The Summer League Scrying Pool

After losing to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Orlando Summer League championship game, the Rockets have fallen to 33-7 all-time in NBA summer league games. Houston was undefeated until the last of the five games, and sat Greg Smith, Terrence Jones and Patrick Beverley for the last one. The Rockets always perform strongly in summer league, which is a meaningless distinction by most reckoning. Summer League games don’t help you win in May, but they may tell us something about the teams involved. Why, then, does Houston do so well in July?

First, an important proviso: Summer League doesn’t tell us much of anything. Many of the players aren’t signed to their respective teams, nor will they ever be. Rookies and Sophomores abound, competing against other similarly fresh players. Recall that Houston had three of the top ten performers during last year’s summer league, and none of them saw extended minutes during the season. Potential and possibility suffuse Orlando and Las Vegas, not skill and ability.

That very warning serves as a promise for Houston. When victors are decided by potential and system, teams with a steadfast and proven system will shine through. It’s no coincidence that Houston and Oklahoma City met in the finals. Both teams have been rife with young, high upside players, and both are known for willingness to acquire and develop potential. A strong showing in Orlando is a sign of something larger, that Houston has in spades.

General Manager Daryl Morey’s ability to identify and unearth hidden gems is one of his best-known qualities among the NBA commentariat. He plucks starting-caliber talent out of the second round regularly. He signs two-way players to movable, reasonable contracts. He consistently flips players for younger, more efficient versions. It’s this ability to evaluate ability within a system that helped him assemble a successful roster around Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady in 2009. It’s this same ability that helped him leverage that leftover roster into two superstars three years later. It’s also a major reason why Houston’s so good in Summer League.

Not only does the Rockets front office have an ability to find talent in the vast sea of players to choose from, Houston’s also practiced at running a farm system. The Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s NBA D-League affiliate, may not seem germane to summer league or an NBA championship, but it serves as yet another pillar of Houston’s long-term plans. In 2009 the Vipers became the first D-League team to use the so-called “hybrid model.” They may not control the business end of the Vipers, but the Rockets instituted their own coaching and basketball system. Houston has always been very active in their use of the D-League, assigning the vast majority of rookies for extended stints in the valley.

This familiarity with bringing new players and coaches into an existing system allows Houston to not only scout high-upside players, but to quickly ready them for play in Houston’s offense. The offensive and defensive schemes may change from year to year, but the planning to institute those schemes is consistent. Players in any level of the Rockets’ basketball penumbra are prepared to play at the highest level possible. It’s no coincidence that Houston was on the Vanguard of teams taking control over D-League teams, a trend which about half the league has followed them on.

Daryl Morey’s reign over the Rockets has been one devoted to victory at all levels, at all costs. The Rockets have ruthlessly cut and traded players to get key assets. Players are flatly denied early extensions on contracts in order to preserve financial freedom. Bruised egos and hurt feelings mean nothing to a team that seems hell-bent on a championship. That pursuit of victory bleeds to the D-League, where the Valley Vipers have won two championships since the Rockets took control of their basketball operations. The latest result of that laser-like focus is a 33-7 record in Summer League, with the only loss this season coming in the championship round.

The only question then is why Houston’s best Summer League players sat out the game against the Thunder. For a team that develops talent and induces victory even at lower levels of competition, what sense did it make to effectively surrender a game, and the championship game at that? The simple answer is that developing and evaluating talent was more important. With Tyler Honeycutt as the most recognizable name on Houston’s roster, the Rockets didn’t need victory. What they needed was a better idea of how talented their bench’s bench’s bench was.

Why does any of this matter for the Rockets? The chances that Vitalis Chikoko will help the Rockets win a championship are almost astronomically small. A strong Summer League showing means nothing for NBA action. The point is that no chance is too small, and a habit of exhaustive talent searching and development is even more important. The Rockets win in Summer League because they take it a little too seriously. Houston’s slavish devotion to scouting pays dividends far down the line; a 33-7 record in Summer League is just a pleasant side-effect.

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Total comments: 25
  • rockets best fan says 9 months ago

    they already signed them.

    yes

  • miketheodio says 9 months ago

    Rockets waived Anderson and Olhbreight so there are 3 open roster spots now. My guess is that 2 of those spots go to Robert Covington and B.J. Young. The 3rd spot will go to whoever we sign with our Room Exception (2.65m/2yrs max).

    they already signed them.

  • rockets best fan says 9 months ago

    Rockets waived Anderson and Olhbreight so there are 3 open roster spots now. My guess is that 2 of those spots go to Robert Covington and B.J. Young. The 3rd spot will go to whoever we sign with our Room Exception (2.65m/2yrs max).

    I knew Anderson was toast when we signed reggie

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago
    Rockets waived Anderson and Olhbreight so there are 3 open roster spots now. My guess is that 2 of those spots go to Robert Covington and B.J. Young. The 3rd spot will go to whoever we sign with our Room Exception (2.65m/2yrs max).
  • Steven says 9 months ago

    I'm not going to write an epitaph for Smith's PT until we see McHale put some lineups on the floor. We haven't seen how any of our platoon of young PFs have progressed, and we don't know if Howard and Asik can actually be on the floor together.

    Speaking of rosters and summer league: Assuming Canaan and Covington are IR/NBDL spots, we have an open roster spot, right? Did anyone else on the summer league roster stand out?

