The Houston Rockets begin their 2021-22 campaign tonight with a preseason game against the Washington Wizards.
The Rockets will be excited to put last season’s league-worst finish behind them. Into the squad are Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun, Josh Christopher, and Usman Garuba, all acquired on draft night. Houston lost Kelly Olynyk in free agency, but got a nice consolation prize in Daniel Theis. Mostly, the rest of the squad remains unchanged, other than the fact that Houston starts the season a lot healthier than they ended last season. It’s almost as if having a heavily injured team leads to a ton of losses.
Tonight’s game is mostly about seeing the young pieces and how they fit into the roster. Conventional wisdom tells us that Green and Sengun should get decent minutes and Christopher and Garuba might spend a lot of time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. But conventional wisdom has taken a hit in the age of analytics, so what do I know?
The other players I’m interested to see are Dante Exum and Jae’Sean Tate. Exum was injured for most of last season and didn’t play at all for the Rockets. After a great run for Australia at the Olympics, his stock rose. Yet somehow, Houston was able to get him to re-sign and stay in this system. It was a curious decision that made a bit more sense once news that John Wall won’t play for the Rockets came down. Houston has a bunch of ballhandlers now, but there’s definitely an opportunity for Exum to step in.
Tate was deservingly named First Team All-Rookie after last season. He turns 26 at the end of the month, so he’s not the normal definition of a second-year pro, but it will be interesting to see what he does for an encore. His tenacity was readily apparent throughout a lost season, and when you’re one of the bright spots in a season devoid of many, expectations accrue. He (and to a lesser extent, Kenyon Martin, Jr.) will have to show that they can contribute even when their usage rates go down.
The Wizards traded Russell Westbrook for Kyle Kuzma, Montrezl Harrell, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. They drafted sharpshooter and hair model Corey Kispert out of Gonzaga a pick before the Rockets traded up for Sengun. Preseason is more about your team than the other since the result is irrelevant.
Tonight also marks the start of the Craig Ackerman-Ryan Hollins era for Houston’s local television games. Ackerman has done road games for AT&T for the past few years, but now he’s the full-time TV guy. Hollins is new to Houston fans. He played for nine NBA teams, but never for the Rockets.
Tip-off is at 7pm CT on AT&T SportsNet Southwest