Danuel House Jr. was the quintessential Daryl Morey pickup.
The former Houston Cougar and Texas A&M forward had done little to impress the NBA community at large in his first two seasons. In his rookie year, he played one minute of one game for the Washington Wizards. A single rebound kept him out of Club Trillion. In his second year, he played in 23 games for the Phoenix Suns, starting in three. He averaged a modest 6.6 points and 3.3 rebounds per game on 43% shooting from the field and 26% from deep. Those are the stats of a player who’s got a brighter future in Europe than in the NBA, especially one who just turned 25 years old soon after the season.
When the Rockets brought House up from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston was 9-9 and desperate for production from the wing position. They had just parted ways with Carmelo Anthony and Gary Clark was cooling off from his decent start to the season. Enter House, who took the opportunity Houston afforded him and ran with it.
In 15 games in the month of December, House shot 38% from deep while defending well within Houston’s system. At the time, the Rockets were scrambling to find a defensive scheme that worked with their personnel and House was able to get minutes because his size and speed meant he could switch onto any position besides center. To get an idea for how important House was in the month of December, consider this statistic: when House played over 18 minutes, Houston went 10-1. When he played 18 minutes or fewer, they went 1-3.
House’s production continued into January, where he shot a preposterous 45% from deep and continued to get plenty of minutes. I’ll look for any excuse to watch the highlights of the January 3 win over the Warriors, and House is a good excuse. He played 39 minutes and was all over the court. Sure, he got lost plenty of times on defense, but that’s what happens when you’re essentially a rookie playing against a Warriors team that tests team defense to the extreme.
Anyway, as soon as Houston fans started to see House as a long-term Trevor Ariza replacement, he ran out of service days on his two-way contract. What followed was a standoff that had no chance of ending amicably.
You can understand where both sides were coming from during the negotiations. The Rockets didn’t want to sign House to a big extension and take away their ability to use the mid-level exception this summer by moving past the cap. House and his reputation knew that he could get paid a lot of money this summer on the back of proving that he was a viable 3-and-D player for the next 5-7 years. So Houston went to the table with a 3-year deal at the veteran minimum and House’s people came to the table asking for substantially more. Sometimes, the business side of basketball just sucks.
The Rockets resorted to their only other option to make House playoff-eligible when they converted his contract to the minimum in mid-March. House played in the final 14 games for Houston, and the Rockets went 11-3 in those games. Danuel continued his hot shooting, averaging 45% shooting from deep once again.
Unfortunately, this is where the fun ends. House did a ton of good for himself and will probably get a fat contract this summer based solely on his play from December, January, March, and early April. However, House’s no-show act in the playoffs will probably keep that salary well south of what he was hoping for when the postseason started.
In seven games, he averaged 5 points on 30% shooting from the floor and 26% from deep. He only shot above 50% in Game 5 of the first round, when he went 2-3 from the floor. House picked up a foot injury after Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals and missed the rest of the series.
All-in-all, it was a disappointing end to a promising season for Danuel House Jr. After proving that he belonged in the league and could be a valuable member of a championship contender, House played incredibly poorly when the lights were the brightest. The Rockets need their role players to step up to take pressure off of James Harden, and in the postseason, most of the rotation played like rookies who were afraid of the moment.
House is going into the offseason looking to be paid like a young up-and-coming wing in the mold of Kent Bazemore, but he’s unlikely to see that payday and is even more unlikely to receive a sizable contract offer from the Rockets. In that sense, his gambit failed. He gave Houston a glorious four month spell of defense and open shot making, but failed spectacularly when it mattered most.