, averaging a little over 4 points a game in almost 20 minutes per game. His contributions came mostly in the beginning of the season, getting a surprising amount of minutes in the first 20 games or so, and his contributions really did matter. He made many surprisingly great passes, made shots when the team needed it, made life a little easier with Harden on the bench. His season numbers don't do his contributions justice. Really.
The midseason additions of Corey Brewer and Josh Smith, combined with his injuries, made for a lot less need for Kostas. As much fun as he was, Brewer and Smith produced more, and produced more consistently. We'll always have preseason...
While I could be wrong, I don't think it's ill-advised to say we'll likely see more of the same fate for Papanikolaou in the upcoming season, if he's still a Rocket. With Brewer and McDaniels back, Big Papa's services might again go unneeded. Although he's just a rookie, the addition of Sam Dekker off the bench means we might see even less of Papa Nick. Unless his ball-handling (2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio) or three-point shooting (under 30 percent) improves dramatically, he might not need to be on Houston's roster.
I wouldn't be surprised if Kostas ended up as a piece in a key trade the Rockets make this season. Daryl Morey has done a lot more with a lot less (see: James Harden, Corey Brewer). He's currently on a non-guaranteed contract for just this season at $4.8 million. The Greek plus a draft pick, and even possibly another player, could really go a long way in the trade market. If he's not dealt by Oct. 4, the Rockets will either have to terminate him or guarantee his deal.
As much as I like him, I wouldn't be surprised if Kostas Papanickolaou ends his season outside of Houston, and I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't spend much time on the floor while he's on the roster. I like you, Kostas. I didn't have fun writing this.
As noted above, Kostas has been traded to Denver in a package for Ty Lawson. So, he didn't even get to start this season in Houston. Darn. Good luck in Denver.
Ethan told me to write 800 words on Clint Capela. Let's see how I do, but I feel like I could go for 3x that number.
A year ago, when Clint Capela was drafted 25th overall, I tweeted something along the lines of "Hakeem, here is a piece of clay... Go." I took some flack for that from my friends (who are Spurs fans), but I stood by it then, and I stand by it today. Capela is (going to be) a monster. He's a long 6'10". He can run the floor. He can jump. And, he's only 21 (a few months older than me... what am I doing with my life...)
He cannot hit a free throw. That's a minus, and one we were reminded of (and reminded of, and reminded of) throughout the playoffs when Capela played around 8 minutes per game. He averaged half a block and 2.5 rebounds in that small amount of playing time. To put that in perspective, per 36 minutes, that is 2.9 blocks and 11.9 rebounds. Meanwhile, his offensive rating for the playoffs was a staggering 133. Seriously. It's a small sample, I know. Right now, I don't care. He's a stud.
But he can't hit free throws. He spent most of his time last season dominating the D-League where he averaged 16.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. His averages during his time with the Rockets during the regular season were generally low, but of course this was due to his minutes being restricted (and, again, his per-36 minutes stats are absurd).
He can't hit free throws, but get this, he played more playoff games than he did regular season games at 17 and 12 respectively. And he was never scared of the spotlight. He played great defense against Dallas. He was necessary off the bench against the Clippers (he also did this). And, against the Warriors... You know what, here's a thing I want to talk about.
That, to me, is the most important part of Clint Capela's season. For all of his dunks and blocks (and missed free throws), this, to me, mattered more. In that same game, the Warriors tried to feed David Lee with Capela on him, assuming the rookie couldn't hold the veteran. Lee couldn't do a thing. They also tried to pick on Capela off the pick and roll, having him switch onto Steph in an isolation situation. Curry hits that shot. He ends the Warriors half with a bang, swinging momentum that the Rockets almost overcame in Game 1. They did this a few plays in a row, thinking Capela couldn't stay with Curry. But he could! That was the thing! He contested well. He kept his feet moving. He was all over Curry. Yeah, Steph makes that shot, but he does so in spite of Capela, not because of him.
Clint Capela is a good player. If he can stay healthy, I think he's going to be in the league for a long time, and with Dwight Howard aging, I'd really like for him to spend his time in the league in Houston. I want this because I like him, yeah, but also because I don't want to play against him. Ever. Especially when he's older than 21.
And fine, okay, whatever he can't make free throws. He missed the first 15 in his NBA career. He only shot 23 all regular season. He only made 4. That's a whole 17.4 percent. Though he was significantly better in the playoffs, he still only shot around 50% percent. He's not good at it.
But here's what should be mentioned every single time along with his name: "Clint Capela, who is 21." There's plenty of time for him to get better at free throws, and there's plenty of time for him to do so in a Rockets uniform. Clint Capela, who is 21, is currently on a one-year contract with a two-year team option at the end of each of the next two seasons. He'll be here the next three years.
I would say that it's a shame we didn't get to see him during this year's Summer League, but I don't think it is. Capela, who is 21, is ready. Put him right behind Dwight, and way above Dorsey. Can't wait to see what he can do this season.