Four Takeaways from the Rockets Summer League Performance

Jabari Smith is no longer a rookie and he looks the part.
Jabari Smith is no longer a rookie and he looks the part. Photo by Jeff Balke
What, you thought this was baseball season? Who are we kidding? Training camp opens in the NFL in mere weeks, college football actual games are just around the corner and, yes, the NBA is back on the radar. After adding a new head coach, drafting a pair of first rounders and a flurry of activity in free agency, the Rockets have settled into their offseason routine, which includes the NBA's annual summer league in Las Vegas.

This has been a unique offseason for the Rockets as they (hopefully) finally begin to emerge from their annual lose-a-lot-draft-high-cross-their-fingers routine the last several seasons. Yes, seeing Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks on the floor will be fun, but first we need to scope out some rookies and second year veterans at summer league and this year's crop for the Rockets did not disappoint getting all the way to the finals.

'Bari and Tari are good to go.

Jabari Smith, Jr. and Tari Eason, both drafted in the first round in 2022, decided to play in a few early summer league games and the results were positive. Eason was his solid self, playing hard defense and getting to the rim. He showed exactly what we saw last season. Smith was a different story. While he struggled a bit before finding his footing towards the end of the season, he was absolutely dominant in Vegas.

Smith played in two games and still was one of the top five scorers in the entire mini-tournament including hitting the game winner in game one. He was aggressive getting to the basket and playing defense on the perimeter. It was an impressive and heartening performance from the sophomore.

Amen Thompson's abbreviated stint showed promise.

The fourth pick in the first round managed only a single game before spraining an ankle in the final minute of the first content (it's not serious). But, he displayed the kind of flashes offensively and defensively that put him at the top of the Rockets draft board. He showed elite speed getting to the basket, deft handles and some very impressive defense. He still needs to improve his shooting (1-1 from three does not a trend make), but his ability to get to the basket and distribute the ball is tantalizing.

Cam Whitmore's performance was eye opening.

Taken with the 20th pick in the draft after many thought he would go in the top five, Whitmore seemed to take out his frustrations in Las Vegas. He was one of the top scorers, was all over the floor defensively and played with a level of energy and athleticism that earned him MVP of the summer league. Granted, this was the summer league, but he came to play with skills that looked completely translatable to the NBA including his tenacious defense and perimeter shooting. You could even see his growth in distributing the ball in just the handful of games over the course of 10 days. Teams are going to regret not taking him.

Do not sleep on the two-way guys.

It's easy for fans to forget about or overlook players who have come from the G League and early two-way contracts with their pro clubs. But the Rockets have returned a pair of guys they think highly of in guard Trevor Hudgins and forward Darius Days. Hudgins, a lefty point guard, displayed his ability to manage a game and distribute the ball along with a consistent outside shot. Days, on the other hand, has great size and a nice three-point stroke. Either or both of them could factor into the team's depth chart, particularly if there are injuries.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke