The Houston Rockets were not too active during NBA Free agency, but they did make one significant splash. In a sign-and-trade with the Chicago Bulls, the Rockets acquired free-agent Daniel Theis. The German big man inked a $36 million deal to join the Rockets for four years. To land Theis, Houston sent Chicago cash consideration in exchange.
The addition to Theis to the Rockets indicated that Kelly Olynyk’s time in Houston came to an end, as the veteran big signed a three-year, $37 million contract to join the Detroit Pistons. Olynyk, who averaged 19.0 points while shooting 39.2 percent from behind the arc, may have been a disappointing loss to most fans. But Theis’ fit with the Rockets could prove to be better than that of Olynyk — especially on defense.
Theis’ defense has always been his best career attribute. Prior to joining the Bulls during the trade deadline in March, Chicago was one of the most inadequate defensive teams in the league. With a defensive net rating of 111.5, the Bulls allowed their opponents to shoot 47.2 percent from the floor while giving up an average of 113.7 points per game.
When Theis came along, the Bulls saw a slight improvement in their defense. Although their defensive rating (111.4) and opponents’ field goal percentage (47.3) remained the same, Chicago gave up just 108.0 points, with Theis playing their final 29 games of the ‘21 season.
Theis’ defensive versatility is what makes him a great addition to the Rockets. He is a big who is strong enough to battle down low with some of the league-best post scorers. And quick enough to prevent and easy basket when attacked downhill by his opponents — which is a rare find for today’s NBA.
In the clip above, Jordan Clarkson tried to take Theis one-on-one for an easy basket. Like most guards, a simple hesitation dribble from Clarkson was enough for Theis to take the bite. Had this been Rudy Gobert or DeAndre Ayton, Clarkson’s possession would have ended in a layup or foul, given their struggles defending the perimeter.
However, Theis was quick enough to recover and came up with a block to prevent Clarkson’s layup. As a result, Theis’ block led to an easy dunk attempt for Terry Rozier to extend Boston’s lead to 28 points against the Cavaliers.
In addition to his quickness when defending the perimeter, Theis is the prototypical big teams relish for help defense. In the video below, Theis’ help defense prevented Antonio Blakeney from converting a smooth layup after beating Rozier off the dribble.
“Daniel is a versatile center who impacts both ends of the court. We’re looking forward to adding his skillset to our young core and giving Coach Silas even more flexibility with his lineups.” — via Rafael Stone.
The most significant question about Theis’ arrival in Houston is his fit on offense. As a career 33.5 percent 3-point shooter, Theis will be able to sustain the Rockets’ floor spacing, and his athleticism makes him a reliable lob threat when running pick-and-rolls with the ball handler. But when it comes to his offensive capabilities, opponents underestimate Theis’ skill-set as a playmaker.
When Theis is on the floor, his passing and high IQ as a playmaker makes him an extension of the point guard.
In the clip above, Kent Bazemore’s pressure defense hindered a dribble hand-off between Theis and Lauri Markkanen. Instead of panicking once he picked up his dribble, Theis completed a crafty backdoor pass to Ryan Arcidiacono for an uncontested layup. Although the pass was the highlight of the play, it was more impressive that Theis possessed the vision and the IQ to connect with Arcidiacono as a big man.
With Christain Wood and Jae’Sean Tate, the Rockets will continue to maintain a substantial frontcourt due to the arrival of Theis. And comparable to his pairing with Olynyk, playing alongside Theis would be essential in helping Wood reach his full potential in Houston.
Theis’ signing may not help the Rockets get back to their contending status. But his arrival should help prevent Houston from falling back into basketball torment that could ensue in the league’s worst record for the second consecutive year.
Since signing with the Celtics as an undrafted free agent in 2017, Theis has appeared in 259 games and averaged 7.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, to go along with 1.3 assists in 19.3 minutes per game. Before playing in the NBA, Theis spent four seasons playing in the German basketball league, where he won three championship titles — one with the Brose Baskets and two with Brose Bamberg.