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Houston Rockets Summer League Didn’t Excite

Biggest takeaways: The youngsters need more time and Nanu Onuaku lost his NBA playing time at 2017 Summer League.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Los Angeles Clippers
It seems unlikely new teammates Chris Paul & Nanu Onuaku won’t share the floor together.
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

With Lonzo, Dennis Smith, Donovan Mitchell and a beastly Caleb Swanigan taking the court there was little expectation the Houston Rockets would win the 2017 NBA Summer League.

The hope was to learn something new about Daryl Morey’s latest offering of youngsters... and we struck out by learning they’re not ready.

Houston’s 2017 Las Vegas Summer League failed to excite, but not because “all these players suck.” They don’t.

It failed to take off because the players who impressed are already known quantities (Troy Williams and Isaiah Taylor) and each of Houston’s new faces showed they’re a few seasons away being contributors.

Here’s a rundown of what we learned about the main Summer League players:

Chinanu Onuaku -- Plain and simple, Nanu lost his NBA playing time with his uninspiring play during Summer League. The narrative reached a peak on Houston’s final day of the tournament when the Rockets announced a one-year $3 million contract with Tarik Black while Nanu stood on the court. The signing unceremoniously dumped Onuaku from Houston’s third center spot, which will be serious minutes when Nene rests in the upcoming season.

Zhou Qi -- This is a multiyear project. To be frank, Zhou’s play in Summer League justified the contract he signed, a 4 year deal at the league minimum.

There’s great offensive potential, he struggled with his shot and needs to prove he can make moves to the basket against better defenders. The newbie looked very lost on offensive when not planting himself on the three point line and struggled to involve himself in plays there wasn’t a direct action for him.

Defensively he needs to adapt to the speed of the NBA and be ready to take lots of hard hits from bigger players. His rebounding was often a product of his length more than his position and at 6.9 rebounds per 36 in Summer League he ties James Harden’s numbers last season. You’d want more from a 7” 2’ player. Like many players transitioning to the NBA he fouls at a surprising rate, 6.9 fouls per 36, but this is something seen from overseas pros before.

Despite those shortcomings, Zhou posted Houston’s top plus minus rating, +55 over four games. Even if he seems lost or deals with players using their bulkier frames against him there’s no doubt his height and length impact the game.

There’s a lot to like about Zhou and the potential is tantalizing, but he needs at least a year of NBA training, diet and acclimation before being counted on for anything more than NBA spot minutes.

Isaiah Hartenstein — The Rockets may have a serviceable Moreyball role player in Hartenstein down the road. The German-American showed signs of a big man willing to shoot, do dirty work and run the pick and roll. The second round pick was portioned second teams minutes and missed nearly all of the elimination game with a wrist injury (after committing three fouls in one minute). It would have been nice to see more, but it was clear Houston wanted him to be the roll man when he shared the court with Zhou.

Hartenstein’s shot disappointed during Summer League, 35.3% FG and 14.3% from three. Gross. Despite the numbers he looked like a player who would fit in on the Vipers tomorrow and seems to have the outline of a Moreyball contributor. Though he seems destined to spend another season in Europe keeping him out of Houston’s salary cap picture.

Isaiah Taylor -- Over four games he averaged 7.4 assists, no other Rocket averaged more than 2. Taylor didn’t impress because we already knew what to expect after his tenure with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and he lived up to those expectations.

His skill set straddles the roles of a traditional floor general and a slash to the basket scorer. Taylor shoots three efficiently, but finds himself with less opportunities at the point. In Summer League he easily got his way to the basket, but struggled to finish around the rim against larger and more skilled defenders. There may be a ceiling on how effective Taylor can be established by the skill and physical gifts of his opponents.

Troy Williams — Dude can score. Dude did score. Dude walked with the confidence of a player who knew he was getting a contract offer from the Rockets and he did. Lived up to expectation based on the regular season.

L.J. Peak — I won’t be surprised if Peak ends up on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers this year. Daryl Morey signed him to the Summer League roster as soon as he went undrafted in this year’s NBA Draft which hints there’s serious interest from Houston in the type of player he is.

Peak didn’t get many minutes in Summer League, but flashed three and D potential at a guard slot by being a constant irritant and shooting 50% on his three point attempts. After surrendering Patrick Beverley this year Houston could be looking to refill the development pipeline with a defense-first guard.

Jarrod Uthoff — The mystery of Uthoff’s acquisition continues. Houston traded for him along with a bevy of non-guaranteed contracts in the run up to the Chris Paul trade. But his acquisition uniquely prevented him from being traded alongside other players for two months. Meaning he couldn’t be used in the trade.

This reality gave the impression the Rockets may have actually wanted the three point shooting forward. Then in Summer League he logged just 25 minutes. No idea what is going on here. None.

Tim Quarterman & Shawn Long -- Not much to say here. Both these players were acquired in the build up to the Chris Paul trade and seem destined to be trade filler or waived before the 2017 - 2018 season tips off.

Cameron Oliver -- Rockets fans only got to see one full game of Oliver before he was shut down. He impressed on both ends and had the look of a player who could grow to be a forward who does work down low and is capable of switching on the perimeter, all while contributing to Houston’s three point addiction. Daryl Morey pulled one of his classic moves by signing Oliver to a low dollar multiyear contract after the draft.

Houston’s current contract log jam leaves Oliver with the Rio Grande Vipers now, but it’s difficult to project without seeing more.

George de Paula — A 21-year-old Brazilian guard who stepped on the basketball court for 32 minutes and did little else, age dictates he’ll be back in the Summer League picture for a team in future seasons.

Summer League was a blast. I got the opportunity to attend, yes this article is late, and would recommend any diehard NBA fan schedule a trip to Las Vegas during the league in the future.