I had the chance to sit down and chat with former TDS staffer and the current Editor in Chief of Sports Illustrated’s Houston Rockets content Coty Davis about NBA training camp. Coty was present for the Rockets’ three days of workouts in Louisiana and had a lot of knowledge to drop on us about the things he saw, a lot of which was backed up by Houston’s big preseason opening game win against the San Antonio Spurs. So without further ado...
Darren Yuvan: Coty, welcome back. So nice to be able to chat with you again. It’s been a while. I wanted to talk to you about training camp because I know you spent some time there. The first thing I wanted to ask is what was the most notable thing that you saw in camp?
Coty Davis: That the Rockets are definitely going to be a much better team on the defensive side of the ball. That is something going back to the end of last season, Stephen Silas said that’s the main area of the team that he really wanted to improve. Darren, you remember, the Rockets were arguably, if not the worst, one of the worst defensive teams in the league ever since they started the rebuild.
Silas did say that after the All-Star Game, that’s when he started seeing a lot of progress with most of the young guys and he noticed that the team started getting better on the defensive side of the ball. But going into the offseason, Silas said that he wanted to continue to improve there.
With that in mind, what did Rafael Stone do? He went out and drafted three really good defensive players, and of course, Jabari Smith Jr. , when I talked him this offseason, he told me that he feels his best attribute is his ability to defend.
With that being said, every single person that we talked to at Media Day and in training camp and practices, the coaching staff has really taken the time out to make sure that this team continues to improve defensively.
Kevin Porter Jr. said something that was really interesting to me at Media Day when he was asked about if this team desired to be better on defense, and he said, “Look, at the end of the day, we want to be a run-and-gun team, and if we’re gonna be that team, we have to win a lot of these games in transition. And the best way to get in transition is to get stops on the defensive side of the ball.”
So I truly believe in the 2022-2023 campaign, we’re going to see a much better defensive team. I’m not saying they’ll turn into the ‘80s Detroit Pistons, but this is a team that’s going to be better and give a lot more effort on defense with Jabari Smith as their new defensive anchor
Darren Yuvan: Speaking of Jabari. We only have a couple games of watching him to go by, so with you being up close in training camp, what was the thing about him that’s stood out the most to you?
Coty Davis: It would definitely be his defense, and I also want to say just his versatility. Ever since the Rockets drafted him, I’ve been able to watch him up close all the way back to Summer League, and the one thing I noticed is that just Jabari’s presence allows the Rockets to focus and be better on defense.
Going into the draft, we were all gearing up Paolo Banchero, including myself, but that obviously changed on draft night. And say what you want about Houston’s record these last two seasons, but they have some really good young talent in the system, and with Silas’ desire to get better defensively, Smith was the best target as far as fit, so thankfully it worked out the way it did. Not only is Jabari a talented player, but he’s also the best fit for the Rockets.
But just his versatility, it allows the Rockets to do so much more on both ends of the court. On Wednesday, we had a chance to talk to Silas, and because of Smith’s ability to shoot, they were incorporating an offense that was four out and one in, kind of similar to some the things Houston was doing back in the day when James Harden, Chris Paul, P.J. Tucker and Trevor Ariza were out, and you had Clint Capela inside the paint.
With Smith, we can see the Rockets go back to the four out, and the one in will be Alperen Sengun. And with Sengun’s passing ability, that will also give the Rockets the ability to keep the ball moving and not get stagnant, because I think we all agree that one of Alpie’s best attributes is his passing vision, which solidifies his ability to play alongside Smith in the frontcourt, because Smith can play outside and be at his most effective.
Houston’s not going to get stagnant, and they’re not going to have the lane clogged up like we saw at times last year with that god awful lineup with Christian Wood and Daniel Theis. Smith’s addition really is going to help this team on both ends of the court.
Darren Yuvan: What is something that you noticed in Jalen Green that might different in year two?
Coty Davis: The game has really slowed down for him. And I know we heard him say that towards the end of last year, but I see a guy who isn’t out there with things going 100 miles per hour. Everything has slowed down.
For me, what I was able to see is that he’s really now able to read the defense and taking the time to get to his spots and also to help keep the ball moving.
In the first half of his rookie season, it just seemed like things were moving too fast for him and he was too anxious to get out there and try to put somebody on a poster or try to score 20 or 30 points. But now, he’s coming to the game with a better in-game IQ and playing smarter.
