Let’s face it, most casual fans probably don’t know who Chinanu Onuaku is, because he has not done much on the floor yet to prove that he is a mainstay for the Rockets, or in the NBA for that matter. Most people know him as “Granny Shot” because of his free throw motion.
Onuaku spent majority of last season down in Rio Grande Valley, occasionally getting called up to be a cheerleader on the Rockets’ bench. Five times last season, he actually stepped on the floor for Houston, mostly because the game was so far out of reach and there was no reason to play anyone in the main rotation.
I think there are two realistic scenarios for Onuaku this season.
One, he continues to play down in the Valley for Houston and develop, because he is still not a guy who can play night in and night out in the NBA (yet).
He has the talent. He showcased it last year with the Vipers, including a 27-point performance against Fort Wayne in February.
If you had to compare someone on the Rockets roster to Onuaku, it would be Clint Capela. Onuaku is a good guy for pick-and-roll situations, which the Rockets run a lot of. However, Capela looks like a more complete player who just turned 23.
Luckily for Onuaku, he turns 21 in November and still developing. The bad news? Nene, Zhou Qi and Tarik Black are now on the roster. Onuaku is behind a minutes logjam.
After drafting Onuaku last season, it looked like he could be seen as Capela’s future backup after Nene’s career would end. However, Nene signed a three-year deal this offseason.
Then, there is an argument that he could be insurance for if/when Nene gets hurt. However, Black was signed to a one-year deal this offseason.
There really is no sugarcoating it. Onuaku is the fourth-best big man on the roster, and there is a very slim chance that he actually makes an impact for the Rockets this season.
On top of bringing in Black and re-signing Nene, the team signed Zhou, his 2016 draft classmate.
Zhou is someone the Rockets are very high on, and he’s seven-feet tall and can shoot threes. He can play the three, four, or five, and he is more versatile than Onuaku.
All of the reasons above are why I believe the second scenario is the more likely scenario: Onuaku ends the season elsewhere.
I think Morey could easily flip a guy like Onuaku, a talented big looking for an opportunity, for a future pick.
Onuaku is in a similar boat than that of former Rockets legend K.J. McDaniels. McDaniels, like Onuaku, is talented. The Rockets held on to him for as long as they could because they liked his potential. Unfortunately, McDaniels had no role in Houston and he was dumped to Brooklyn. I’d like to see the same happen for Onuaku, and hopefully he can be sent to a team where he can get some more playing time in the NBA this season. Many teams could use a guy like Onuaku to develop and hopefully become part of a team’s future.
I think Onuaku has a future in the NBA, but it is not with Houston, considering that the Rockets are in a championship window. The longer he is in Houston, the more his career suffers.
Unless an injury to a big man happens, I am not expecting Onuaku to make the roster. Hopefully Morey will send him to a place where he can have a better chance to compete for playing time