The much anticipated Houston Rockets Summer League game vs. the Orlando Magic occurred last night in Las Vegas. It was a battle of number one pick Paolo Banchero and number three overall pick Jabari Smith.
As usual, you had the mixture of lottery picks, second-year players, G-League guys, and undrafted rookies. Besides Tari Eason and Josh Christopher, all of the Rockets started the game slowly. Smith took some time to get into the flow of the game, and his teammates did not help matters by not getting him the ball on most offensive possessions to start the game.
The Rockets trailed most of the contest, even with the seven lead changes in the first half. Smith looked a little better after the first quarter but never got into a rhythm, finishing with 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 assists. Christopher led all scorers with 22 points but did little to get anyone else involved in the offense. The backcourt seemed lost most of the game, never getting the team into any offense.
The Rockets lost 91-77, with Banchero scoring 17 points on 41.7 percent shooting from the field. The normal social media chatter started during the game when people were concerned that Smith looked too slow or that Smith couldn't create his shot, but I am here to say one thing. IT IS SUMMER LEAGUE. EVERYONE RELAX.
Why you should never judge a player, especially high draft picks, in Summer League
Let's start with a list of former Summer League MVPs.
- 2013: Golden State Warriors, Ian Clark
- 2014: Sacramento Kings, Ray McCallum
- 2015: San Antonio Spurs, Jonathon Simmons
- 2016: Chicago Bulls, Jerian Grant
- 2017: Los Angeles Lakers, Kyle Kuzma
- 2018: Portland Trail Blazers, K.J. McDaniels
- 2019: Memphis Grizzlies, Brandon Clarke
- 2020: Event canceled due to COVID-19 pandemic
- 2021: Sacramento Kings, Louis King
No disrespect to any player on this list, as some are still in the NBA, and Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Clarke are good players who will be contributing for years. Let's be honest, though: the majority on this list are either out of the NBA or at the end of the bench.
I want to emphasize how much Summer League results ultimately don't determine how good or bad a player will be in the NBA. In Summer League, you are not playing with, for the most part, NBA-level players. Your head coach is not coaching you, and more than likely, you have had three of four days of practice if you are lucky.
NBA players aren't robots, even high lottery picks. It is not easy for some players with no practice and, for the most part, no offensive game plan, especially in game one of the Summer League. Yes, Smith struggled at times, but you must remember how different he would look with Kevin Porter Jr. and Jalen Green passing him the ball and drawing double teams.
Smith is not a one-on-one, take-you-off dribble-type player. Instead, Smith is the type of player who thrives in a system with a dominant offensive force like Green. Banchero is a one-on-on-type player and will look better in the Summer League, but that does not mean he will be a better NBA player. Also, in some games, Smith's defensive impact will be more valuable than his scoring, but may not show up in the box scores.
Yes, last night’s final result was a disappointment. Of course, you want to see the Rocket's draft choices thrive and not struggle, but it is game one of the Summer League, not game 55 of the regular season. As we saw last year, some players take longer to adjust to NBA life, and there is no need to overreact after any Summer League game, especially game one.