Sports

Observations on the Young Rockets at the Las Vegas Summer League

Jabari Smith's defense was on full display during summer league.
Jabari Smith's defense was on full display during summer league. Screenshot
The Rockets completed summer league play in Las Vegas on Saturday going 2-3 in utterly meaningless and semi-entertaining affairs meant to give rookies their first dip into the NBA waters and fringe players a chance to catch on with teams. For the Rockets, it was a chance to show off their three new rookies and a few guys like Josh Christopher and Daishen Nix, getting some organized play in during the summer.

All eyes were certainly on number three pick Jabari Smith, Jr., but Tari Eason and TyTy Washington showed flashes of why the Rockets selected them in the first round. It's going to be fairly quiet for the NBA until training camps open in about 12 weeks, so let's review what happened at summer league and what it means, if anything.

Let's start with Jabari Smith.

Smith could not hit the ocean from the boat when it came to his shot, but his smooth stroke and the fact he shot better than 40 percent in college should ease any worries fans may have. What remains really special about this rookie is not just his defensive ability — he looks like he's guarding everyone on the floor at once — but his level of intensity on defense. Once his shot starts falling, he is going to be dangerous.

All the Rockets players showed up.

We are unsure if this happened with any other team, but the entire Rockets roster (minus Boban, who was in Serbia for their national team) was in Las Vegas working out. The veterans rented a high school gym and were doing organized workouts. That feels like a good omen.

Josh Christopher probably didn't need to be there.

The second-year wing man says he is dedicated to improving his defense and becoming a legitimate two-way player. It was tough to gauge his defense, but he was clearly the best scorer on the floor for the four games he played. Hopefully, that work ethic translates to next season.

Tari Eason displayed plenty of tangible skills.

In addition to Eason being a guy fans are going to love — he hustles all over the floor like his life depends on it — but he was a reliable rebounder and better shooter than we expected. He will need to improve his jumper and occasionally gets tunnel vision on offense, but his showing was one of the most impressive of any rookie at summer league.

Usman Garuba didn't play because of injury.

The second-year big man who played sparingly outside of the G League last year has supposedly improved his shot dramatically, but we didn't get to see him due to an ankle injury. Garuba was sidelined much of last year with injuries. Let's hope this isn't something that lingers. The Rockets could use more length in the frontcourt.

Daishen Nix was surprising.

Many probably haven't even heard of Nix, who played mostly in the G League last season. But he made a name for himself this summer as someone with size who can handle the ball. A beefy point guard with range, he certainly will compete not just for a roster spot, but for rotational playing time this year.

Don't sleep on TyTy Washington.

Speaking of potential rotational players in the backcourt, the Rockets third first round pick this year showed flashes of what made him a potential lottery pick before he was injured during his college season. He might have been the most mature player on the floor despite his young age. His poise will make for an interesting battle at backup point guard and his floater is legit.

No overreactions necessary.

Set aside the record. Ignore Smith's shooting percentage. But, also don't go overboard on the successes of anyone either. Most of the players that gather in Las Vegas in the summer will not play for an NBA team this season...or ever. The real test comes this fall when they lace up for real. Until then, it was fun to watch, but we shouldn't try and take too much away from it until we see them with the big boys.
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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