Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets signed four-year player David Nwaba to a two-year contract.
In his time in the NBA, the undrafted swingman out of California Polytechnic State University has been on a different team each of his four seasons, landing on the Los Angeles Lakers, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers, and Brooklyn Nets. Before coming to the Rockets, Nwaba suffered a season-ending Achilles tear in December, leading to his subsequent waiving from the Nets on January 3.
While Nwaba is eligible to play the rest of the season when the NBA (allegedly) returns, he will not be active due to nursing his aforementioned injury. With Houston needing to make room on their roster for the new addition, they have septupled-down on the small-ball roster and cut their only viable center option in Isaiah Hartenstein — sorry husk of Tyson Chandler.
Now, you may ask me: how could you possibly write positively about a player who is currently inactive, recovering from a very serious injury, and effectively taking away a roster spot from a Rockets fan-favorite? And I would say, “because I have to.”
Despite his journeyman status and a rather serious injury, there’s a lot of upside to this signing.
For one, Nwaba is still young, turning only 28 years old next January. It is also his first injury of the sort and only major reported injury of his college and pro career. Given his athleticism and constant good health, there’s a great chance he’s going to bounce back and be as good as he ever was.
As far as his skills on the court, Nwaba is best known for his athletic ability — fun fact: his listed nicknames on Basketball Reference are Mr. Dunk and DemolitionMan — ability to finish at the rim, hustle, and being a great defender. At 6 feet, 5 inches with a listed 7-foot wingspan, Nwaba checks all the boxes for what Houston looks for in a perimeter defender.
Here’s a great video from his time with a Lakers that show off his athleticism and defense.
For his career, Nwaba averages 6.9 points a game in only 20.5 minutes of play. He’s a career 49.2% shooter from the floor and 34.4% shooter from deep. Last season (this season) might have been career lows for him in minutes (13.4 MPG) and points (5.2 PPG), but it was his most efficient season to date, mainly due to his great shot selection. He also had a career high in blocks, averaging 0.6 blocks a game in very limited time — for perspective, Dwyane Wade, the all-time blocks-by-guard leader, averaged 0.8 in a career 33.9 MPG.
Seeing as this is a Rockets signing, there are a lot of questions surrounding his ability to stretch the floor. Nwaba may be a 34% career three-point shooter, but he’s averaged only one a game for his career. On the upside, last year he shot 1.4 a game and knocked them down at a rate of 42.9%. That being said, Houston has a tendency to turn solid three-point shooters into marksmen with a green light that they give them from deep — see Gerald Green and Ben McLemore. If Nwaba can shoot 4-6 threes a game and land somewhere between that 42.9% and 34%, then he’s doing exactly what Houston is paying him for.
If you want to see a more realistic representation of what Nwaba is capable of doing on the court, this is a great super cut of him playing against the Pelicans this December, the game before the match in which he suffered his injury.
The most intriguing part of this signing remains the fact that Houston not only didn’t sign a big man of any sorts, but they lost a young one in the process. With P.J. Tucker still unsigned, and with no end to small ball in sight, it’ll be interesting to see what the Rockets will do next.