Sports

2021 Guide to the Rockets Brand New, Totally Young Roster

Rookie Jalen Green should make an immediate impact.
Rookie Jalen Green should make an immediate impact. Screenshot
There is something liberating about a fresh start. Ask the Rockets. Just over a year ago, during a COVID-shortened season, their hopes were pinned on an aging veteran team that included James Harden and Russell Westbrook, shepherded by a veteran coach and respected general manager.

This year after one of the craziest seasons in team history, instead of veterans (mostly) and savvy older coaching, the team has one of the youngest rosters in the NBA full of 19-year-old rookies and a second-year coach. It's the kind of makeover you expect from a TV reality show, not a basketball team.

We understand that, as fans, you may not recognize some of the names and numbers on the floor this year, so we thought it would be a good idea with preseason already underway, to help you keep them straight.

For simplicity, we will stick with the players expected to be in the rotation at some point this season. Given their youth, not surprisingly, it's still a pretty long list.


Jalen Green
Jersey: 0
Age: 19
Years: Rookie
Position: Guard


The centerpiece of the Rockets rebuild is the rookie second pick in the draft who went from high school straight to the G League. Green has unreal skills and speed. And he has supposedly put on six pounds of muscle in just a couple of months. He is the type of player who could probably lead the league in scoring within three or four years. His challenge will be on the defensive end, but his athleticism and incredible quickness should aid him in those efforts. He will be must-watch basketball.

John Wall
Jersey: 1
Age: 31
Years: 10
Position: Guard


We are including Wall here even though it was announced he would only be with the team in name and spirit. While the Rockets try to find Wall a new home via a trade, he will travel with the team, but not play in games, no doubt a precaution against injury. He remains professional and should be a solid veteran voice for some of the young players while he is here.

click to enlarge David Nwaba returns after a frustrating, injury-plagued season. - SCREENSHOT
David Nwaba returns after a frustrating, injury-plagued season.
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David Nwaba
Jersey: 2
Age: 28
Years: 5
Position: Forward


One of arguably the most important signings of the offseason was the return of Nwaba, a strong, physical guard who struggled last year with injuries. While not as young in age as some of his teammates, he has only been in the league five years and is a plus defender. It will be critical for him to remain healthy so he can provide the three-and-D threat the Rockets hoped he would deliver last year.

click to enlarge Kevin Porter, Jr. assumes the mantle of point guard and potential star in the making. - SCREENSHOT
Kevin Porter, Jr. assumes the mantle of point guard and potential star in the making.
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Kevin Porter, Jr.
Jersey: 3
Age: 21
Years: 2
Position: Guard


Much was made of Porter's comments at media day that the Rockets organization "saved" his life, and rightfully so. Porter struggled in Cleveland on and off the floor. Now, he takes the reins as the point guard of a growing team that has put him in a better place physically and emotionally. Porter and Green will be one of the most exciting backcourts in the league and they have the potential to be one of the best within a few years.

click to enlarge Danuel House has much to prove to his teammates and himself. - SCREENSHOT
Danuel House has much to prove to his teammates and himself.
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Danuel House, Jr.
Jersey: 4
Age: 28
Years: 5
Position: Forward


When teams are rebuilding, it is not uncommon to see players who have shown potential working toward their reclamation. House is one of those guys. The native Houstonian has struggled with injuries on the floor and miscues off it, but he claims to be in a much better place mentally now and is surrounded by a bunch of guys he enjoys. It's important because House does have a lot to offer on both ends of the floor and, according to reports, he has been phenomenal in training camp.

Dante Exum
Jersey: 5
Age: 26
Years: 6
Position: Guard


Speaking of reviving your career, Exum was nearly out of the league last year. A promising high draft pick, he was beset with injuries throughout his first five seasons. After being dealt to Houston, he didn't set food on the floor due to yet another injury. Few expected him to return to the Rockets or even the NBA until his eye-opening performance in the Olympics with his native Australian national team. This is likely his last chance to play in the NBA, so let's hope he makes the most of it.

Kenyon (KJ) Martin, Jr.
Jersey: 6
Age: 20
Years: 1
Position: Forward


It might be tempting to sleep a little on Martin. While his insane athleticism landed him in poster-worthy situations last season, they were almost all on the defensive side of the ball and he spent a lot of his rookie campaign in the G League. But, Martin is improving rapidly and has a chance to be a big part of this young, evolving team, particularly if his offense comes around as it began to towards the end of last season.

