After leading the whole way HOU has completely collapsed here at the end. Guys should fit in well with the big league team.
— RedNinetyFour (@RedNinetyFour) July 22, 2014
Don’t even act as if you’ve never admired or felt the urge to admire your own joke.
As the tweet indicated, the local JV guys led most of the way before completely collapsing down the stretch, squandering the title to the Sacramento Kings. Just playing the odds, this is the closest the Rockets will get to a championship in the next few years, so this one hurt pretty bad. Well, not really. But it did hurt having to watch through this game while laying on my couch when other things were on television, most notably anything else. There were several points where I found myself falling asleep only to rouse myself up once more out of some self-inflicted sense of duty. Those of you who didn’t watch this – I bit the bullet for everyone; thank me later.
First, Motiejunas: while not filling the box score as he had done in previous nights, the big man did a little of everything, once again showing the tantalizing versatility that has left me confounded over his lack of success. He scored from the post with running hooks, a baby hook over his opposite shoulder that got wiped out, hit an outside jumper, and drove in on multiple occasions from the three point line. Most encouragingly, as Chris Finch noted afterward, D-Mo stayed big inside and rotated smartly against incoming opponents. I don’t think I’ve ever been so invested in a Rockets prospect and relatedly, I don’t think I’ve ever been so confused over a prospect’s lack of success. Why has D-Mo not panned out? What is going on here? This is a legit 7 footer who can score inside with either hand, can put the ball on the floor, and who possesses NBA range (well, sorta) who, by all accounts, is a tireless worker. He’s added significant weight to his frame since being drafted and made tremendous strides defensively last season, as most famously evidenced by one particular outing against Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies. I just don’t understand. If he’s not in the rotation by January, or was shipped away for some worthless conditional second rounder by mid-season, we missed a big opportunity. Were he to have come over this season, I think he’d have been a lottery lock. While I empathize with the immediate need to win games, I just think players can’t get comfortable if constantly glancing over at the bench upon each mistake. So naturally, Motiejunas will likely end up on the Spurs and realize his true NBA destiny, spelling Tim Duncan off the bench in helping San Antonio win the NBA title. Naturally.
Nick Johnson: I really hope this kid cracks the rotation because I’ve already fallen in love with his game. Johnson has a smooth jumper, an insane vertical, a tight handle, and a brute force mentality to complement his strong upper body. He reminded me immediately of Bobby Sura watching him attack bigger guys off the dribble and finish at the rim while absorbing contact. Simply put, Johnson is a man’s man, a pitbull. The only problem is that he appears extremely slow-footed, to the point where I worry he won’t be able to create separation at this level, much like his forebear, Sura. That’s not to say one cannot be an effective NBA guard if lacking quickness (see: Andre Miller), but it’s something of a concern. Johnson is sort of a paradox, much like former Rocket Chandler Parsons, in that he has incredible leaping ability–which naturally leads observers to label him as ‘athletic’–but not much in the way of lateral quickness. We’ll see. But I think he will succeed, if for no other reason than that the guy is a complete badass. Oh, and also because we currently only have one player on our bench.
Canaan: Isaiah Canaan didn’t do much of anything in this game, but was in God-mode earlier in the tournament, at one point looking Andrew Wiggins in the eye and high-stepping him straight to the basket. The jumper was wet and the first step had been unguardable. It’s hard to know with these types of guys whether they can make it at the next level. For one, you can’t drive in relentlessly in the big leagues unless you’re historically elite like James Harden. But secondly, can he defend at his size? And most importantly, as a point guard, can he make smart reads? That’s really the thing about evaluating point guards. Unlike bigs, where you’re just checking to see whether they’re capable of running in a straight line without tripping over, every single man under 6’3 at this level is insanely talented and naturally competitive. Which ones are NBA smart?
I think Nick Johnson will end up winning the backup point guard job over Canaan for several reasons, namely that Kevin McHale loves tough guys. His slow-footedness won’t be much of a problem here as the point guard job description on this team is to simply bring the ball up and hand it off to James Harden.
Now we wait two more months for the next game.