And so just like that, the NBA’s Las Vegas Summer League has concluded. Your Houston Rockets finished with a 2-3 record as they fell 92-81 to the Keegan Murray-less Sacramento Kings squad this past Saturday.
For starters, I don’t like to take the results of the Summer League as gospel being that a good majority of the players won’t start the season on NBA rosters. However, I do find the value in getting a glimpse into the young talent the league has to offer. It’s important to not get too high or too low on a player based off of their performance over these five games. Remember that a lot of these guys just got drafted less than a month ago and are still adjusting to an entirely new level of prominence.
As for Houston fans, I think this was a great opportunity to observe the roster and set reasonable expectations for the participants going into the regular season. I tried to highlight the most frequent talking points that arose over the course of these games in the below section. It should be fun to take a look back at how each subject matter progresses through the upcoming season.
Jabari Smith Jr. and confidence
Who better to start off with than the crown jewel of our draft? As much as there was made about Smith in comparison to the two other players drafted ahead of him, Paolo Banchero and Chet Holmgren, he held his own when it came to those matchups.
His shooting numbers in this small sample of games didn’t illustrate his potential to be a marksmen, but again, he just recently turned 19 and he happened to be the focus of opposing defenses. Once the season comes around and he’s had the time to get acclimated to the city and train with more NBA talent, I think we’ll see him round into form.
It’s clear that he has the necessary form and release to succeed in this league, as we saw in the game against the Spurs, so he should benefit from having willing and able passers that can find him in the right shooting pockets.
Another aspect of his offensive game that appears to have been heavily panned is Smith’s handles. One of his weaknesses coming into the draft was concerning his dribbling ability, so if he can improve upon his ballhandling, his repertoire will only expand.
I think all in all, the most valuable thing for Jabari to take from this experience is to lean into his talents and to not be hesitant when it’s time to put up shots. He was taken this high in the draft for a reason and if he continues to play with the same intensity that got him to this point, his offense will catch up to his defense (more on this later).
Tari Eason is everything as advertised
If you remember correctly, I was high on Eason ahead of that draft. He has a motor that doesn’t stop running, and he’ll likely be a go-to defender early on in his career when you couple his energy with his wingspan.
I’d like to think of him as the Rockets’ Matisse Thybulle who I won’t scream “NOOO!!!” at if he decides to shoot it once in awhile. There’s still more to be desired from his long-range shot, but if he’s putting pressure on the rim, I’m willing to be more lenient than Philadelphia 76ers’ fans.
Tari Eason in his 5 summer league games:— Bradeaux (@BradeauxNBA) July 17, 2022
14 PTS | 13 REB | 2 3PM
14 PTS | 11 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL
22 PTS | 11 REB | 2 STL | 2 BLK
17 PTS | 7 REB | 3 STL | 2 BLK
19 PTS | 10 REB | 2 AST | 2 STL#Rockets pic.twitter.com/I0j9rt6Pu4
Defensive cornerstones and stat sheet stuffers!
Smith and Eason can have long careers based solely off of their defensive prowess. While it’s clear that Smith isn’t suited for center minutes at this time, I think once his body matures, he’ll be able to slide into that role more frequently in coming years. He’s a four with potential to play the three if he works on that aforementioned dribble.
Anyways, back to defense. Both of these guys showed that they are not scared on defense and that they’ll embrace the challenge. It’s difficult not to salivate when you imagine how their defensive versatility can translate into transition opportunities for Houston’s hyper-athletic wings/guards.
Jabari Smith and Tari Eason defensive highlights from tonight's game— ً (@arxanii) July 12, 2022
Sit back and enjoy pic.twitter.com/UwH0IRtRaH
Now of course I’m not saying they’re coming out of the gate on par with the ‘04 Detroit Pistons, but the hope is that as these two continue to develop, their intensity will eventually rub off on the other three players sharing the court with them.
Jabari Smith Jr. said a week ago that defense was his “greatest attribute.”— Coty M. Davis (@CotyDavis_24) July 17, 2022
Tonight Smith record arguably the best block of summer league play against the Kings. #Rockets
Hey look! A familiar face.
Another thing I’d like to point out is that both of these guys managed to contribute, even if their shot wasn’t falling, and that’s an integral part of the game in my opinion. There’s going to be those nights when they won’t be able to hit the side of a barn, it happens, but them staying engaged across the board will help fill in the gray areas.
As you can see by Eason’s rebounding numbers (the LVSL rebounding King), their contributions go far beyond just scoring and defense. The lack of selfishness helps the entire team gel together and makes for better camaraderie.
The backup Point Guard role might be a tossup
Between Daishen Nix and TyTy Washington Jr., there was quite a bit of up-and-down lead guard play, which let’s be clear, should be expected for young guards. The trickle-down effect of inconsistent point guard play probably explains why the offense would stall out and the guys who are dependent on others getting them the ball didn’t exhibit all of their potential. That being said, both players showed flashes and will continue to duel it out for the rights for minutes behind Kevin Porter Jr.
Although unlikely, I wouldn’t hate it if Houston brought in a pure point to help mentor these young guards now that John Wall is gone. It never hurts to have another veteran ballhandler to play spot minutes whenever the young guys get flustered.
If I had to project the minutes distribution, I think Nix gets first crack at it due to “seniority”, but I think by season’s end, TyTy will follow in the footsteps of many Kentucky point guards.
Josh Christopher will have a big-time opportunity to make some noise this year
It was evident that Jaygup was the “veteran” of this season’s Summer League team. Although, he only played three out of the five total games and shot inefficiently during those, he still showed a sense of urgency and recognized he was a superior athlete out there. His downhill approach got him a whopping eight free throw attempts per game which is not something to sneeze at.
Looking at the pecking order of guards on the actual roster, Christopher should see plenty of opportunity off the bench in year two and depending on the final roster construction, he may be the first guard off the bench once it’s all said and done.
I’d like to be able to come back to y'all and report some good news regarding our likely backup center...however, it appears we’ve fell into a holding pattern of the big man being held out due to injury. Hopefully, the ankle injury that forced him out of the LVSL heals soon and we get to see him in action going forward.
With limited roster spots open, it’s tough to imagine that many, if any (cuts are coming), of the guys not mentioned above will make the 15-man roster. Among them, only Trevor Hudgins is on a two-way contract. There’s no need for discouragement though, as a role with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers is still attainable. It’s still possible that we see another season with numerous call-ups given the ever-lasting status of COVID and of course, injuries.
Hopefully, those who got to take in this year’s Vegas Summer League enjoyed their viewing experience and were able to garner excitement going into the season. I think this team has a lot of promise going forward and it will be fun seeing them mesh with the already established Rockets. We may be in for another long season, but the momentum is definitely on the uptick.