The Rockets are a team in transition. Coach Mike D'Antoni comes in to try and reignite the team as well as resurrect his own career. Second banana Dwight Howard is gone, essentially replaced by two star-crossed scorers in Ryan Anderson and Eric Gordon. The lone superstar, James Harden, is at a bit of a crossroads in his career, balancing waning public perception and the burden of an entire NBA city on his shoulders.
Summer League is important for them in rounding out the margins of the roster. But for perspective, the biggest buzz surrounding Houston when I was in Las Vegas last weekend was around a player that wasn't even there. I'm talking about of course the news that Harden renegotiated and extended his contract with the team. Say what you want about Harden, that move almost makes this a successful summer by default. The Rockets bought themselves some time in this mini-rebuild, assured that Harden can't leave in free agency for at least one additional year.
For now, the focus is on the young players at Summer League that can help the new-look Rockets down the road. The team is 1-2 through four games, their lone win coming against Sacramento. Unfortunately the Rockets have been one of the least notable teams at the Las Vegas Summer League, hampered by stagnant, selfish offense and a lack of big breakout performances. It's time to rank the roster in terms of impact and promise so far out of Vegas.
1. Sam Dekker (2015 Draft Pick) - Dekker was drafted in the first round last year and missed most of his rookie season due to injury. So Summer League gave him a real opportunity to shine as one of the Rockets' featured players. He's had an uneven performance but has been by far the team's most reliable perimeter scorer at 16 points per game. That's the good news. The bad news: he's shooting 25 percent from three. If he's going to carve out a role in D'Antoni's offense, he'll need to be a sharpshooter from deep. He paced the team with 19 points in the win over Sacramento, but missed all five of his three-point attempts.
2. Montrezl Harrell (2015 Draft Pick) - Another pick from last year's draft that had little impact in his rookie season, Harrell is going to be counted on to contribute in 2016-17. He plays with a ton of energy and effort, big pluses for a Houston squad looking to cure its lackadaisical nature. He had 18 points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes in a loss to the D-League Select team but just six points and six fouls in the opening loss to Atlanta. His energy is consistent, but his production is not. Still, expect him to see the floor more often in 2016-17.
3. K.J. McDaniels (2014 Draft Pick-76ers) - McDaniels has been a tantalizing talent ever since his debut with Philadelphia in 2014. Yet, he's never had the right opportunity to thrive at the NBA level. Philly cast him off fairly quickly and he's been buried on the bench in Houston ever since. D'Antoni may be the perfect coach to harness his uber-athletic game, even though he's not much of a shooter. McDaniels has shown an ability to get to the free throw line on attacks to the rim, going 14-17 through three games. The Rockets are getting a long look at him in Summer League as he's played 28 minutes per game, scoring 13.3 points.
4. Kyle Wiltjer (2016 Undrafted-Gonzaga) - Wiltjer had a nice career at Gonzaga and is fighting to make the team after going undrafted. He's made the most of his opportunities at Summer League. He had nice outings in the first two games with decent efficiency from long distance. A player to keep an eye on.
5. Isaiah Taylor (2016 Undrafted-Texas) - The Houston native and former Longhorn has gotten a chance with the Rockets to showcase his skills. As a point guard he's a bit undersized but has an OK command of the court. His first game against Atlanta was miserable, as he went scoreless while posting a -10 plus/minus. He bounced back the next two games and has looked a bit better than the next point guard on this list, however.
6. Gary Payton II (2016 Undrafted-Oregon St.) - Players can look either really good or really bad at Summer League, given the shell offenses and license to shoot often. You don't want to be forgettable, which is what Payton II has been. He even got a DNP-Coach's Decision in the third game, after posting four points and 3.5 assists over the first two games. Payton II will likely be headed to the D-League or overseas.
7. Michael Beasley (2008 Draft Pick-Heat) - The 27-year-old Beasley is one of the oldest players at Summer League, and it's curious why he was even put on the team. He played in just the first game, scoring seven points on 3-15 shooting with nine rebounds. Mercifully, he was shut down after that lackluster performance. Beas must have felt like the adult at the kid's table this weekend.
8. Kenny Gaines (2016 Undrafted-Georgia) - Gaines has gotten playing time in all three games and has been efficient - 7-16 FG, 5-12 3-pt. He lacks ideal height for a 2-guard (6-foot-3) which may keep him out of the NBA. He's done enough to warrant a D-League spot, potentially.
9. Trey Freeman (2016 Undrafted-Old Dominion) - Another small guard on this roster, Freeman is a bit better passer than Gaines but hasn't been as efficient a scorer. He's shot 14% from three, which likely dooms him to obscurity.
10. Chinanu Onuaku (2016 Draft Pick) - Onuaku got the Thomas & Mack Center buzzing a bit when he broke out his trademark underhand free throw form in his lone trip to the line. Unfortunately, the Louisville product hasn't done much else to get excited about. Though he's started two of the three games, he's averaged just 1.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. He looks to be a ways off from ever contributing to the regular season Rockets roster.
11. Tony Jekiri (2016 Undrafted-Miami) - The 7-foot center has played just 18 minutes in Summer League with six points and seven rebounds. His height gets him in the door, but his game hasn't impressed coaches enough to warrant real minutes.
12. Melvin Johnson (2016 Undrafted-VCU) - Johnson was a steady scorer in college but that hasn't translated to Summer League. He's gone 1-4 in just eight total minutes.
13. Chris Walker (2015 Undrafted-Florida) - Walker spent last season in the D-League with the Houston-affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers. He's played in just one game in Summer League, getting nine minutes of action and zero points.
14. Gracin Bakumanya (2016 Undrafted-DR Congo) - The 6-foot-11 center has played just two minutes and only notched a turnover in the box score.
15. Wu Guanxi (2016 Undrafted-China) - Poor Wu. The extremely raw 6-foot-10 center hasn't seen a minute of action in Vegas.