2021 has come to an end! It has been a time of change for the Houston Rockets, beginning last year with perennial league MVP candidate James Harden still on the team, and finishing it with a bright young group of rookies and potential future stars. Here’s hoping that 2022 brings more highlight plays, more top draft picks, and more players who want to be here.
As a team, the Rockets currently sit in last place in the Western Conference with a record of 10-26. Despite the last-place record, though, there have been plenty of positives early in the season. After a 1-16 start, Coach Stephen Silas changed his rotations to open up the floor more; this has resulted in wins in 9 of their last 19 games, including a historic 7-game winning streak, which made the Rockets the first team in NBA history to win 7 in a row after 15 straight losses.
Already at nearly the halfway point in the NBA season believe it or not, it is the perfect time to take stock of the roster and mark everyone’s progress. The report card grades for each player will be based on my initial projections coming into the season, with a “C” being the baseline grade.
Who has exceeded expectations? Who has fallen short of them? Keep on reading below to find out Apollo’s official report card grades for every Rockets player in the 2021-22 season so far.
DJ Augustin: C+
When DJ Augustin is in the rotation, he is in charge of running the second unit. In that role, Augustin has averaged 2.3 assists and 1.3 turnovers on 14.7 minutes per night. His 41.3 3PT% ranks second on the team, and his 90.6 FT% is sorely needed on a Rockets team that ranks dead last in free throw shooting.
Augustin’s most notable performance of the year came earlier in December in a matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. He dropped 22 points on 7 for 9 shooting from the field, including a remarkable 6 for 7 from three-point land. His inspired play that night helped the Rockets complete an epic 19-point comeback victory. Augustin is the oldest player on the Rockets’ roster, but has proven to be a capable contributor time and time again.
Armoni Brooks: B
Armoni Brooks did not see consistent playing time until the Rockets played the Boston Celtics on November 22nd. The Rockets went on to lose their 15th straight game that night, but Brooks had a standout performance. He hasn’t looked back since.
Brooks has played an essential role for the Rockets over the past month. Although he only has a 32.2 3PT%, opposing teams respect his shooting ability behind the arc. This allows for his teammates to excel off of his on-court gravity.
Josh Christopher: A
Josh Christopher was supposed to see extended time in the G-League this season, but strong showings at Rio Grande Valley and practice earned him a spot in the Rockets’ rotation.
On December 8th, Josh Christopher played the game of his life against James Harden and the Brooklyn Nets. And it just so happened to be on his 20th birthday.
Since being inserted into the lineup, here are Josh Christopher’s rookie rankings amongst guards (last 13 games):
- Total Points: 3rd
- Total Rebounds: 7th
- Total Assists: 3rd
- Total Steals: 2nd
- Total Minutes: 4th
- True Shooting %: 3rd (Min. 100 minutes played)
Usman Garuba: N/A
Usman Garuba has seen limited action this season. He’s only played in 13 of 36 games, with most of those being garbage time minutes. He gets an incomplete grade for now, but look for him to pick up more minutes later in the season.
Eric Gordon: A+
Coming into the year, it was widely anticipated that Eric Gordon would likely be shipped away to a contender by the trade deadline. I do not think anyone expected him to play this well, though. Based off his performances this season, a contender would be wise to make a move for him.
With a TS% of 62.8, Gordon is having the most efficient season of his career. He is also having a career year from three-point land, shooting 44.7%, which ranks 5th best in the NBA amongst all qualifying players.
Jalen Green: B
The #2 selection of last year’s draft has shown flashes of excellence. He has missed several games due to injury, but his ability to score at will has been one of the biggest positives of the season so far.
In only his third career game, Green scored 30 points and made 8 of his 10 three-point attempts, which is the rookie record for made threes by a Rockets player. Outside of a few great games during the 1-16 start, Jalen Green was ultimately a victim of the Rockets’ floor spacing issues. Since the rotation change and his return from injury, here are Jalen Green’s averages in his four games back:
- 17.8 Points
- 52.2 FG%
- 48.1 3PT%
- 90.9 FT%
- 69.8 TS%
Kenyon Martin Jr.: B
Kenyon Martin Jr. is a human highlight reel.
If he isn’t skying high for a block defensively, you’ll see him on the offensive end of the court finishing a jaw dropping slam. In only 18 minutes a night, Martin Jr. has 40 dunks on the year, which ranks 22nd in the NBA and 1st among all small forwards.
