There have been more turnovers this offseason with the Houston Rockets than we have seen in quite some time and that is saying something considering the number of moves made by previous GM Daryl Morey. The roster was virtually overhauled with free agent signings and trades involving star and role players, never mind a new coach and general manager.
This might be difficult for some fans, who may have understandably found their interest waning over the last year, particularly with the pandemic raging and more pressing issues on the table. We won't dig into the new coach or GM now, but we thought a primer on some of the new faces might help, particularly when even we have, at times, been a little confused with who is on the floor in the first couple games.
Let's start at the top with John Wall, the third Rockets All-Star point guard in three years. Out with Russell Westbrook after he was brought in at the urging of James Harden to replace Chris Paul and in with Wall, who missed the last two seasons with a series of injuries including a torn Achilles, one of a group of players on this team with similar injuries. Many were concerned that his greatest attribute before the injury, his blazing speed, would be compromised, but it appears not to be the case. Wall looks and says he feels as spry as ever and he's a couple years younger than Westbrook (who is younger than Paul) with less tread on the tires.
Wall represents something of a middle ground between the floor general in Paul and the ball dominant Westbrook. Wall may have a better chance of fitting in with Harden, assuming he remains here for the entire season. He's a better shooter than Westbrook and more athletic than Paul. He doesn't need the ball nearly as much but has the same ability to get past defenders and hit open shooters. Time will tell if it works, but getting Wall was a necessary move and could be a plus in the end.
One of the most interesting and impactful moves of the entire NBA offseason was the sign-and-trade that brought Wood to Houston from Detroit. Not only did the Rockets have to move Robert Covington, who they had acquired for Clint Capela midway through last season, but Wood gave them the thing they had wanted for years: a legitimate athletic, three-point-shooting big man. But, there were no real guarantees. Wood was still a bit of a question mark. Un-drafted, he played for five teams in four years, with only glimpses of his talents until reaching Detroit last year and getting increased minutes after an injury to Andre Drummond.
The Rockets took a chance and it appears to have paid off. In four games (a very limited sample size, admittedly), Wood is averaging 23 points and nearly 11 rebounds. He is shooting 62 percent from the floor and 35 percent from the three-point line, and has become both a lob threat and a tough guard in the post. Even more than Wall, Wood has become the impact player the Rockets have wanted from the center spot for years.
Speaking of centers, we come to the second of Team Achilles, Boogie Cousins. Like Wall, he sat out most of the last two years with an ankle injury. But he entered camp on a one-year deal in tremendous shape. In his last serious playing time two seasons ago, he averaged 16 points and nearly 7 boards for the Warriors, helping them to the NBA Finals where they lost to the Raptors. Cousins, like Wood, brings length in the post, something the Rockets have sorely lacked. He also brings shooting range for a big man and a pretty solid set that seem to have remained intact during his convalescence.
He and Wall played together at Kentucky. Both are 30 and if they can recover from their injuries offer the Rockets something of a new feel and attitude. As a backup center, he's pretty tough to beat for a team that values his size, veteran experience and shooting skills.
Remember when Rockets fans had never heard of Kyle Lowry? What about Patrick Beverly? Keep that in mind when you watch Tate, a tenacious, rangy wing man who has only played two seasons out of college, both overseas. Tate was coveted by a number of teams and was widely considered as one of the best prospects outside of the United States before he signed with the Rockets. Watching him play, it's easy to understand why.
He has been compared often to P.J. Tucker for his toughness and energy on the floor. But, Tate has much better handles than another newcomer — Sterling Brown — because he has spent a lot of time at guard and has a somewhat lankier frame than the stout Tucker. He also has some nifty moves around the basket and a solid outside shot. His intensity on the floor, however, is much like Tucker and is already winning him fans among the Rockets faithful and his teammates.
Brown is another guy you had probably never heard of when the Rockets signed the 25-year-old guard to a deal this offseason. He played three seasons in Milwaukee and was considered a 3-and-D player that would add to the team's depth. He was a solid outside shooter, but no one expected him to start the season shooting 60 percent from beyond the arc or 70 percent overall.
Also a solid defender, Brown has a real shot at being part of the team's regular rotation and will certainly see minutes throughout a year with fewer games and likely absences due to the pervasive pandemic. But if he keeps shooting like he is now (he's a career 35 percent shooter from deep), his role is likely to increase into more than just a body to play defense and shoot the occasional three.
The best way to recognize Nwaba is as one of the only other guys on the floor with a rather large beard. No one can compete with, well, "The Beard," but this young swing man comes close. Nwaba has bounced around the league playing on four teams in four seasons prior to joining the Rockets. The 28-year-old forward's last season in Brooklyn was cut short by, you guessed it, a torn Achilles. But, he rebounded quickly and is a solid addition to this Rockets roster.
Like a couple of his teammates, Nwaba is a long-armed wing player with excellent athleticism, good defensive awareness and a nice shooting touch from distance. In his abbreviated season last year, he shot 42 percent from three. Guys like Nwaba, Brown and Tate will likely get somewhat inconsistent minutes throughout the year, but they all contribute to what is likely to be one of the league's better benches.
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