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!

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