At the end of the day, he’s not leading the Rockets to a title this season, but what he can do is help the Rockets improve their win total, and it all starts with that guy Jalen Green. If he’s out there playing with a better mindset, taking the time to read the defense and figure out what he needs to do not just for himself, but for his teammates and keep them involved, then that means we’ll be getting a better version of Jalen Green. A better version of Jalen Green means the Rockets will definitely be better in 2022-2023.
Darren Yuvan: Two big roster questions I think Rockets fans are looking for some insight on is what is your feel on the backup point guard and backup center positions? Those are both spots that could be in flux. We’re not really sure yet who’s going to grab the reigns.
Coty Davis: I’ll start with backup center. It does seem like they’re going to give a shot to Usman Garuba. I’m also rooting for Bruno Fernando, and I like what he was able to do down the stretch last season and into training camp this year.
The Rockets are really high on the way Garuba was able to contribute to Spain’s gold medal run during the Eurobasket Tournament. That was a big positive to Stephen Silas and Rafael Stone.
We’ll probably also still see Boban stay on the roster as well. There’s been some speculation since he came over from Dallas thay they were going to try to flip him, but due to his veteran leadership, and the fact that Garuba, Sengun, and Fernando could struggle with size, they’re going to be able use Boban with his big body. But he’ll be mostly situational, like for example, if Joel Embiid is racking up fouls on Sengun and the Rockets need someone to body up Embiid, Boban is your man.
But the bigger question is what are the Rockets going to do for Kevin Porter Jr’s backup? That is going to be a very interesting battle and an interesting matchup to keep watching and to keep tabs on throughout the preseason, but the Rockets are very high on Daishen Nix. There was a report from Jonathan Feigen that they viewed Nix as a first-round prospect.
I know he’s had some struggles. He averaged great numbers in the G League, but when he got time with the Rockets, it was a complete 180. He’s missing easy shots, turning the ball over.
Prior to the start of Summer League, I asked Daishen about his inconsistencies, and he told me that the number one thing that he has to get used to is trying to find an equal balance. He is similar to Porter Jr. in that his original position is shooting guard, so he’s used to scoring the ball and averaged 20-plus in the G League. However, when he comes to the Rockets, they want him to be more of a facilitator. During his rookie season, he struggled trying to find the equal balance between when to score and when to facilitate, and that’s something he worked on throughout Summer League and training camp.
Last time when I spoke with him, he said he felt that was getting a little bit better for him. If Nix can continue to showcase his ability to find that equal balance, he’s going to be the primary backup point guard behind Porter Jr.
However, on the flipside of things, you can’t look past TyTy Washington. I was completely surprised that he was still on the board for the Rockets in the late first round. I had him real high on my draft board.
What’s going to separate him is his ability to keep the ball and the offense moving. But because he’s a rookie, it feels like Nix has the upper hand because he’s the more experienced player.
But a couple of days ago, I asked Washington how much Summer League helped him transition to the NBA. Because as a rookie point guard, that might be the hardest position to transition from because you essentially need to know everyone else’s spots. But he said the time spent this summer, especially alongside coach Rick Higgins, has helped him tremendously.
I say all this just to say that it’s Daishen Nix with the upper hand, but he has to find a way to stay consistent. If he doesn’t, sooner rather than later, we’re going to see that flip, and it’ll be Washington taking the helm as the primary backup.
Darren Yuvan: Okay, last question. Last year, Alperen Sengun was listed at 6’9”. He is now listed at 6’11” and there’s a lot of questions among Rockets fans if that is legitimate. Because at his young age, its definitely possible he was not done growing. Is that a legitimate extra two inches on Alpie?
Coty Davis: I think so. As a matter of fact, there are several guys who look like they grew over the offseason, including Jabari Smith. I’ve stood next to him, and when says that he grew an extra inch, I can definitely see it.
And Alpie, I think he definitely grew at least an extra inch as well, and I also believe, though I dont know if it’s been confirmed, but it’s my sepculation, and I stood next to Jalen Green on Wednesday in training camp, and Jalen Green also looked like he has added one or two inches as well.
The Rocket definitely have some size this year, and they’ve finally gone completely away from that terrible small ball lineup.
Alpie has grown, Jabari has grown, and it’s my speculation that Jalen Green has grown as well. And they’re just 19 and 20, so we might get another one of them shooting up before it’s all over.