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What should the Rockets expect from Jock Landale?

Can the newly acquired big man be a key contributor this coming season?

NBA: Playoffs-Denver Nuggets at Phoenix Suns
What will Jock Landale’s role with the Rockets be?
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Rockets have had their hot girl summer.

The last two offseasons were snoozy. After the draft, they were pretty much over. The Rockets couldn’t go out - they had work in the morning.

This summer, they had nothing but time. One more martini? Why not. Slay. This is a weird motif and I’ll stray from it starting now.

Fred VanVleet was a no-brainer. Rafael Stone did a great job of negotiating a deal that was both lucrative and team friendly. That third-year team option was perfection.

Dillon Brooks? An overpay. Still, this was perhaps a necessary evil. The Rockets needed a defensive tone-setter. There wasn't a better one on the market. Frankly, a $20 million deal isn't catastrophic. Even in the worst-case scenario, it’s dead money in a couple of years. Look around the NBA. There is comparable dead money on the books for successful teams.

Uncle Jeff? He’s family - the Rockets had to welcome him back. He’s a nice veteran reserve. Meanwhile, we all know that the Rockets let some young players go without receiving anything in return. In time, Josh Christopher will break out and make me look like an idiot. Such is the natural order of the universe.

Then...there was Jock Landale. I don’t know about you, but this was my reaction:

“Jock Landale. Jock Landale? Jock Landale!”.

I like Jock Landale. I just wasn't expecting him. This is like going for a sip of orange juice only to find out you’re having a glass of new Coca-Cola Pulp.

What should the Rockets expect from their new backup big man?

Who is Jock Landale?

I’ll start with a less important, but still important note. Landale seems like a really good teammate and a funny guy. He should be good for the locker room.

You saw the interview, right? Landale understands that Sengun is the presumptive starter. He thinks he can carve out 18 minutes a game on this team. You’ve got to love the humility. Landale knows he’s a lunchpail player, and he’s coming to work.

Did you see his impassioned defense of Deandre Ayton? Click that link if you’ve got some extra time. Landale is absolutely going to bat for his guy. This comes in spite of the fact that, in these playoffs, the Suns fielded a strong defense with him on the floor - and a lottery-level one when Ayton was playing.

This stuff matters. The Rockets are trying to build a culture. VanVleet is a culture guy and so is Jock Landale. Still, for as much as that matters, it’s a secondary concern.

What does Landale do on the basketball floor?

What should the Rockets expect from Landale?

Well, he’s probably the best defensive big on the team from day one.

The numbers reflect that. Last season, Landale had a D-RAPTOR of +3.2. That’s a spot below Rudy Gobert and a spot above Walker Kessler.

As always, there are caveats with compound metrics. For starters, not one of them can serve as an all-encompassing measure of a player’s impact. Moreover, you’ve got to work with a fairly liberal minutes-played threshold to even bring Landale’s name up.

Still, if you’ve watched Landale, you know what he brings to that end of the floor. He’s an excellent positional defender - Landale gave Nikola Jokic a lot of trouble in this year’s playoffs (at least, as far as that’s even possible). On any given night where the Rockets need to lock down a dominant offensive big man, Landale should see a minutes increase.

He’s also a solid stationary rim protector. Landale uses his brawn, positioning and solid wingspan to stifle field goal attempts from drivers. He’s also got quick hands that allow him to make on-ball steals when the opportunity arises.

He’s not great in space. If he was, the Rockets wouldn’t have landed him for $8 million a season. Landale won’t anchor a switch-everything scheme, but he’s good in drop coverage. That’s more than we can say for any center to put on Rockets red since Clint Capela.

Offensively, Landale isn't a world-beater. Still, he’s got some skills. Passing may be his best one.

None of these clips are going to blow you away. Landale doesn’t have Alperen Sengun’s “excuse me...WHAT?” creativity. Nonetheless, he is a heady passer. Landale is a good decision-maker. That’s not exactly common in an NBA big man.

To Itamar’s point, this means that the Rockets will almost always have a plus passing big on the floor. That’s historically been a critical component of the best motion offenses - think of the Beautiful Game Spurs. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are supposed to be plus passers. The game isn't so beautiful if Tim Duncan and Boris Diaw aren’t providing additional support in that area.

Meanwhile, Ime Udoka is directly from the Gregg Popovich tree. He’s going to want to implement a motion-style offense. Landale’s passing can keep his system firing when Sengun needs a breather.

It might even make him the most underrated acquisition of the summer.