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Rockets 2018 season recap: Bigs on the bench

Looking back on the season for Chinanu Onuaku, Tarik Black and Zhou Qi.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

With the Rockets now in full swing in the offseason, it is time for the Rockets to evaluate the players currently on the roster and see where improvements can be made. In this multi-part series, we’ll take a look at the past season for every Rockets player.

Tarik Black

Black, 26, made his return to Houston in July when he signed a one-year deal with the Rockets. When he was signed, Black was seen as a backup for Nene and possibly a valued bench piece for the Rockets when Nene would sit for rest.

Black saw action in 51 games this season, starting two of them. However, in most of these games, he only saw the floor during garbage time late in games when the score was out of reach. This tends to happen a lot on 60+ win teams.

Black saw more time in his past three years with the Los Angeles Lakers, but knowingly took less of a role to play with a team that had a better chance of contending. Black also did not have a bevy of suitors lined up at the door when he became a free agent last summer.

This summer should be very similar, in fact, the Rockets are one of the few teams that could actually roster Black, because he does not offer anything special to the table that someone younger and more promising could. Black’s role in his future in the NBA will be very similar to how this season went: a backup/bench player, likely for a contender. He did not make much of an impact for the Rockets this season and he cannot really call himself a prospect anymore.

It was nice to have Black on the squad this season because he was an undrafted free agent that made the team five years ago, and his underdog story was fun to relive, but now, it is time for him to pass the torch.

Why would the Rockets keep Black when they can go and get someone with more potential and more time on his hands?

I put Black’s chances of being a Rocket next season at 20 percent. His chances of playing in the NBA next season are about 30 percent.

Chinanu Onuaku

Onuaku spent majority of the season at Rio Grande Valley for the second year in a row and saw action in Houston’s season finale against Sacramento, his only appearance for the Rockets this season.

Onuaku averaged 10.8 points per game and 9.4 rebounds per game, both down from his rookie year.

Luckily for Onuaku, he is only 22, but as he enters his third season as a Rockets’ developmental project, he needs to prove that he can graduate from a developmental project to someone who can hold his own in the NBA. He has not done that yet.

It doesn’t mean that Onuaku won’t become everything the Rockets hoped for when they drafted him in 2016, but this is going to be a big year for Onuaku as he enters the final year of his rookie deal. If he does not make significant improvements in the offseason and training camp, his days as a Rocket could be over.

As long as he is healthy, he should see time in Las Vegas at the NBA Summer League and be given a chance to occupy the role that Tarik Black had this past season. He’ll be given a chance, he just needs to rise to the occasion.

Zhou Qi

Undoubtedly the most intriguing prospect in the Rockets organization, Qi played his first NBA season this year after playing last season in China as the Rockets held his draft rights.

Qi saw garbage time minutes in 18 contests this year, but mostly played in RGV with the Vipers, averaging 11 points per game to go with 6.3 rebounds per game.

The most enticing part of Qi’s game is that he is a 7-footer that can shoot the deep ball, which is huge for the Rockets success down the line. To be able to have a guy Qi’s size and a perimeter shooter combined in one is quite the luxury if he can execute. Qi shot 33 percent from downtown this season and will look to improve on that this offseason.

The more Qi shoots the three, the closer he will be to earning more time with the Rockets.

Qi was the Defensive Player of the Year in the CBA in his final year in China, so the defense is there, but if you throw that three-point shot, Qi can be lethal. Look for him to start in the Rockets summer league games and for him to get more action than most, if not all of the Rockets.

Qi has three years left on his deal, but will still see some time in the Valley next season, but hopefully, if he plays well enough, he could see more time with the Rockets in 2018-19. If he is with Houston more next year, it is a better sign that Qi is closer to being a mainstay with the team.

I think the Rockets want Qi in their plans moving forward and have more trust in him than Onuaku and other prospects, so the team will be more likely to bring him up to the team more often. If he can keep his health and post a strong showing in Vegas next month, Qi has a chance to see a larger bench role or perhaps crack the rotation next season.