By the time training camp rolls around in the NBA, you usually can predict what to expect from a team. Every beat reporter knows what storylines are relevant to ask about, ever player has a general idea of what his role is on the team, and coaches have a rotation in mind that they are leaning towards. Of course, nobody can commit to anything until the players perform in training camp, but after that, everything is written in pencil. The preseason is everyone’s first chance to make an in-game impression.
This is where we start to see early hints of possible surprises. For the Rockets, we’ve already seen a couple.
Rockets Preseason Surprises
1. Alperen Sengun may be one of Houston’s best players already
Alperen Sengun had a stellar training camp that turned a lot of heads, but in the end, camp is just a practice setting. Performing well in a live game is far more impressive and convincing. And so far, Sengun’s crushed every opportunity he’s had. Per 36 minutes, he’s averaging 17.6 points, 14.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, 2.2 blocks, and 1.5 steals.
At 53.9% true shooting, Sengun’s not been the most efficient, but he’s been everything else for Houston. He’s also managed to be one of the few players on the team who’s stayed near a net zero in terms of plus/minus. Passing the ball is where he’s been the most impressive, already proving to be probably Houston’s best passer. He’s secured himself a spot in the rotation and now it’s just a matter of how much playing time he’ll actually get.
2. Jalen Green is a work in progress
This may have been obvious to some, but Jalen Green was so polished in both the G League and Summer League settings, it was conceivable that he’d have a relatively smooth rookie season. Playing in a professional league right away, he was clearly thought to be less mistake prone than his fellow rookies. However, Green has averaged only 16.7 points and 4.0 turnovers on a putrid 47.0% true shooting. He has also looked pretty poor defensively.
Obviously it’s just the preseason, but it is an indicator that he may not be the Rookie of the Year lock many people consider him to be. He’s 19-years-old and we haven’t seen anything to suggest he won’t be the All-Star he’s projected to become, but he’s objectively played poorly so far. Green does deserve some slack though. At the end of the day, he’s still a rookie guard and rookie guards are typically bigger projects to take on than big men.
3. Josh Christopher could see real minutes this year
No player made a greater case to sneak into the rotation for Houston than Josh Christopher. Christopher was already coming off an impressive Summer League campaign in Las Vegas, but in his 10-15 minutes per game in Houston, he’s been very good. The Rockets have been releasing him at the end of games and he’s led the team on a couple of comeback runs already. Christopher competes defensively, he’s a willing driver, and he’s got a big game quality about him that resonates with his teammates.
Josh Christopher per 36 minutes:
64.0% True Shooting
Christopher is still a favorite to spend time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers this season, but other than not turning the ball over, he’s done everything you could possibly ask of him to prevent that from happening.
4. Usman Garuba fell too far on Draft Night
Like Josh Christopher, Usman Garuba has made the most of his limited time in the preseason. Garuba has played with the same fourth quarter units as Christopher. These units have been fast, energetic defensively, and as a result, led to some fun fourth quarter for Houston. Garuba is already keeping the Rockets at 94.6 points allowed per possessions on defense and offensively, he’s stayed involve as a cutter and floor spacer. He currently leads the Rockets in net nating at a positive 25 points per 100 possessions.
He’s also likely a G League guy, but showed why many considered him an absolute steal at 23rd in the Draft.
5. Three-point shooting could be a concern all year
At first glance, you wouldn’t think the Rockets would be one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the NBA. However, upon closer examination, there are a bunch of players on the roster who can’t efficiently make threes yet. Kevin Porter Jr., Jae’Sean Tate, and David Nwaba are just a few examples on the perimeter. Without Eric Gordon, the Rockets have been a disastrous three-point shooting team in the preseason. Things hit a new low when Houston played an entire half without making a three against Toronto.
It just speaks to how important Gordon is to the team and how much they’ll struggle to cobble together good floor spacing without him. It’s also just preseason, so we’ll see if this trend holds.