The NBA's summer league, held annually in Las Vegas, is the first way for young players to distinguish themselves to prospective teams. For many teams, it is simply an attempt to find a diamond in the rough. But, amid the stumbles and errant passes — and occasional highlight reel dunk — of cobbled together squads this season is a group that may represent a fairly significant portion of the Houston Rockets roster with more on the line than just a chance to land on a team's G League affiliate.
The Rockets made a transition from the end of the pandemic-shortened 2020 season to here about as quickly as any team possibly could. From one of the older teams with veteran coaching and GM leadership hoping for a championship to nearly the youngest roster, rookie coaching and front office staff, and a rebound from the league's worst record in just under a year, you'd be forgiven if you felt like you had whiplash.
But for the all the struggles and myriad number of players most of us had never heard of, the young core of this team has come together quickly and some of it is on display in Vegas this week including first round picks Jalen Green, Alperen Sengun and Josh Christopher with their first action as pros.
Green is clearly the one everyone's eyes are on from his first game against fellow top-five pick Evan Mobley to Tuesday night's square off against first pick Cade Cunningham. But, we are also seeing why Sengun is likely to be a fan favorite and Christopher may have been undervalued in the draft. That doesn't even count players who have already been on the roster like KJ Martin, Armoni Brooks, Khyri Thomas and Anthony Lamb, or the other first round pick, Usman Garuba, who has yet to arrive from the Olympics where he played with the Spanish national team.
Keep in mind that at least two of those four picks will make the 15-man roster (Green and Sengun) and the other two have a shot as well, particularly Christopher with his skills on defense and in transition. Martin will certain be on the roster as will Thomas who signed with the team in the offseason and showed real promise at the end of last season. Brooks is another guy who, with his shooting ability, could become a two-way player between the club and the G League.
So, watching these games is indeed a primer for a lot of what we will likely see come October, minus some other serious young talent like Christian Wood, Kevin Porter, Jr. and Jae'Sean Tate.
Still, when put all together, even if veterans like John Wall, D.J. Augustin and Eric Gordon remain with the team, fans should be prepared for a season that will be a lot of fun to watch, but not necessarily with a lot of W's in the left column at the end of the season. Young teams lack the experience needed to challenge veteran teams on a night-in-night-out basis, even if Green played in the G League last year.
If the team is competing for the playoffs within a couple of years, healthy and generally intact (with talent added in subsequent offseasons), this season is a win no matter what the record says.
So, for now, enjoy the show because, if you've seen even a little bit of the summer league, it's going to be a good one this fall.