Armoni Brooks
Jersey: 7
Age: 23
Years: 1
Position: Guard


Brooks earned his way back onto this Rockets roster after putting up some impressive offensive numbers as last season wound down. Pure and simple, Brooks is a dead-eye shooter, probably the best on the squad. When he has been given the opportunity, he has stepped up. He is playing in a very crowded backcourt, but teams always need great distance shooters and he can fill that role.
click to enlarge Jae'Sean Tate spent the summer working on his three-point shooting. - SCREENSHOT
Jae'Sean Tate spent the summer working on his three-point shooting.
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Jae'Sean Tate
Jersey: 8
Age: 25
Years: 1
Position: Forward


Tate earned all-rookie honors last season thanks to his relentless motor on the floor. He showed a deft touch around the basket, tenaciousness on defense and endless hustle. It has been reported that he spent much of the offseason working specifically on his three-point shooting, which was just under 31 percent in his rookie season. If he can add to his arsenal by improving his jumper, it will be nearly impossible to keep him on the bench.

Josh Christopher
Jersey: 9
Age: 19
Years: Rookie
Position: Guard


The last first-round pick for the Rockets was their only college player in Christopher. With boundless energy and, like Green, a mountain of Instagram followers, Christopher feels like someone who could quickly rise the ranks this year. He will earn his paycheck defensively where he has the tools to be an elite-level perimeter defender, but he is also one of the best transition offensive players in the entire draft. If he can improve his decision making and his shooting, he could eventually be a force, but don't be surprised if he spends a little time in the G League, especially early in the season.

click to enlarge Eric Gordon remains one of the steady veterans, but for how long? - SCREENSHOT
Eric Gordon remains one of the steady veterans, but for how long?
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Eric Gordon
Jersey: 10
Age: 32
Years: 13
Position: Guard


You might wonder if Gordon wishes he didn't have to play babysitter for a bunch of teenagers. But, the veteran guard is a consummate professional and, above all else, a guy who really wants to play basketball and show he can stay healthy. He is still a plus-level defender and shooter, something the team will need along with his years of wisdom as a pro. The young guys will do well to watch how Gordon comports himself on and off the floor, and follow his example. Now, will he still be here after the trade deadline?

D.J. Augustin
Jersey: 14
Age: 33
Years: 13
Position: Guard


Speaking of veteran presence, some may have forgotten Augustin played for the Rockets last year. But, the talented point guard remains a very solid option coming off the bench. Despite the rebuild, the Rockets aren't going to purposefully lose games. Ultimately, they want to win and veterans like Augustin provide stability and a chance to help them notch some victories in the process.

Usman Garuba
Jersey: 16
Age: 19
Years: Rookie
Position: Center


We didn't get to see much from Garuba in the summer league because of his late arrival due to duties with his Spanish national team. But, he is a defensive beast who will command respect on that end of the floor almost immediately. With long arms and reportedly an almost insatiable hustle on the floor, he is going to win fans and help the team win games. Expect him to spend at least a little time in the G League honing his offensive skills, but he will be back and impactful sooner rather than later.

click to enlarge Veteran big man Daniel Theis will try to help shore up the middle. - SCREENSHOT
Veteran big man Daniel Theis will try to help shore up the middle.
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Daniel Theis
Jersey: 27
Age: 29
Years: 3
Position: Center


Theis was the Rockets' biggest name signing of free agency. After losing Kelly Olynyk in the offseason, the team needed a legitimate center to hit the glass and protect the rim. That is exactly what they got with Theis, a German-born big man who spent his first three years in the states bouncing between Boston, Toronto and Chicago. He should work well alongside Christian Wood and others, allowing them a bit more freedom defensively.

click to enlarge Rookie Alperen Sengun (right) brings a batch of unique skills in the post. - SCREENSHOT
Rookie Alperen Sengun (right) brings a batch of unique skills in the post.
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Alperen Sengun
Jersey: 28
Age: 19
Years: Rookie
Position: Center


Big men like Sengun used to represent a bit of a novelty in the NBA. Tall guys who would normally play in the block, but have Euro skills like passing and taking the ball off the dribble. Now, with players like Nikola Jokic, the player to whom Sengun is occasionally compared, it's become the norm. Sengun will need to find his spot in this league as he has a bit of old basketball soul in him as a back-to-the-basket scorer with outstanding footwork. But, he's a good defender and is learning to shoot from distance — a skill he will need and already seems to have the aptitude for — which will make him much more dangerous as he gains experience. But, he dominated his league in Turkey, one of the best leagues on the planet, at age 18 and that's saying something.

click to enlarge Christian Wood will have a boatload of young talent to work with this season. - SCREENSHOT
Christian Wood will have a boatload of young talent to work with this season.
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Christian Wood
Jersey: 35
Age: 26
Years: 5
Position: Center

With all of the hoopla surrounding Green and the other Rockets rookies, it is easy to forget that Wood, who has really only played two full seasons of games in the NBA, is one of the best young talents in the league. His skills running the floor will be complimented by Green and Porter. The key for Wood will be staying healthy, but he and the other young players on this team have the makings of a very talented core of players for years to come.
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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