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ProdiG’s Thoughts: Rockets Free Agency, Summer League Preview

David Nwaba Free Agency signing:

To me, while bringing back David Nwaba wasn’t a necessity, it certainly isn’t a bad move, especially due to the format of the contract in question. When we look at the Rockets timeline from a cap space perspective, we can see that while Eric Gordon and John Wall are here, the Rockets won’t be major players in free agency. As such, any contracts that encompass this year and the next one don’t really damage the Rockets’ ability to generate cap space, since they wouldn’t have it anyway. Having the option to get off Nwaba’s salary when it truly matters, in the 2023 off-season, when Wall and Gordon are off the books and the Rockets aim to get back to playoff contention, is the key in this deal. The space likely couldn’t be used for anything better anyway.

Now that contracts are out of the way, what does Nwaba bring to an inexperienced rebuilding team who’s looking to get minutes to their young core? – Nwaba brings the intensity defensively, something that usually young teams lack. As an incredibly athletic 6ft5 Shooting Guard, Nwaba fits the archetype Jalen Green and Josh Christopher should aim to become on the defensive end and I believe Nwaba can mentor them into becoming their best selves there. Nwaba, known as someone who takes pride in sacrificing for his teammates, I would guess won’t demand too much playing time. At the same time, he is able to play the 3, the position the Rockets are the least deep at, especially if Danuel House is eventually moved as has been speculated all over Rockets circles.

This leaves us with KJ Martin/Tate to play SF/PF, Nwaba and Gordon to play SF/SG, Christopher likely headed to the G-League, Jalen Green as a SG that might have to play SF due to inability to get rid of Wall, and Wall/KPJ/Augustin as true point guards.

Credit: ClutchPoints

Daniel Theis Free Agency signing:

From a financial standpoint, Theis is a bit more of a head-scratcher. While $9M AAV for a player of Theis’ caliber doesn’t sound too bad now, I would even call it an asset, I’m not sure he will be all the way until he is 33. Either way, that might not matter. Theis signed a 3+1 deal, meaning that the last year of the deal is a Team Option. That’s the kind of flexibility contenders love on their role players. I expect Theis to be shopped every trade deadline.

In the end, I expect this signing was capitalizing on the Victor Oladipo TPE that was bound to expire soon, turning it into an asset they can later sell for some palpable assets, maybe a late first-round pick from a contender. While this might seem farfetched right now, think, wouldn’t you have given up a late FRP during the Harden days for a Center who is a dog on defense, is switchable enough, and can shoot the 3 to some extent? I definitely would have if he only cost $9M a year.

From an on-court production standpoint, Theis, much like Nwaba, is a high motor guy on the defensive end, which in my opinion hints back at the fact that Rafael Stone continuously talks about a culture reset. Theis and Nwaba match in that sense, bringing the defensive intensity, and, hopefully, he can rub off on Alperen Sengun and show him the ropes on the defensive end where Sengun lacks. Theis isn’t a very athletic guy, the same applies to Sengun, so maybe there are some tricks to be taught there. When it comes to the rotation, the Rockets’ frontcourt is now somewhat crowded, so let’s analyze it:

  • Christian Wood – Can freely play the 4 and the 5. Would be intrigued to have him play the 5 with Garuba at the 4 but with any other frontcourt partner I believe he should play the 4.
  • Daniel Theis – Believe he should be playing the 5 in any iteration of the roster
  • Usman Garuba – While it is rumored that he will start in the G-League, I like him mostly playing the 4 or as a small ball 5 in a highly switchable defensive lineup, meaning all 3 of the others wouldn’t be on the court. Especially intrigued about him with offensive powerhouses in Wood/Sengun, while spacing might be an issue with Sengun.
  • Alperen Sengun – People consistently mention him as someone who can play the 4, but I don’t believe that will be the case, at least during his rookie season, and with these partners in the frontcourt, I struggle to see him anywhere else other than the 5. Don’t think we’ll ever see him and Theis share the floor together.

So Theis does somewhat complement the Rockets’ frontcourt that was looking pretty thin thus far. I believe guys like House or KJ Martin or even Tate will be able to slot at the 4 in certain lineups but nothing significant enough to include them in this analysis. Unless, of course, Garuba is indeed sent to the G-League, opening up minutes for those guys.

What to look forward to in Summer League:

  • Jalen Green – Quite honestly, I believe Jalen Green faced tougher competition in the G-League than he will in the Summer League, so I expect to see him dominate on the offensive end if that’s the role that’s assigned to him, which I expect it will be. It will be interesting to see what he’s worked on since the GLeague finished, since it’s been a while since we’ve seen him perform. I’d keep a lookout mainly for his passing and the reps he should get on the PnR with Sengun.
  • Josh Christopher – From Christopher, I have no clue what to expect. I think most of what he showed in college doesn’t match up with the player he is. I’ve said this before, but ASU’s system was a lot of “my turn, your turn,” which led to their point guard hogging the ball a lot, leaving other players to try and do too much when they did get the ball. The spacing was also pretty atrocious, so it will be really interesting to see what he can make happen in a better system. Hopefully, he proves these theories right and looks a bit more in control and that helps with his shot selection.
  • Alperen Sengun – When it comes to Sengun, I expect him to either completely dominate in the post given the touches or to be double-teamed a lot, in which case he usually finds the correct passes. The Summer League will be fairly poor when it comes to defensive big man (besides Mobley, of course), so I expect a player as mature as Sengun in the post to absolutely dominate. The question will be whether he gets the chances to do so, and I believe he will. What other reason could you possibly have to select Alperen if you arent going to exploit his best trait, even in a game for peanuts? It will be very interesting to see how well he does on defense. I think he will do well, but I don’t think thats going to be indicative of anything at the NBA level, sadly, where I think he will struggle a lot during his first season at the very least.
  • Usman Garuba – Usman has been playing for Spain in the Olympics until this last week, so even though he is on the list for the Rockets in the Summer League, it’s possible that he doesnt arrive until later on in the week, as Jonathan Feigen alluded to. Usman was also in Spain just this week, so one could assume he’s going to get some days off before going to Las Vegas. As far as his play goes, we can expect his well-documented defensive prowess to show against lower-level/inexperienced talent in the Summer League. The two main things to watch for will be how much he fouls now that he’s playing by the NBA’s softer rulebook and how far along is his corner 3 is, which should impact the amount of minutes he’ll get at the next level quite a bit. PSA: In the Summer League players are allowed 10 fouls per game, as opposed to the normal NBA 6.

All in all, I expect a pretty exciting week for the Rockets fandom. We finally get to watch these guys we’ve been drooling about for months take the court in Rockets gear and it will definitely bring some much-needed positivity after a year as tough as the Rockets have had. Be sure to just enjoy it and not panic at mistakes, because they will happen. None of these guys are NBA level yet. Also be sure to join me and Don Knock every gameday on our Watch Party via Twitter Spaces, follow @ProdiGOnTwitt3r and @DonKnock for future updates!

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Mr. T

    August 8, 2021 at 10:02 am

    Insightful article that gave me a great feeler for what to expect! This has me cautiously optimistic about all of the drafted players for their Summer League debut. I agree that Theis and Nwaba will be positive vet influences to the young players and hopefully set the tone on how to play FROM Day 1 and habitualize the grit and grind mentality.

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