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Troy Williams, Isaiah Taylor shine, but Rockets lose to Cavs in Summer League

Another great Williams performance wasn’t enough to move to 2-0.

Zhou Qi at Las Vegas Summer League, July 8, 2017
Zhou Qi at Las Vegas Summer League, July 8, 2017
Ethan Rothstein

LAS VEGAS — Another day, another Summer League game that showed Troy Williams deserves an NBA contract. The longer he pays, the more competition Daryl Morey may have for the athletic wing.

Williams led the Rockets in scoring for the second straight game, putting in 21 points. He was a terror defensively, creating at least six points for himself on steals he ended with a dunk. The dude is a player.

Isaiah Taylor again impressed, running the offense, attacking and defending at a high level. Up close, however, it’s clear his jumper is a work in progress. His elbow flies way out to the side, which portends inconsistent results.

He didn’t need his jumper on his best play of the game, a driving layup with 16.6 seconds left to tie the game. Cavs guard Kay Felder was in front of him, and then all of a sudden Taylor was at the rim. It happened that fast. When the Cavs had a chance to score for the win, Taylor went in among the trees and snagged a defensive rebound, sending the game to OT. As Daryl Morey said to me earlier today, the kid should get some minutes.

Ultimately, it wasn’t enough as the Rockets fell to the Cavs by five points in overtime. But we all know the score doesn’t count in Summer League, player development does. And that category was a mixed bag.

The two Rockets big men who have a reasonable chance for minutes this coming season had underwhelming games. Zhou Qi, who had 16 points and 6 rebounds in his Rockets debut, didn’t hit a shot from the field in six attempts and grabbed just 3 rebounds in almost 28 minutes. He did block three shots and was a clear rim deterrent, but he’s so frail that he’s a complete non-entity on the glass, a big no-no for a power forward.

Chinanu Onuaku, after playing just eight minutes on Friday because of a rolled ankle, scored 10 points and grabbed 8 rebounds while chipping in 3 steals, 2 blocks and 2 assists. The stat line was good, but the on-court product was uneven. He could have had at least 18 points if he could only hold onto the ball. To his credit, he did only commit two fouls; Zhou Qi committed seven.

Isaiah Hartenstein, the big man who won’t actually play for the Rockets this year, was the best one of the bunch. In just 11 minutes, he scored 11 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and hit a three. He plays hard and looks polished. He could help the Rockets this year, and he might turn out to be Daryl Morey’s greatest second-round triumph when all is said and done. He’s got that kind of potential at 19 and seven feet tall.

Other takeaways from Game 2:

  • Shawn Long and Matt Jones are tough dudes. Zhou is too weak to guard 7-foot-3, muscle-bound Edy Tavares, so when Onuaku wasn’t on the floor, the task largely fell to Long. He took the fight to Tavares, who took just four shots and grabbed just 2 rebounds. That’s a victory.
  • One more note on Taylor: the Rockets went on a 19-8 run to close regulation and force overtime. He was the engine behind him. It’s a commonly held belief that to be an NBA player, you need at least one NBA skill. Taylor has elite speed and above-average vision. He might see some time in the G-League this year, but he’d help the big club if they need.
  • George de Paula made largely good decisions, but he was pretty blah. So was L.J. Peak, who hit two three-pointers but was a team-worst -13 on the night.
  • I have high hopes for Jared Uthoff, but Roy Rogers for some reason isn’t giving him much run. He played just 6:44, the least of any Rocket player who saw the floor (Ray McCallum, Tim Quarterman and Eric McCree all got DNPs). When he was playing, he made some nice plays, and drove to the basket well. But he should be shooting three-pointers, and he didn’t get to attempt one.