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First quarter grades for the 2023 Rockets (N-Z)

The Second Set of Grades for The First Quarter Are In

NBA: Houston Rockets-Media Day
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Oladipo, Victor

Strengths: Lovely singing voice. Not in Houston.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately always injured. Might have something to offer if he could ever stay healthy.

Comments: Basically just an expiring contract number to be traded. Sadly not really in consideration as an NBA player anymore at 31.

Grade: N/A

Samuels Jr., Jermaine

Strengths: Having a good season at RGV: 21/8/3/1/.5 - great inside, less good from 3pt range. Great deep bench choice, it seems.

Weaknesses: Decline in 3pt shooting versus 22-23.

Comments: UH and Villanova are currently just churning out tough, physical players who can do a bit of everything and seem to play bigger than their listed height. You can pretty much count on any of them knowing how to play basketball, and they all play hard. Samuels is another one of those handy players.

Grade: INC/B+

Sengün, Alperen

Strengths: Blossoming into a true NBA star center. Passing, inside scoring. 21/9/5.7/.8/.9 - 59% TS, vastly improved defense, improved conditioning, strength. Now punishes weaker players, attempts to play small, cf Holmgren, Chet, OKC.

Weaknesses: Free throw shooting, which has declined from career numbers from around 71% to 64%. 3pt shooting hasn’t really developed, but there’s reason to think it might.

Comments: Sengun is now the hub of the Rockets offense, and very few centers can stop him. Struggles some with defenses entirely keying on him, collapsing around the paint, and daring the rest of the team to beat them with shooting. Sengun has played the best player in the NBA, Nikola Jokic four times now and the Rockets won 3/4. Apie has held up well, with the Rockets essentially leaving Sengun 1 on 1 with Jokic and focusing on stopping other Nuggets.

Not a lot else to say. Keep doing what you’re doing Alpie. Credit to Udoka and his staff for recognizing what Sengun can do, rather than relying on preconceived notions about him.

Grade: A

Smith Jr., Jabari

Strengths: Rebounding. Defense. Switchability. Improved decision making. Improved strength.

Weaknesses: Decision making. Handle. Ball security. Still not an “NBA Strong” monster, though stronger than the other super tall skinny types.

Comments: Currently in the process of emerging as at least a Very Good NBA player, at 20. Has strung together a mostly unbroken line of complete and useful games against typically strong competition. Stopped driving every closeout as he was doing at the start of the season, which is big news. Still isn’t calmly rising and firing over defenders, without the need for more than a single dribble. Shot is rushed, but when it isn’t, it’s the perfect specimen we saw when he was a prospect. It’s happening.

Grade: A-

Tate, JaeSean

Strengths: Energy. Basket attack. Greatly improved 3pt shot. Defensive switching. Rugged play. Tough. Passionate. Versatile. Aggressive. Playmaking ability. Decent handle.

Weaknesses: Can be too passionate, sometimes. It’s difficult to essentially be a 6’4” center/other player, but the general size of the Rockets overall has helped in this respect.

Comments: JaeSean Tate has gone from essentially being the only good defender on the Rockets to being one of many. This has made what might be thought of as a “luxury player”, that is, someone only really valuable to teams that were essentially complete and competitive without him, into a very useful contributor.

Think about what he can do now, which is come off the bench into any role needed, and supply maniacal energy and forceful attacks. It turns out the good team that could really use Tate was the Rockets. On a great contract. That’s all a great luxury, indeed.

Grade: A

Thompson, Amen

Strengths: Speed. Size. Playmaking. Defense. Switchability. Court vision. Cheekbones.

Weaknesses: Ankles. Shooting, probably.

Comments: Amen has played all of 77 minutes so far this season, and even that seems high. He initially looked like a lost rookie, but making sitting on the bench, and a short stint at RGV have helped him get his feet wet. He looks ready to contribute to a bench unit that needs him. It’s hard to keep in mind that the Rockets have the 4th pick in the draft, and haven’t even played him, really. But it’s true.

Grade: INC/B

VanVleet, Fred

Strengths: Low turnover, high assists. Defense. 3pt shooting late. Team organization. Two man game with Sengun. Toughness. Veteran leadership. Culture setting.

Weaknesses: Shooting. Basket attacks. High number of minutes played per game.

Comments: The Big Signing has been good overall. He and Dillon Brooks have changed the tone of the entire team, and helped it play with a burning, almost ruthless, intensity. If that’s going to be the identity of the Rockets, fine, there are much worse things a team can be than intense, and rugged. All the cliches have been true about FVV. He’s a leader, he’s tough, he puts the work in, he sets the culture and leads the locker room by example. All of that appears true. VanVleet is essentially a self-created NBA player earning $40 million now. That’s an example pretty much any player can follow.

That said, his scoring is a concern, except he seems to make big shots late. His minutes are a concern, but Amen should help with that. I think he’ll come back to his “good not great, but somehow his team wins” averages.

Grade: B+

Whitmore, Cam

Strengths: Strength. Size. Speed. Inside scoring. 3pt shooting. Scoring on the break. Foul drawing.

Weaknesses: Passing. Defense. Being a very young NBA rookie.

Comments: As of this writing, your G League points per game leader. Cam. Is. A. Bucket. Maybe he’s not quite one in the NBA. Yet.

Cam has hardly played for the Rockets through the first quarter of the season. It’s true, he has a lot to learn. It’s also true that the Rockets need more scoring. Cam, as it happens, is a bucket. I am somewhat concerned that Udoka will pull some Thibsian BS and not let possibly one of the best pure scorers the Rockets have drafted play because he’s not defensively ideal. On the other hand, Green is playing, so perhaps it’s just experience and maturity.

Right now I simply can’t understand how a guy who really, from what we’ve seen, have been a top five draft pick, fell to the Rockets at 20. Maybe there’s a deep, dark, secret, or maybe everyone just out-thought and group thought, themselves out of taking him, and the Rockets didn’t.

Grade: INC/A-

Williams, Nate

Strengths: Versatile, do it all 6’5” G/F/Whatever with explosive leaping. Somehow gets to the rim and converts.

Weaknesses: Older rookie. No clear role on the Rockets.

Comments: Mostly not playing for the Rockets, but made the team with a strong camp. The Rockets deep bench unit may see more time in second half, as the Rockets learn to put some offense together with their defense. If so, it’s actually kind of a scary bunch, in terms of energy, physicality, and versatility. There are no charity cases, buddies, or failed (or soon to fail) prospects on the Rockets bench. Just a bunch of pretty big dudes who know how to hoop. You can do a lot worse. We’ve seen it.

Grade: INC/B


Agree With This Set of Grades?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    The Pinnacle
    (11 votes)
  • 36%
    A Pinnacle
    (25 votes)
  • 5%
    Not At All A Pinnacle
    (4 votes)
  • 4%
    Under The Pinnacle
    (3 votes)
  • 2%
    Reverse Pinnacle
    (2 votes)
  • 34%
    Pinnacle, you keep saying it. It’s kind of a weird word.
    (24 votes)
69 votes total Vote Now