I think we all expected a little more out of David Nwaba this year. He was a nice surprise last season, bouncing back from the formerly catastrophic but now seemingly routine Achilles injury to play some of the best ball of his career. He routinely flashed his athleticism running the court and playing spirited defense, and we all (myself included) were looking for more of that this season with Nwaba another year removed from surgery.
And it’s not that we didn’t see it. Nwaba didn’t necessarily play worse this season. He just didn’t play much. Certainly not enough to make a significant impact. Nwaba played in just 46 games on the season, starting only 4, and he averaged just 13.2 minutes per night, or 9 less than last season.
He finished the year with averages of 5.1 points, 3.3 rebounds, and 0.6 steals on 48.3 percent from the field and 30.6 percent from deep. On a per minute basis, he was actually relatively on par with last season’s performance, except for steals, and actually shot better from deep this year than last.
But therein lies one of Nwaba’s problems is that he’s a well below average three-point shooter and has been for pretty much his whole career, and that’s a huge liability in today’s NBA. Another issue is he’s not a playmaker, so despite the jolt of energy his play typically brings, a swingman with no shot or playmaking is going to find a tough time earning minutes, especially a rebuilding team like the Houston Rockets, who need court time for their young players. Nwaba likely works better on a contender.
Which brings us to the way forward for the 29-year-old. He’s due for another $5 million in 2022-2023 but just holds a team option for the following year. He could be an ideal trade piece this upcoming season, as there’s certainly not a pathway to long term minutes as Houston’s young pieces mature and demand even more court time.
Nwaba has been a nice story with his rebound from terrible injury (though he’s still occasionally injury-prone), but when the Rockets took a gamble on him by signing him to a deal in the summer of 2020, he was a piece like Christian Wood who was expected and expecting to play alongside James Harden and Russell Westbrook. That never happened, and it’s probably good for both parties to attempt to move on before or during next season.
Nwaba was fun to watch, but there’s just not really a fit here in Houston.