Stephan Silas’ biggest objective for the Rockets next season is improving the defense. The Rockets were ranked last in defensive efficiency, including allowing way too many points in the paint, as they were ranked last in that category too. Adding Jabari Smith Jr. and Tari Eason will be huge for the Rockets, as they showcased great versatility on defense versus the Orlando Magic in the first Summer League game.
The Rockets’ pick-and-roll defense last season was above average but could be better this season. They were ranked in the 58.6 percentile and allowed 1.11 points per possession on pick-and-roll defense, as that was surprising having Christian Wood defending the rim. Thankfully, Jae’Sean Tate helped in that category. His hustle, vertical quickness, and tenacity played a huge part on defense, including efforts from Alperen Sengun.
There were suffering efforts on isolation defense as well from the Rockets too. The Rockets were missing one or two players that could stop another team’s elite offensive player. They were ranked in the 17.2 percentile in isolation defense last year. Luckily, Eason and Smith were drafted to the Rockets.
Although Paolo Banchero had 17 points versus the Rockets, Smith and Eason loved the challenge. Those two had an enjoyable argument over who would guard Banchero throughout the game. The competitive edge for the Rockets is there. Having that edge could raise the defensive intensity for this young core.
The Rockets really suffered last season at not getting back on defense. On transition defense, they were horrid, as teams enjoyed fastbreaks and open shots amongst the court. Turnovers became the issue for Houston during the year, but getting back on defense is key in the NBA. They allowed 1.17 points per possession on transition defense last season.
Being able to not give up easy fastbreak points puts the team in better position to win ballgames. Rick Higgins and Silas have been preaching defense throughout the Summer League trial, so hopefully it transitions to the regular season.
Last night, watching Smith cover ground quickly after a player drives by him is impressive. He never allows his man to truly beat him on defense because of his 7’1” wingspan and length. Smith knows to stay in front of his opposing matchup, which creates tough shots. He can swallow smaller matchups if switched on them. Watching Smith and Eason play switch defense versus the Magic was entertaining.
Jabari Smith and Tari Eason are arguing over who gets to guard Paolo and I love it lol— Rob Kimbell (@RobKSports) July 8, 2022
Eason provided that quick feet and focus on defense versus the Magic. He guarded R.J. Hampton well when those two matched up together on defense. If Eason is arguing about guarding Banchero, imagine him wanting to guard Steph Curry during the season. Eason loves a challenge on defense no matter how tall or skilled the player is. His wingspan is 7’2”, which allows him to trap certain players in space or in the corners. He showcased why the Rockets could improve on defense.
Besides the Rockets improving on defense, I’d recognize certain aspects TyTy Washington, Josh Christopher, Smith, and Eason displayed on offense.
The Rockets must run more offense to Smith so he can get shots off of different actions, which would allow him to warmup. Silas needs to avoid the debacle that happened Jalen Green last season where he didn’t get enough opportunity.
Although Christopher had a great game with 22 points, he staggered Smith by missing him on the wing or taking up his space below the arc. Smith needs more low-high actions and space throughout the game to operate.
It was intriguing watching him take advantage of smaller defenders on post-up opportunities. That allowed him to use his pull-up game at 6’ll”. His length causes a hard time for other players to contest his shot.
But the biggest issue with Smith is he’s too passive. Instead of waiting for the basketball, he needs to demand it. At Auburn, Smith would patiently wait for the ball because he knew it would get to him. Since Smith is in the NBA, he needs to take a different approach by being aggressive, as he must share the spotlight with Green this season. Smith didn’t have his best night, but finished with 10 points on 40 percent shooting and had three assists.
Eason’s motor was impressive on both sides of the ball. He started with a ferocious dunk to start the game off for the Rockets and had another bucket where he went behind the back so he could finish toughly at the rim.
Eason was working with John Lucas on the mechanics of his jump shot during summer league practice, and though he struggled shooting from three throughout the game, he did make two shots from behind the arc. His biggest objective is the three-ball and getting to the rim better. Eason was still impressive on the rebounding aspect because he had 13 boards with 14 points.
Washington could be better than pick 29 of the NBA Draft. Daishen Nix did not play his best basketball while Washington impressed spectators with his kick-outs, quickness, and shot selection. The backup spot behind Kevin Porter Jr. needs filling, so Washington could have a chance. He understands where the ball needs to go and when to make the right the shot.
Christopher has improved from last season, as his pull-up game looks efficient and confident. His aggressiveness allowed him to attack the basket strongly throughout first game. It was obvious that Christopher became the Rockets’ only offense versus the Magic. Although he had three turnovers, he looked ready for the season to start.
Aric Holman made noise for the Rockets Thursday night. He made a couple of threes and played well on his defensive rotations, which allowed him to have two blocks. Holman became a big man that could stretch floor for the Rockets versus the Magic. Higgins allowed him to play crucial minutes towards the end of the game. Like Nix, Usman Garuba could have competition before and during training camp.
Although Silas wants to improve his defense, these four players will improve the Rockets on both sides.