Ep. 86: Mbah a Moute signs with Clippers, Rockets sign James Ennis, + HOU's Pursuit of Melo

Salman Ali (@RedNationHoops) and Forrest Walker (@DUNOTS) discuss Luc Mbah a Moute leaving Houston for L.A., Clint Capela turning down $85 million, the James Ennis signing, and the Rockets' continued pursuit of Carmelo Anthony

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On Houston's Puzzling Pursuit of Carmelo Anthony

By Salman Ali on July 13, 2018
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The Houston Rockets have pursued 10-time All-Star Carmelo Anthony for a nearly a decade now. At face value, their continued pursuit makes a lot of sense. The Rockets have been an organization that's continued to aggressively pursue a 3rd championship ever since general manager Daryl Morey took over in 2007. Historically, you need star power to win a championship so pursuing Anthony made perfect sense for Houston for a long time.

Report: James Ennis Agrees to Two-Year Deal with the Rockets

By Jorge Flores on July 11, 2018

The Houston Rockets have agreed to a two-year deal with James Ennis, according to Yahoo's Shams Charania. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle confirmed that the deal is for the veteran minimum and that Ennis has a player option on the second year.

After essentially losing its entire Small Forward rotation with the departures of Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute, the Rockets found themselves scrambling to replace the length, defense and shooting that Ariza and Luc brought to the table last season. James Ennis is known as a good defender and shot 36% from the three point line last season. 

Until a certain Melo-drama plays itself out in Oklahoma City, Ennis is poised to replace Ariza as starting Small Forward on what hopes to be another championship contending team.

Stay tuned to Red Nation Hoops for more from this offseason.

There's Still Time, But Houston's Had A Rough Offseason So Far

By Salman Ali on June 10, 2018

After losing Luc Mbah a Moute to the Clippers Monday night, the Houston Rockets find themselves in murky waters after coming off a wildly successful 2017-18 campaign. Mbah a Moute was a vital part of Houston's switching scheme that led to the 6th best defense in the NBA last season. To compound matters, the Rockets had already lost out starting small forward Trevor Ariza on the opening night of free agency and keeping Luc Mbah a Moute had become a priority to fill a need that was once a strength for Houston; wing depth.

Mbah a Moute is a top flight perimeter defender that the Rockets had managed to pick up on the cheap ($2.1 million) last summer. While Trevor Ariza is generally not as good defensively as his reputations suggests, losing him for what would have essentially been a luxury tax penalty is a tough blow. Houston liked to switch every ball screen and having the length of Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, and Luc Mbah a Moute really forced even the best offenses in the NBA to make difficult decisions. Without two of those defenders, it will be incredibly difficult to repeat the kind of success the Rockets had last season as their defense was the primary reason the Rockets jumped from 55 wins and a 2nd round out to 65 wins and a Western Conference Finals out the following season.

To make matters worse, the Rockets have yet to re-sign restricted free agent center Clint Capela. Capela was also a big part of Houston's switching scheme on defense and had made a significant improvement in rim protection the past two seasons. Capela was also a dynamic run runner and consistent pick and roll threat that fit perfectly alongside guards Chris Paul and James Harden. The Rockets extended a qualifying offer to Capela before free agency and apparently opened negotiations with a 4-year, $60 million offer, per ESPN's Tim MacMahon. Capela and his agent can either take the qualifying offer and enter free agency next summer or come to a deal with the Rockets this summer.

To be fair to the Rockets, there's still plenty of time to turn this around. Regular season basketball doesn't tip off until late October and the Rockets still have avenues to improve the team. They can still offer their taxpayer mid-level exception and veteran's minimum contracts to round out their roster through remaining free agents and are reportedly determined to sign forward Carmelo Anthony as soon as he is waived, per ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. They also have all of their future draft picks moving forward (aside from their 2019 2nd round pick) to make trades.

Also, few general managers in the league are as creative and patient with roster moves as Daryl Morey. He's bounced back from tough starts to offseasons before and often has contingency plans for everything that could go possibly go wrong in a summer. He's built up enough trust equity to give him the time and patience to work through this. It would be unwise to completely dismiss the Rockets this summer considering their track record.

Rockets 2018 Summer League Preview

By Kyle Chilek on June 5, 2018
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With NBA Summer League just around the corner (June 6th), fans are preparing to see their team's new rookies and their returning young player's improvements. Although the Rockets have been starved for first round draft choices, this years roster is one of the more interesting ones of the last few years for the Rockets, led by this season's 46th overall pick De'Anthony Melton.

There are three categories of players on Houston's Summer League roster: guys who the Rockets currently have the rights to (or have on a contract), players fighting for the chance at landing either a two-way or a regular roster spot, and players who have very little chance to stick around in any capacity.

