The new era of Houston Rockets basketball kicked off last night with the Rockets taking on the Washington Wizard at Toyota Center. You had new announcers, new players on the court, and a new sense of hope around the organization.
The Rockets looked good at times on defense with the usual early-season hiccups every team deals with, especially a group with several players under 21 years of age. On the offensive side, the team looked surprisingly fluid at different points of the game. Different players were able to get to the basket. The three-point shooting and free-throw shooting were off for most of the game, but they made the plays necessary to pull out the victory when it counted.
Yes, it's just preseason, but there was plenty to be happy about if you are in the Rockets’ front office. Here are three things that surprise me the most about last night's win.
Kevin Porter Jr.’s offensive game and efficiency
One of the biggest revelations from last year was the potential of Kevin Porter Jr. After several issues with the Cleveland Cavaliers the previous year and a half, the Rockets traded for their soon-to-be point guard for a heavily protected second round pick.
Porter Jr. had his moments last year, culminating with his 50-point, 10-assist game vs. the Milwaukee Bucks, where he dominated against one of the best defensive teams in the league and the soon-to-be NBA champions. Most of the attention was on Green yesterday in his first-ever NBA game, but Porter Jr. was on fire from the start.
KPJ was under total control for most of the game, weaving in and out of traffic, finishing on the break, and shooting 5-10 from deep. The three-point shooting is the most encouraging part considering Porter Jr. shot in the low 30s last year, which was a point of emphasis for the young guard all offseason. Porter would finish with a game-high 25 points to go along with 5 assists and 4 rebounds. The only negative for Porter Jr. was the 4 turnovers, but that can be cleaned up the more reps he gets at the point guard spot.
Jalen Green’s passing and rebounding
With all eyes on Jalen Green, expectations were high going into his first game. At the end of the day, though, Green is still a rookie who can't even drink legally in Texas. Green has all the tools of a potential superstar. The ability to jump out of the gym, score from anywhere on the court, and confidence you usually see in a seasoned veteran. Even with all of those qualities, Green will need time to get his footing in the NBA.
Last night Green showed flashes of brilliance. He was patiently waiting for an opening, turning down the pick set by Christian Wood and hanging in the air for what seemed like hours to finish at the basket for his first-ever points in an NBA game. He also showed his ability to score from mid-range coming off of a pick. Green, however, struggled with his shot overall, finishing 4-14 from the field.
That wasn't a huge surprise considering it was his first-ever NBA game. What was surprising was the great passes made by Green throughout the game. Green isn't known for his passing ability, and he had a few nice passes to step his teammates. He didn't try to force shots, and even though it didn't show up in the start line, he had several occasions where his passes led to easy baskets for his teammates, what they call "a hockey assist", where you pass to a teammate, and that teammate makes the pass that leads to a basket.
Green also finished the game with six rebounds which was a pleasant surprise. Green several times was able to guard his man and then drop back into the lane to help out on the boards or since he was switched onto bigger players able to box out centers and forwards for the board.
Josh Christopher’s shooting
The biggest question for Josh Christopher coming into this season was could he consistently make outside shots? For a time yesterday, it didn't look like Christopher would even see the court. However, early in the fourth quarter, Christopher subbed in for Green with the Rockets trailing by five points. Christopher would hit all three of his three-pointers and finish with 11 points to help the Rockets pull out the victory.
Christopher also played the passing lanes well and, despite a couple of turnovers, was the driving force in the comeback win. Christopher won't shoot 100 percent from beyond the arc for the season (maybe), but if he can consistently shoot well from deep, he won't be spending much time in the G League because he is already great at getting to the basket.
This is only game one of the preseason, and it will be plenty of ups and downs for the young Rockets. You usually can't take too much from a preseason game, but when you are coming off the worst record in the league the previous year, every game is vital in that team development.