Things have changed pretty drastically for the Houston Rockets in a short period of time. For the better part of the last decade, the Rockets were a consistent contender led by a perennial MVP candidate in James Harden. Now, they’re a lottery team heading into their second straight rebuilding season following the trade that sent Harden to Brooklyn in January.
Houston finished dead last in the Western Conference standings last season, and they’re not projected to fare much better during their upcoming campaign. The good news for Rockets fans, though, is that the team has been able to quickly amass a lot of young talent. Guys like Kevin Porter Jr., Kenyon Martin Jr., and Jae’Sean Tate have shown a lot of potential. The team also used the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft on Jalen Green, who is potentially a generational perimeter player. If those players are ultimately able to reach their potential, individually and collectively, the Rockets could be back in the contender conversation in short order. With that said, here’s a look at Houston’s roster and three key storylines to watch ahead of the ’21-22 season.
Houston Rockets roster
- Guards: D.J. Augustin, Armoni Brooks, Josh Christopher, Dante Exum, Eric Gordon, Jalen Green, Daishen Nix, Khyri Thomas, John Wall
- Forwards: Usman Garuba, Danuel House Jr., Matt Hurt, Anthony Lamb, Kenyon Martin Jr., David Nwaba, Kevin Porter Jr., Jae’Sean Tate, Christian Wood
- Centers: Alperen Sengun, Daniel Theis
1. All eyes on Jalen Green
The Rockets could have gone in a bunch of different directions with the second overall pick in the ’21 draft, as the class was widely considered to be a deep one. They ultimately went with Green, and for good reason, since he has an extremely high ceiling. How high? Hall-of-Fame-level high, according to CBS Sports’ Colin Ward-Henninger, who compared Green to Clyde Drexler prior to the draft. Here’s what he had to say:
Drexler is a little bit taller, but Green possesses similar freakish athleticism, quickness and three-level scoring ability. If Green continues to add weight and improve his ball-handling and playmaking skills (which he’s done consistently in his career thus far), he could approximate Clyde the Glide’s rebounding and assist numbers as well. It’s going to take a lot of growth, but Green’s upside is that of an All-NBA scoring guard and eventual Hall of Famer.
If Summer League was any indication, Green could be poised for a big rookie year. He played in three games in Vegas and averaged 20.3 points per performance on 51 percent shooting from the floor, and looked very solid in the process:
Given the current state of the Rockets, Green should see ample on-court opportunity right away. And while no one is expecting him to morph into Clyde Drexler during his rookie campaign, people — especially those in Houston — will certainly be looking for signs of superstardom. As such, Green’s play will be a central storyline during the Rockets’ upcoming campaign.
2. Continued development of young core
Green’s continued development will be central to the Rockets’ success moving forward, but he’s not the only young player on Houston’s roster worth keeping an eye on. Kevin Porter Jr. showed a lot of promise for the Rockets after being traded to the team from the Cleveland Cavaliers in January. In 26 games for Houston last season, Porter Jr. averaged 16.6 points, 6.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds per performance. He also became the youngest player in NBA history to have 50-plus points and 10-plus assists in a game against the Milwaukee Bucks in April.
Also, Houston should be excited about the potential of both Jae’Sean Tate and Kenyon Martin Jr. after their promising play as rookies last season.
Tate appeared in 70 games — and started in 58 of them — and averaged 11.3 points, 5.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.2 steals in 29.2 minutes per performance. As a result of his productive play he was named to the 2021 NBA All-Rookie First Team. He also appeared to grow increasingly comfortable as the season went on, which is a solid sign for the Rockets.
Martin Jr. was also named to an All-Rookie First Team last season — in the G League. In addition to his play in the G League, Martin Jr. also appeared in 45 games for the Rockets and averaged 9.3 points and 5.4 rebounds per game while shooting over 50 percent from the floor. Like all rookies, both players still have a lot of growing to do, but there’s plenty of reason for optimism when it comes to Houston’s young core.
3. The (brief) John Wall era will end
John Wall appeared in 40 games for the Rockets during the 2020-21 campaign after being traded to the team in December in exchange for Russell Westbrook. Wall had a solid season, averaging 20.6 points, 6.9 assists, 3.2 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 32.2 minutes of action per performance. Given the fact that he was coming off of an Achilles injury, his play was pretty promising. However, it appears as though his playing days in Houston are numbered.
The Rockets are actively looking to trade Wall, and he won’t play for the team in the meantime. The Rockets reportedly recently met with Wall and explained that they prefer to go in a younger direction after adding four first-round picks in this year’s draft. As of now, there are no plans to work on a buyout for Wall, who still has two years and $91.7 million left on his current contract. The final year of the deal is a player option worth $47 million that he’s likely to exercise.
In exchange for Wall, the Rockets will likely be looking for young players with high upside and/or draft picks so that they can continue their rebuild. It will be interesting to see where Wall ultimately ends up, and what the Rockets get in return for the former All-Star.
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