Current Rockets

RJ Hunter
Guard - 24 - 4th season - Houston Rockets/Rio Grande Valley Vipers

The most experienced player of this group, RJ Hunter returns on the second year of his two-way contract signed in January. RJ Hunter is a long shooter who averaged 20 points a game on over 60% true shooting and 38% from three for the Vipers in the G League last season.

Although he has the length for it, RJ Hunter struggles on defense, mainly due to lapses in focus and below average athleticism for a wing. The areas to watch for him in Vegas are his defense and passing, if he can improve to even an average NBA player, he could have some utility in the league.

Chinanu Onuaku
Big - 21 - 3rd season - Houston Rockets

The 37th pick of the 2016 draft returns for his third summer league as a member of the Rockets. Onuaku spent his second season like his first, primarily assigned to the Rockets' affiliate G League team, the Vipers, and the results of this one were not encouraging. An undersized defensive specialist, Onuaku saw his stats regress across the board, going from 13.6/10.6/2.1/1.6/1.2 on 63% shooting to 10.8/9.4/2.8/1.2/0.9 on 60%.

This summer league may be his last chance to prove to the Rockets, or anyone, that he is worth keeping. Onuaku shows understanding of the game with both his exceptional positional defense and good passing, but just doesn't seem athletic enough to make up for his lack of height or lack of motor. Watch to see if Onuaku can come into the season in better shape and further hone his above average passing skills.

Zhou Qi
Big - 22 - 2nd season - Houston Rockets

After being selected 43rd in 2016 out of China, Zhou Qi spent the 2017 season overseas before coming over for his rookie season, where he spent most of his time assigned to the Vipers. In 24 G League games Zhou Qi averaged 11 points, 6.25 rebounds and over 2 blocks a game on 59% true shooting and 33% from deep, often playing as a four. The intrigue with Qi comes from his potential as a stretch big who can also defend the rim, with a 7'7 wingspan attached to a 7'2 human being.

Qi also displays above average mobility for his height and occasionally flashes the ability to make plays off the dribble. The main thing working against Qi is his size, as he is as thin as they come. Whether or not the shooting will actually come around is another big concern. Look out for his strength level and shooting ability in Summer League, as both are vital for him as a prospect.

Isaiah Hartenstein 
Big - 20 -Rookie - Rio Grande Valley Vipers

While it isn't completely clear if Hartenstein will join the Rockets this season, I decided to include last year's 43rd overall pick because he will very likely come over next season otherwise. In a surprising, yet favorable move, Hartenstein signed a G League contract and played with the Vipers last season, averaging 9.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in just 19 minutes a game. Hartenstein is still a raw prospect who also shows flashes of a stretch big who can defend as a solid rim protector and great switch defender for a 7 footer.

Hartenstein improved a lot in his season as a Viper, and while his shaky three point shot didn't show much, his finishing at the rim is leaps and bounds ahead of where it was to start the season. I believe Hartenstein is athletic enough to be a low end backup even if he doesn't develop a three point shot, and a high end one if he does. The biggest thing to watch is Hartenstien's three point shot, as it has some mechanical problems that need to be ironed out.

Gary Clark
Big - 23 - Rookie - Cincinnati

Now we get into this season's rookies, beginning with undrafted free agent turned two-way player, Gary Clark. In his time in Cincinnati, Gary Clark earned both ACC player of the year and two time Defensive Player of the Year. After being little more than a hustle player on offense to begin his collegiate career, Clark showed some three point range his senior year, hitting 43.5% of his three's, but the low volume of attempts is concerning.

In addition to his rim protection duties, Clark also spent a lot of time switching in Cincinnati and can keep up with most wings and slower guards on the perimeter. His perimeter shot and ability to switch onto athletic players are areas of intrigue for Clark.

Vince Edwards
Wing - 22 - Rookie - Purdue

Acquired from the Utah Jazz on a draft night trade after being selected 52nd, Vince Edwards is a sharpshooting wing with a solid all around game. Besides hitting 40% of his threes in his last three seasons with Purdue, nothing about Edward's game really stands out, in a negative or positive way. Edwards is a capable ball mover, capable defender, can attack a hard closeout and is a solid rebounder for his position.

The lack of weaknesses in his game creates a high floor for someone picked at his position, while his lack of an elite skill also place a low ceiling on his potential outlook as a player. If Edwards can become a plus defender and continue to hit threes (and hopefully speed up his release), he can have a long career as a rotational player.

De’Anthony Melton
Guard - 20 - Rookie - USC

Perhaps the most intriguing prospect on the roster is this year's 46th overall pick, De'Anthony Melton. After looking like a borderline lottery prospect after his freshman season, Melton elected to return to USC only to be suspended for the entire season amid FBI investigations into him taking money to play for the Trojans (the NCAA is terrible). During his freshman season, Melton showed elite off ball defense, has great feel and instincts, and good on ball defense to go with it. At 6'4 with a long wingspan, Melton is possibly the best defensive guard from this draft.

