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Rockets 2020 Player Recaps: Danuel House Jr.

We’ll see if I can keep the profanity to a minimum

NBA: Dallas Mavericks at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

I know there’s a big COVID tester elephant in the room here, but let’s start out by objectively breaking down Danuel House Jr.’s 2019-20 season. We’ll get to what happened during the Western Conference semifinals, but let’s try to be fair early on.

Danuel House was a big part of Houston’s plans this season and beyond. After giving House his first real shot last season, the Rockets were able to lock down the University of Houston/Texas A&M product to a 3-year, $11.1 million extension. That decision indicated that the Rockets saw House as the real deal and envisioned him playing alongside James Harden during the team’s championship window.

The big knock on House coming into this season was actually his poor playoff performance in the 2019 playoffs. House had followed up a pleasant regular season with an abysmal postseason. The Rockets had hoped that House could provide a facsimile of Trevor Ariza with more athleticism and more slashing ability, with the ultimate goal of throwing House into Houston’s vaunted Tuckwagon lineup against Golden State in the playoffs. However, he shot 30% from the field and went 8-31 from deep. He became unplayable against the Warriors and didn’t see the floor in Games 3-6.

This season, House came in as the clear-cut top small forward on the roster. He started 52 games, averaging 30 minutes per contest. Called into more action against starters rather than backups, House’s shooting numbers decreased. Furthermore, he took a major step back when you look at the advanced statistics like effective field goal percentage or win shares per 48 minutes. Inconsistency was still a part of his game, but the flashes of brilliance were there for anyone to see.

So it was a bit ironic that House’s biggest issue in 2019 suddenly became his calling card in 2020. Even House admitted that his poor playoff experience had affected him after Houston’s Game 2 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, a game in which House helped lead a 20-2 bench run to put the game away in the second half.

“Last year, I felt like I let people down, including myself,” House said. “This year I came in with a new mindset, a new mentality.”

He continued:

I’m out here competing to make sure that I give my brothers my all. Like I said earlier, my objective is to find more to do. Even if there isn’t more to do, find more to do. If you keep yourself busy and keep yourself moving and playing with a lot of energy, there’s always stuff that can be done. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to keep myself moving. I’m trying to use my energy in the right way to help this team win at all costs.

That’s an incredibly mature outlook from a young player who was coming off a big payday. His shooting numbers were consistent with his regular season numbers. While his regular season numbers were nothing to boast about, the fact that his production stayed steady into the most important games was an encouraging sign. After playing a huge part in Houston’s Game 1 upset victory over the Los Angles Lakers, it looked as if Danuel House’s potential was being realized.

Which makes what he did next so disappointing.

You know by now what happened. I’m not a marriage counselor or a therapist of any sort, so I’ll stick to the basketball implications of House’s actions.

The Rockets are going to be inclined to rid themselves of Danuel House Jr. this offseason. That’s a devastating development for a player coming into his own during the playoffs who’s set to be a cheap rotation piece for Houston over the next two seasons. The whole situation is further hurt by the fact that the Rockets will have zero leverage as they attempt to unload House. Other teams may want the young wing, but they know that the Rockets will be in a hurry to rid themselves of House. That means Houston may be trading an important smallball piece for a second rounder or salary fillers with no upside.

The instinct then becomes to keep House and let him earn his way back into the good graces of his teammates and fans. But at least half of that tandem could be irreparable. Here’s what James Harden said of House after Houston lost Game 5 and the series to the Lakers:

Very, very disappointing. It affected us. Obviously, we still have to go out there and play a basketball game, and play a series. But it affected us. Obviously, it’s a distraction. [House] was a huge part of our rotation.

The Rockets have to trade Danuel House Jr. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but swallow it they must. The James Harden Era is winding down, and if Harden cannot trust House, then the team must move on.