The Vegas Rockets got blown out by the D-League Select Monday, 89-71, which sounds worse than it is, considering the D-League is made up of guys who have been pros for years, and the Rockets mainly played with youngsters (no Beasley in this contest).
I admittedly did not catch the first half of the game, in which the team made shots and kept pace with the lunchpail guys of the NBA's pseudo-minor league. I did watch the second half, in which a team that included three NBA players — Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker and third-year man K.J. McDaniels, looked outclassed on both ends of the court.
Most disappointing was McDaniels. Last year, we openly pined for him to see the floor more, arguing that despite his offensive shortcomings, he could be no worse than Corey Brewer, and would almost have to be better. Nothing could be much worse, after all.
McDaniels spent 16 games and 577 minutes in the D-League last year, averaging 15 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks on 47 percent shooting and 35.3 percent from three-point range in 36 minutes a game. He played 235 minutes per game in the NBA and frequently looked lost on the court, save for the bursts of unparalleled athleticism he's teased fans with in his sparse court time.
He's entering year three in the NBA, and year 2 of the $10 million contract he signed with Houston last offseason. Despite the continued presence of Brewer on the roster, it's safe to say this season is the best chance he's had so far of catching a roster spot.
He does not appear to be seizing on that opportunity. And he's had plenty: he's leading the team in minutes and tied with Sam Dekker for the team lead in field goal attempts at 36, but Dekker has made 20 of his shots. McDaniels has made just 11. He's 4-17 from deep. He has 7 assists and 6 turnovers.
He also is averaging two steals and two blocks a game, which is what one would expect from K.J. in this situation. He's great at reading the floor and soaring in for blocked shots, and his athleticism puts him in great position to come up with loose balls.
But as the second half went on and the D-League started to pull away, McDaniels' defense made me take notice. And not the good kind. He was guarding Brandon Fields, who went by him to get straight to the rim twice. The first time, K.J. fouled him and he got a three-point play. The second time, K.J. fouled him and Davies missed the layup, but made both free throws.
Summer League is Summer League and most of this is meaningless, terrible basketball. Maybe K.J. funneled Davies to the rim and expected Montrezl Harrell — who has looked like a man among boys for the second straight summer — to be there for protection. But it certainly didn't look that way: it looked like K.J. just got beat.
There are still more than two months before training camp opens, and K.J. is still scoring points and still is one of the 10 best natural athletes in the game. But as the most NBA-seasoned player on the Rockets' roster, now that the Beasley In Vegas experiment appears to have reached its logical conclusions, McDaniels should be dominating. Or at least showing improvement.
Instead, he looks like the same player he has since coming to Houston in exchange for Isaiah Canaan: tantalizingly athletic, but unable to put together a great game on both ends of the floor. Here's hoping this is just a desert mirage.