The Houston Rockets entered their matchup with the Toronto Raptors short three starters and their head coach. It being preseason, this gave several other Rockets a chance to prove why they deserve to be part of the rotation.
Houston was without Jabari Smith, Alperen Sengun and Eric Gordon. Also, Coach Stephen Silas was still out due to NBA Health and Safety Protocols. This meant the Rockets would have three new starters, and John Lucas would serve as the head coach. KJ Martin Jr, Ja'Sean Tate, and Bruno Fernando got the start.
Tate missed the previous game vs. the Spurs but moved back into his familiar starting role. Tate started 77 of the 78 games played last year, but that may end this season with the drafting of Jabari Smith and the likelihood that Gordon will start at the small forward position.
In tonight's win, here are a few players that took advantage of their opportunity in tonight's game.
Martin Jr. has had an offseason filled with doubt. Even though we have not heard directly from him about any trade request, there have been doubts about his place on the team. Tonight was an opportunity for Martin Jr. to show he still deserves a spot in the rotation.
KJ Martin Jr. came out strong in the first half scoring 11 points and pulling down 5 rebounds. He was extremely active and was always around the basketball. For most of the first half, he was the best player on the court for the Rockets, as they took a 65-56 lead into halftime.
The second half saw other players like Kevin Porter Jr and Tari Eason step, so Martin Jr. didn't have as many opportunities, but the energy Martin brought from the jump set the tone for the Rockets early in the game.
Bruno Fernando started for Alperen Sengun, who sat out after a dental procedure. Fernando didn't score a lot in the first half, but he did exactly what the Rockets wanted him to: rebound and run the floor. Fernando had 8 rebounds and a block in the first half.
Like Martin Jr., the second half was dominated by players like Eason, Green, and Porter Jr., but Fernando still finished with 10 rebounds and played solid defense the entire game. Fernando has cemented himself as the Rockets’ backup center, and Coach Lucas had a great analogy when talking about Fernando's rise from a two-way contract to a standard NBA deal.
“ Bruno went from being on La Branch and Clay to the 610 freeway”
Even though Eason was in the game early in the Rockets’ win over the Spurs, it was still an excellent opportunity for him this game with Gordon and Smith being out. Eason didn't disappoint. As he has done since Summer League, he was all over the court. Eason started fast in the first half with 11 points and 4 rebounds, and it continued in the third quarter.
Eason, as usual, seems to make almost every play on the court. From getting out in the passing lane to running down every loose ball, Eason is turning into this year’s Sengun. There was some talk when Eason was drafted that he may spend some time in the G-League just like Sengun last year, but the more time passes, the more Eason proves he belongs in the rotation. Eason finished with 24 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals.
Eason is forcing his way into the Rockets’ immediate plans by being tenacious on defense and fighting for every rebound. A part of his game that isn't talked about enough is the above-average passing that he showed off last night on several occasions. Again, it is preseason, but at what point do we stop saying, "it's only Summer League" or "it's only preseason" when we are talking about Eason's great play so far in his early career? I think that time is already here.
It is becoming evident that Eason can thrive playing in any lineup and any offensive or defensive scheme. Here is Eason answering my question about his versatility.
“Yeah, I feel I can fit with any position, any play style”