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Key Storylines for Houston Rockets' Summer League Team

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Key Storylines for Houston Rockets' Summer League Team
Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA's Orlando Pro Summer League tipped off on Sunday, July 7, with the Houston Rockets one of the more intriguing squads in the six-day tournament.

Which teams win and lose doesn't necessarily matter, though individual players certainly stand to lose quite a bit with poor showings.

The Rockets were victorious on Day 1, as they defeated the Philadelphia 76ers, 88-80. Terrence Jones was Houston's leading scorer and rebounder with 24 points and 12 boards. Jones is just one player vying for significant playing time with the Rockets next season. He is a near-lock to make the roster, but his status as a potential starter could be determined by how well he plays in the summer league.

There are several other players who are planning on using the summer league to show the Rockets' brass what they can offer a Houston team that figures to be much improved next season, and the summer league could be the only chance they get to do so.

With eight rookies and two second-year players members on Houston's 14-player roster, mistakes are bound to be made. It will be those players who can prove they are mature enough to handle the NBA who will get looks beyond the summer league.

 

James Anderson/Tim Ohlbrecht

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Before we get into players who are trying to make the roster, it's worth looking at the players who are playing to keep their spots on the team.

James Anderson and Tim Ohlbrecht are in serious danger of losing their jobs, as the re-signing of Francisco Garcia and candidacy of Greg Smith at center make each expendable.

Anderson had little impact on the Rockets last season, serving as James Harden's backup. He averaged just 10.3 minutes and 3.8 points on 41.3 percent shooting in 2012-13. The signing of Dwight Howard makes the Rockets a bit strapped for cash, and letting go of Anderson's near-$1 million salary could provide some (if only a little) relief.

Garcia and the duo of Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley are all more than capable of handling reserve shooting guard duties, so Anderson could be playing his last days with Houston.

Ohlbrecht may have become the odd man out after Howard's signing. Howard, Omer Asik and Smith are all ahead of him on the depth chart, and the big man out of Germany didn't even play much last season without Howard. Ohlbrecht played a total of 12 minutes in 2012-13. Letting him go would create space on the team for another young player with a chance to contribute.

Anderson and Ohlbrecht could likely find homes elsewhere. Houston just doesn't have the room to carry players that will make little impact.

 

Vander Blue

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Vander Blue, a guard/forward out of Marquette whose name was not called during the NBA draft, will play for the Rockets in the Orlando Summer League and the Memphis Grizzlies in the Las Vegas Summer League.

Blue is a very talented player who I'm personally pulling for to make the Rockets' roster. He did not play in Day 1 of the league (coach's decision), but he'll be given his shot soon enough.

He has great length (6'6"), a big wingspan and top-notch lateral quickness, making him an ideal candidate to defend guards along the perimeter. Even better, Blue lets his feet do the work on defense as opposed to his hands. That type of maturity on defense could be useful to the Rockets.

Offensively, Blue could use some work. His jumper is nearly non-existent and appears very stiff at times. He is explosive off the first step and loves slashing to the basket, though, so that aspect of his game appears to fit well with the Rockets.

With a strong showing in the summer leagues, Blue could pick up a minimum contract and play a small role off the bench in Houston. For a young team that has been great at developing young players in recent memory, Houston may very well be the best destination for Blue.

 

Robert Covington

Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Undrafted out of Tennessee State, forward Robert Covington was not only invited to the Rockets' summer league, he was given a contract. That is interesting, to say the least, but it's obvious that the Rockets really like what this kid brings to the table.

Covington will likely be asked to play for the Rio Grande Vipers of the D-League, but his skills could be utilized by the team later on in the season. He's a 6'9" forward who doesn't play much defense, but he can shoot with the best of them.

He shot at least 37 percent from deep in all four of his seasons at Tennessee State, shooting nearly 45 percent in two of those four seasons. Combine his accuracy with the fact that he put up around three shots per game from downtown, and that is nothing to sneeze at from a scoring standpoint.

Even though he's listed as a power forward, Covington's lack of defensive skills and premium shooting ability will likely make him nothing more than a small forward with Houston. With a 7'2" wingspan, Covington can shoot over everybody, but you would think he'd be a little better on defense with that insane length.

With sharpshooters at a premium in the NBA, it's no wonder the Rockets wanted to lock Covington up to a league-minimum contract so early. Now, we'll just have to see how he develops.

 

Conclusion

Isaiah Canaan, Jack Cooley and B.J. Young are three other rookies to watch in the summer league, but Blue and Covington are the two that I'll be watching the most. Their skills, while drastically different, can help the Rockets in the immediate future.

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Blue can provide Houston the defense necessary to lock down players on the perimeter. Covington can shoot threes in close games in an effort to give the Rockets a lead. Even though they are both rookies, each player's best skill translates well to the NBA.

In the cases of Anderson and Ohlbrecht, it's really difficult to find places for them on Houston's new-look roster. Anderson's salary can be allocated elsewhere, and Ohlbrecht's lack of minutes in 2012-13 makes him expendable as well. Look for the Rockets to consider trading each player for cap relief or expiring contracts.

The Orlando Pro Summer League should be fun before the 25-game tournament finally concludes on Friday, July 12.

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