Offensively Melton is a good passer, who can run a pick and roll, but struggles to create outside of that, making him more of an off-ball guard than a traditional point guard. The biggest area of concern with Melton is his three point shot, despite solid form (which appears to have improved over his season away from college basketball) he hit only 28.4% of his threes, but was not a hesitant shooter. His ball hawking defense away from the ball will be a joy to watch, and it will be interesting to see if his improved shot mechanics translate to better shooting percentages.

Fighting for a spot
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Danuel House
Wing - 25 - 3rd season - Pheonix Suns/Northern Arizona Suns

If you follow me on twitter, you probably know how highly I think of House. Much of my optimism comes from him having a clear role in the NBA as a 3&D player, as he's a great shooter (hitting nearly 40% of his threes in two G League seasons and shooting 7 a game last season) who has above average athleticism and great size.

While he didn't have much success on the Suns during his 23 NBA games, it was not a place for a player who relies on creation from other players to succeed. He may have more success on a team with good guard play and a spaced out system (sound familiar?).

Markel Brown
Wing - 26 - 4th season -  Houston Rockets/Rio Grande Valley Vipers

Brown signed a two way deal with the Rockets late last season and never got much of a chance to showcase himself due to injuries, appearing in 4 Rockets games and just 9 Vipers games. Brown is a hyper-athletic 6'3 wing who defends well but is still struggling to find an offensive niche, as he's a below average shooter with little ball skills. He's flashed the ability to score his first two seasons with the Nets. Look out to see if he can figure out how to fit into an NBA offense, either through shooting or improving his play making.

Trevon Duval
Guard - 19 - Rookie - Duke

An ultra athletic guard who somewhat surprisingly went undrafted, Duval's found his way onto Houston's Summer League roster, hoping for a chance to prove himself. Duval shows some natural point guard abilities, at times excelling as a passer despite being mistake prone, and appears very comfortable running an offense and using his athleticism to force his way to the rim.

On the defensive end, Duval uses his athletic gifts to be disruptive and get into opposing guards. The problem with Duval is that his shot is broken and may be beyond repair, as it looks very jerky causing him to struggle from the three point line as well as the free throw line.

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Long shots

Roger Mouta a Bidias

Wing - 23 -Rookie - California

Brother of Rocket's free agent Luc Mbah a Moute, Roger is also a defensive specialist who spent a very small part of last season in the G League. Roger has little to no offensive game, likely keeping him from being an NBA level player.

Deng Adel

 Wing - 22 -Rookie - Louisville

Adel is a wing in the 3&D mold who can't quite defend or shoot yet. He was an okay shooter at the college level, hitting 35% on threes for his career, but doesn't contribute much more outside of attacking a hard closeout. Defensively he has the build and okay athleticism, but doesn't have the quick twitch or instinct to be a high level defender.

Shannon Evans
Guard - 23 -Rookie - Arizona State

An undrafted point guard, Evans shot well from three his last three seasons, but his passing leaves much to be desired for his position. Evans has good lateral quickness and competes on defense, but his size isn't great.

Rob Grey
Guard - 24 -Rookie - Houston
A March Madness hero for the Cougars, Grey joins the Rockets summer league for a shot at landing in the NBA. Grey has proven to be a good shooter and scorer at the college level, but gets tunnel vision far too often and the ball tends to stick with him.

Be sure to tune in to NBA TV on June 6th at 2 P.M. Central and watch this team go up against the Indiana Pacers to open up the Las Vegas Summer League!

Ep. 85: Chris Paul resigns, Gerald Green resigns, MCW signs, and more

Salman Ali (@RedNationHoops) and Forrest Walker (@DUNOTS) discuss free agency so far for the Rockets.

(Limited caption as we're trying to release this as soon as possible.)

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Rockets Sign Michael Carter Williams

By Forrest Walker on July 3, 2018

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Via reports from sources including Wojnarowski, the Houston Rockets have come to an agreement with Michael Carter-Williams. The reported deal is a veteran minimum contract for one year. Carter-Williams was drafted with the 11th overall pick in the 2013 draft by the Philadelphia 76ers and last played for the Charlotte Hornets.

The 6'6" Carter-Williams is known for his defensive ability, and has been used as both point guard and wing at various times. He has never shot above 27% from three point range in a season. At a minimum contract, the Rockets likely hope to be able to take that risk and not be out much of anything if this gamble doesn't pay off.

Red Nation Hoops will have more analysis and commentary on this and all Rockets free agency moves in coming days.