When the Rockets initially struggled following Danuel House’s contractually-rooted relegation to the G-League, there were more than a few snickers had at Houston’s expense. And to be fair, they kinda had a point. I mean, what real contender’s wing rotation depends so heavily on a guy playing on a two-way? It was unheard of.
Regardless, all that’s changed now. Since returning from his 25-game absence, House is playing the best basketball of his career. His nightly averages of 12.5 points and 4.5 rebounds on 52.1 percent from the field and 48.7 percent from deep are better than what Trevor Ariza’s produced in a similar role last season. The Rockets are now up to 5.4 points better with House on the court than off of it. House is second on the team in spot-up efficiency. And you can find House’s name littered throughout the Rockets’ top two, three, four, and five-man lineups.
I haven’t heard a snicker in weeks.
In fact, snickering at House at this point would almost call one’s credibility into question. Multiple contenders are currently kicking themselves for either not signing House when the Rockets waived him in December (Philadelphia) or cutting him in camp (Golden State).
However, regardless of what other contenders wish they had House for the playoffs, there’s no better fit than in Houston alongside Chris Paul and James Harden. As The Athletic’s Alykhan Bijani outlined on Twitter, the attention Harden or Paul attract when they isolate creates an advantage for House to attack a closeout or shoot from deep— something only Gordon reliably brought during House’s absence.
This is what teams will do against the #Rockets, even when Chris Paul is out there, bring a second defender on isolations. Besides Eric Gordon, Houston needs someone who can shoot the 3 or attack the closeout. As an athletic body, House provides BOTH. pic.twitter.com/fUX80gMHA7— Alykhan Bijani (@Rockets_Insider) March 20, 2019
House might actually be the Rockets’ best weapon in these situations considering that the height and athleticism advantages he holds over Gordon gives him an extended window to decide between shooting or driving.
That decisiveness hasn’t gone unnoticed, as Rockets’ head coach Mike D’Antoni recently praised House for how rarely he makes mistakes.
When asked about his effectiveness off the catch, House told The Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen:
“As soon as I see an opening, I try and attack that opening. I mean, I always read the defense, but then my athleticism, speed, and length kicks into play, which helps me excel. So that first step is really deadly, I can be able to gather on the next two or be able to sweep through and draw the defense and kick it.”
House’s ability to put the ball on the floor appears to have improved exponentially during his G-League stint. Since his return, he is shooting better than 50 percent on both pull-up and step-back threes on decent volume. Considering House rarely attempted either shot prior to his demotion, it’s only logical that the extra reps with the ball in his hands for the Vipers (per Synergy Sports, his ‘pick-and roll’ and ‘isolation’ frequency more than tripled) are responsible for this new dimension in his game.
House agreed that the extra time in Rio Grande Valley has made him a better player, telling Salman Ali :
“When I went down (to Rio Grande Valley), I made sure that I worked on pivotal things that I thought was going to be important, so when I came back, I could excel in my role for this team.”
Unfortunately, House making a name for himself creates a harder decision for Daryl Morey this summer concerning the third-year forward’s restricted free agency. Since the Rockets converted House’s two-way contract to an NBA deal rather than signing him to a three-year deal from what is left in their mid-level exception (which would’ve put them into the luxury tax), the Rockets only have House’s non-Bird Rights.
That means that this summer, the Rockets can’t go above the salary cap to sign House and can’t match any offer sheet above the minimum unless they use their mid-level exception— which they’d also possibly like to use on Kenneth Faried and/or Austin Rivers. So if someone offers above what the Rockets have left in their mid-level exception (say, starting salary of $3-4 million), the Rockets will have no way to match.
This potentially puts Houston in a bind, as they could be forced to let the second straight small forward that meshed with Harden and Paul walk for more money, leaving them exactly where they were last summer.
Morey is optimistic about the prospects of re-signing House, however, telling Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic:
“Yeah, we’re huge fans of his. The delay was to try and work something out long term that was a win-win for both parties. That didn’t work out, but we’ll have a go at it this summer. We do think he’s a guy that helps us going forward.”
Nevertheless, even if this is House’s lone season in Houston, the journeyman’s “prove it” days of cycling through the summer league and G-League are over. He’s getting paid this summer.