    No.
  • BenQueens says 9 months ago I'm not going to write an epitaph for Smith's PT until we see McHale put some lineups on the floor. We haven't seen how any of our platoon of young PFs have progressed, and we don't know if Howard and Asik can actually be on the floor together.

    Speaking of rosters and summer league: Assuming Canaan and Covington are IR/NBDL spots, we have an open roster spot, right? Did anyone else on the summer league roster stand out?
  • Cooper says 9 months ago I could see smith being traded for a future 2nd or something, and Covington/Canaan spending at least the beginning of the year in the dleague.
  • Steven says 9 months ago Smith sucks. He can't hit free throws. Isn't athelic enough to play the 4 or long enough to play the 5. He is the reason the Rockets lost in the first round. The further down the depth chart, the better the Rockets season will be b
  • thejohnnygold says 9 months ago

    He definitely needs a good PG to thrive--I do think he can learn a lot from Dwight as to how to use his body better in the post. I think he will eventually find a spot somewhere in this league and be a solid contributor...it may be here...it may not. There's no denying he's got some great tools to work with.

  • miketheodio says 9 months ago

    yeah he was a bit underwhelming in the summer league

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    I don't see Greg Smith getting any playing time to be honest. I think he has a great attitude, and hopefully he will develop a 15 foot jump shot (he recently said that's one of the main things he's working on) but personally I don't think that will be enough. I see Greg Smith as our 3rd string center, and potentially our 2nd string center when Asik puts on another uniform (it's only a matter of time, whether he's traded or simply signs somewhere else in 2015).

  • miketheodio says 9 months ago

    covington will get seasoned in the d league for a season. if it works out, depending on who the organization thinks fits the system better, jones dmo or covington are all future trade chips.

  • RollingWave says 9 months ago

    Vander Blue? not yet, he can't shoot at this point, which is a problem, but I'm intrigued. someone will invite him to a training camp I'd guess,

    As it stands now , our depth chart is pretty full,

    Lin / Bev / Canaan

    Harden / Garcia / Williams

    Parsons / Garcia / Cassipi / occasional Covington?

    Jones / Dmo / Smith / Covington

    Howard / Asik / Smith

    I actually wonder how Greg Smith gets playing time at this point, his rate was really good last year really, he deserve at least 10-15 min on any roster, but if you figure there's only 96 min to go around between 4-5, and Howard at least 30, Asik 15-20, Jones 20-25 / Dmo 15-20 that's already 95 min and that might be lowballing some of those guy's minutes.

  • kr0c11 says 9 months ago

    Did we sign that blue kid

  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    I guess I'm not in the mood for sarcastic comedy, I'm going to try to steer this conversation in a more productive direction if you don't mind.

    Robert Covington is 6'7" and has a wingspan of 7'2". He's a decent defender, and might be capable of playing some stretch 4 if he puts on more weight/strength. Check out this highlight video:,

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8EJsvmpbGc

    Robert Covington showing off a skill set that justifies an Omri Casspi comparison, but if he has a strong work ethic he can become much better in time.

  • Steven says 9 months ago


    I hope you're joking..

    Yes.
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Weren't the Kings title contenders in '09?

    I hope you're joking..

  • Steven says 9 months ago


    Different situation.


    Weren't the Kings title contenders in '09?
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    Casspi averaged 10 his rookie campaign.

    Different situation.

  • Steven says 9 months ago Casspi averaged 10 his rookie campaign.
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    I've been intrigued by Covington ever since he was signed. For an undrafted rookie he doesn't look too shabby. He won't contribute anytime soon but he might come in handy one day, I see some glimpses of a young Rashard Lewis but right now he's more like Omri Casspi.

  • Steven says 9 months ago


    I've been intrigued by Covington ever since he was signed. For an undrafted rookie he doesn't look too shabby. He won't contribute anytime soon but he might come in handy one day, I see some glimpses of a young Rashard Lewis but right now he's more like Omri Casspi.


    So he is going to average 10 ppg his rookie year?
  • 2016Champions says 9 months ago

    I've been intrigued by Covington ever since he was signed. For an undrafted rookie he doesn't look too shabby. He won't contribute anytime soon but he might come in handy one day, I see some glimpses of a young Rashard Lewis but right now he's more like Omri Casspi.

  • Steven says 9 months ago The Rockets sat the real players to get a look at the summer leaguers, to see if one or more can help the team come October. The only problem with Covington is he is WAY down on the depth chart. And the center O, looked as over matched at Greg Smith did in the playoffs.
  • Sir Thursday says 9 months ago

    Chandler Parsons was interviewed at half time during the Rockets' game with Brooklyn and said that a big group of the squad were going to LA in a few days to have a summer camp together. Might be that the guys already on the team left early to get across the country for that?

    Anyway, I thought Covington, the only remaining player on the Summer League roster who is signed to a contract with us, had an excellent game for us in the final. At times he was single-handedly bringing the Rockets back into the game to the point that they cut a 20 point deficit to just three with about two minutes left. BJ Young also put up good numbers, but in his case I felt like he was doing it at the expense of his teammates - he had a lot of iso possessions and while he converted several against the slower DeAndre Liggins, he was not getting his teammates involved. Covington, on the other hand, seemed to get his points within the flow of the game and without disrupting he team. He's got a good looking three point stroke on him too. Another player with decent potential that Morey has signed, although I have a feeling unless the injury bug bites he's unlikely to see floor time outside of Rio Grande.

    ST