Over the next several weeks, as preseason basketball heats up and gets us ready for the regular season, we’ll be taking a look at the individual pieces of the Rockets roster and how we expect them to fit in this year. First up: rookie Chinanu Onuaku.
The Rockets snagged the 6-foot-10 big man from Louisville with the 37th pick in this year’s NBA draft with an eye to the future. With Terrence Jones and Dwight Howard on their way out and the future of Donatas Motiejunas up in the air, Houston needed to replenish their front line.
With the free agent signings of Nene Hilario and Ryan Anderson, they’re not expecting much from Onuaku right away and drafted him primarily on raw potential. It’s a good thing too, because raw is exactly what they are getting, at least this season.
Onuaku was relatively poor in NBA Summer League action, at times looking completely lost both offensively and defensively. He was able to snag 5.4 rebounds per game in 21.0 minutes of action, but his contributions mostly start and end there.
He struggled shooting, making just 7-16 shots for only 3 points per game, and perhaps the most telling sign of his developmental progress is that he still shoots his free throws underhand.
Credit to the youngster for sticking with what works best, despite the potential embarrassment and heckling. But, at some point, he’s going to need to develop that stroke, both for the sake of his free throws and to improve his ability to knock down open jumpers, an imperative for a forward in the Rockets’ system.
We didn’t see much of Onuaku in the first preseason game against the Shanghai Sharks. He played only 9 minutes while grabbing 2 rebounds and didn’t attempt a single shot. Expect lines like that to continue throughout the preseason, barring injuries to the guys in front of him.
The Rockets will mostly be looking for court time for their main rotation pieces, giving the team a chance to jell with all the new parts this year, while the youngsters and fringe roster players battle among themselves for the remaining minutes.
The team will stick by Onuaku during these early growing pains. After all, they did sign him to a three-year deal back in July. But don’t expect to see much of him with the varsity once the regular season hits either. The Rockets will likely prefer him working on his game with the Rio Grande Valley squad in the D-League over spending his days plastered to the end of the bench, not seeing any court time and not learning on the hardwood.
Certainly, if the injury bug takes its toll, we could see Onuaku get some backup minutes, but that’s likely a worst-case scenario for the Rockets. If he’s seeing any substantial playing time, the team is in trouble on its front line.
He is talented, and the team will be looking for him to develop as a potential rotation guy in the future, but for now, he remains extremely raw, needs work and likely isn’t ready for prime time.
Stay tuned on Chinanu Onuaku.