The Rockets count on KJ to bring high level energy and effort every time he touches the floor, and he has fulfilled that task more times than not this season.
Garrison Matthews: A+
The Rockets signed Garrison Matthews to a two-way contract at the beginning of the season. When Matthews was called up from the Rockets’ G-League affiliate in the middle of November, nobody really batted an eye. He was not expected to make much impact at all.
Fast forward to now: Garrison Matthews has cemented himself a new 4-year contract and a sweet nickname to go along with it.
Garry Bird has tremendously helped the Rockets space the floor. Add that along with his defensive grittiness, and you have a player that has quickly established himself as one of the key cogs in the Rockets’ future.
David Nwaba: C
David Nwaba is a high energy player that defends at a high level. That was always how he was going to earn his minutes from Stephan Silas. However, Nwaba was a part of Houston’s early season struggles due to his inability to consistently knock down open threes (20.0 3PT%). This has caused him to fall out of the rotation.
It is worth noting that Nwaba has played in recent games due to injuries and players being in COVID protocols. Since being reinserted, he has done a solid job of fulfilling his role of causing havoc defensively.
Kevin Porter Jr.: C+
There was speculation Kevin Porter Jr. could be an NBA Most Improved Player candidate, but he unfortunately has not played nearly well enough to be considered in that conversation at all.
It was key for KPJ to develop his playmaking abilities with his move to PG, but his early-season struggles have made him the sixth-most turnover-prone player in the NBA. There is room for optimism, though. Since the Rockets changed their rotations and increased their floor spacing, KPJ has averaged 9 assists per game in his five full games.
Porter Jr. has also exceeded expectations defensively. He ranks 1st on the Rockets in defensive rating (minimum 100 minutes played).
Alperen Şengün: A+
Alperen Şengün has quickly become a fan favorite in Houston, and rightfully so.
The Turkish MVP has exceeded all expectations by displaying his on-court IQ, his unique passing ability, and his post scoring tactics that often leave viewers in awe. Despite his excellence, Şengün only averages 18.4 minutes per game – a point of major contention amongst Rockets fans. As long as he is able to get his fouling issues under control, though, his minutes should heavily increase in the latter half of the season.
Outside of that, Şengün’s play has many confident that he can become a franchise cornerstone for the Rockets going forward.
The only thing left to do is find him a nickname.
Jae’Sean Tate: A
Jae’Sean Tate is the heart and soul of this Rockets team. He always gives 110% effort, and nightly takes on the task of guarding the opposing team’s best player.
Against the Oklahoma City Thunder on December 1st, Tate had the best game of his young NBA career:
Tate has been one of the few Rockets players to excel throughout the entire season – even during the losing streak. The only thing keeping him from an A+ ranking is his below-average 3PT shooting at 30.7%.
Daniel Theis: D
Daniel Theis was signed to be a defensive anchor alongside Christian Wood. Theis’ strong defensive presence in the paint was supposed to relieve Wood of duties of having to guard bigger centers, but this plan quickly backfired for the Rockets. Theis’ defense wasn’t the problem, but his pairing next to Christian Wood had one of the worst front-court net ratings in the entire NBA.
His inability to earn respect from NBA defenders behind the arc hurt a Rockets team that desperately needed to space the floor to have success. Thus, Theis was removed from the starting lineup, freeing up Christian Wood to play as the lone center.
Theis hasn’t seen the floor much since.
John Wall: N/A
As we all know by now, John Wall has not played a game for the Rockets this season.
On November 28th, Wall expressed interest in rejoining the Rockets only under the condition that he would be a member of the starting lineup. The Rockets’ front office was not willing to agree to those terms, and they will continue to try to find a trade partner leading up to the deadline.
Christian Wood: B-
On paper, Christian Wood is the best player on the Houston Rockets.
He is currently averaging 17.3 points and 10.6 rebounds, which both rank first on the team. Outside of that, though, Wood has been lackluster defensively, has struggled to make his free throws (60.5%), and has had issues creating for himself offensively. His 55.4 TS% is below average for NBA centers, and a down year compared to his 59.1% rate from the prior season.
Fortunately, Wood’s play has improved since the Rockets’ recent changes. With Kevin Porter Jr. in the lineup, Wood’s ability to score in the PnR has flourished, and I expect him to continue this success next to a creator to dish him the rock.