By Mike Silva
With the 2010 summer league wrapping up in Las Vegas, many questions have been answered, while other uncertainties still linger in Houston.
Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey once again worked his magic by retaining all of Houston’s free agents, including Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola. Yao Ming’s decision to return was another pivotal moment for the Houston off-season. The Rockets also made nicely in picking up free agent center Brad Miller, who adds depth to the roster as well as relief if rumors of pushing back Yao’s return are true.
But there are still many looming debates. Will solid July performances translate into consistency in the regular season? Whose competent play will see little to no change when the competition steps up a notch come October? Maybe all of the debates can be tied into one simple question: do these guys have what it takes to get the job done on the big stage?
Throughout the week, Houston saw several wing players and guards play at a high level. One of the prominent standouts was Jermaine Taylor. While his presence may have been quite unnoticed at the end of last season, Taylor entered the summer with a lot to prove. Upon the finale of the summer league, Taylor proved to be solid. He finished as Houston’s leading scorer with 18.4 PPG, enough to place him eighth overall in the league.
Taylor is definitely the flirty pick for Rockets fans as the breakout player for 2010 for his scoring abilities, but other numbers might contest that. In just over 29 minutes per game, Taylor averaged four turnovers to just two assists per game. While his field goal percentage was above average (47.1%), he knocked down just under 29 percent of his three-point shots. Small for his position as a 6’4” shooting guard, all eyes will be on Taylor to play big when the season starts.
Texas native Kelvin Lewis is another player that has continued to impress since his days as a key component to the dynamic Cougars backcourt. Lewis averaged 13.8 PPG as a senior in Houston and shot nearly 40 percent behind the arc.
In summer league play, Lewis saw limited time by playing in just one game for 12 minutes. Nevertheless, his numbers were comparable to those of his Cougars days. He shot 50 percent from the field, including knocking down two threes out of three attempts, for eight points. Though it would have been nice to see him play more, Lewis looks to fit in nicely as a quick shooter off the bench.
Ishmael Smith was the point that shined the brightest in the summer league. He had drawn comparisons to Aaron Brooks in college with his small size but tremendous speed. In a starting role in the summer league, Smith fit in nicely. In 23 minutes a game, Smith averaged 7.8 PPG on 58 percent shooting and finished as the Rockets leading assist man with 4.8 per game. Most impressively, he turned the ball over just once per game. The one knock on his performance was his poor shooting from the free throw line, hitting just three out of seven foul shots. Smith can move the ball around and relieve Lowry and Brooks come the regular season.
Shooters and playmakers weren’t all that stood out this week. The Rockets had several big men show up as well. Patrick Patterson was definitely one of them. He finished fourth on the Rockets in scoring (9.2 PPG), second in rebounds (7.2 RPG), and first in blocks (4 total). He saw a good amount of playing time with just over 28 minutes per game, and he didn’t disappoint. Although he was just 2-11 behind the arc in Vegas, Houston will have a big man that can stretch the floor with his outside shooting abilities and athleticism.
Another big to keep an eye on is Alexander Johnson. This journeyman has jumped from D-league to NBA roster multiple times and despite some success on the big level, he has yet to find his home. Johnson has been with the Grizzlies, the Heat, and the Jazz and has produced, but hasn’t stuck. He has dominated the D-league by averaging around 23 points and 11 boards per game, and that’s off the bench, a role he would play with Houston.
In the summer league, Johnson averaged 8.3 PPG on 75 percent shooting and 3.7 RPG in just 12 minutes per game. This should speak volumes to the Rockets, who could use depth in the front court.
Every year spectators and experts alike argue whether summer league performances are merely the expected level of play among all players facing equal competition or if they are a precursor of what’s to come when the season starts.
If the latter is true, Rockets fans have a lot to be excited about when the season starts.