Summer League Prospects with the Best Chance of Making Houston Rockets

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIJuly 13, 2014

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 12: Isaiah Canaan #1 of the Houston Rockets takes a free throw against the Miami Heat on July 12, 2014 at Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nevada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)
Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

A strong showing in Las Vegas could mean an NBA roster spot for some of the best prospects on the Houston Rockets' summer league team. 

The Rockets remodeled their roster this offseason in the hopes of creating enough cap space for a marquee free agent. Center Omer Asik will soon be on his way to the New Orleans Pelicans, per ESPN's Brian Windhorst. Point guard Jeremy Lin was shipped to the Los Angeles Lakers, while role players such as Francisco Garcia and Troy Daniels were allowed to test the market. 

The team is even mulling whether to match the Dallas Mavericks' three-year, $46 million offer to small forward Chandler Parsons after Houston agreed to terms with free agent Trevor Ariza (four years, $32 million, per USA Today's Sam Amick). 

All of this upheaval opens up opportunities for summer league standouts to make the team. After all, if the Rockets decide to retain Parsons after signing Ariza, there is going to be an increased need to fill out the roster with affordable players. 

This year's Rockets team could see as many as four players from the Vegas summer league roster make it to the pros. The most obvious name would be European big man Donatas Motiejunas. D-Mo played in 62 games for Houston last season, averaging 5.5 points and 3.6 rebounds.

With Asik gone, the Lithuanian 7-footer could play his way into being Dwight Howard's top backup. The rest of the list is made up of a couple names you might have heard of and a rookie who is sure to grab your attention eventually.

Let's take this time to get to know them a little better.


G Isaiah Canaan

BROOKLYN, NY - April 01: Isaiah Canaan #1 of the Houston Rockets warms up before the game against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center on April 01, 2014 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees th
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

With Jeremy Lin now in Los Angeles, the Rockets are in the market for a backup point guard behind defensive specialist Patrick Beverley. That spot could very well go to second-year man Isaiah Canaan. Like Lin, Canaan is an offensive-minded point guard that can provide a scoring boost off the bench. 

The 2013 second-round pick made 22 appearances last season. His most impressive outings came in early April, when he unleashed back-to-back 15-point games on the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers

As a senior at Murray State, Canaan averaged 21.8 points and 4.3 assists per game. He also shot 43.1 percent from the field, including 37 percent from three-point range. At 6' and 188 pounds, he's a little on the small side, but he's stronger than he looks. 

The 23-year-old got off to a good start in his 2014 debut in Sin City. He shot 6-of-12 from the field (including 2-of-3 from downtown) and finished with a team-high 18 points in Houston's 92-81 loss to the Miami Heat

The biggest concern with Canaan, as with all of the Rockets, is turnovers. He coughed the ball up four times in the Vegas opener. He'll also have to prove he's a capable defender despite his lack of ideal size. 


G Nick Johnson

HOUSTON - June 30:  Nick Johnson #3 of the Houston Rockets speaks to the media in a press conference after being drafted in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is con
Bill Baptist/Getty Images

Undersized combo guard Nick Johnson was one of the most impressive players of all the guys that took the court for summer league play in Orlando. He averaged 15.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and five assists in five games. He also shot 44.6 percent from the field with a subpar 29.2 percent mark from behind the arc. 

The rookie punctuated his stint in Orlando by notching a triple-double (15 points, 10 rebounds 10 assists) in the team's win over the Brooklyn Nets. With Canaan potentially getting a bump up, Johnson could inherit Canaan's old spot as the flashy third guard with upside. 

The attribute that jumps out the most (no pun intended) is Johnson's hops. Even at 6'3", he can get above the rim in a heartbeat and finish with either hand. His time in Orlando was highlighted by some sick dunks, including a 360-degree jam against Brooklyn and putting Detroit Pistons big man Tim Ohlbrecht on a poster. 

As impressive as Johnson has been thus far, there are question marks going forward. First, what's his position? His natural ability to score suggests he's a shooting guard, but can he defend 2s in the pros with his lack of height? Could he run point, despite never averaging more than 3.2 assists per game in college? Could the Rockets alternate him between both guard spots? 

While Johnson's role is to be determined, there's no denying that the Rockets have themselves a gem in the No. 42 overall pick. If he can find a consistent outside stroke, Houston may have yet another second-round steal on their hands. 


SF Robert Covington

HIDALGO, TX - APRIL 19:  Robert Covington #33 of the Rio Grande Valley Vipers celebrates after scoring against the Santa Cruz Warriors on April 19, 2014 during game 2 of the D-League semi finals at the State Farm Arena in Hidalgo, Texas. NOTE TO USER: Use
Gabe Hernandez/Getty Images

Robert Covington had an impressive 2013-14 season. It started with him setting an NBA Development League All-Star Game record with 33 points, 22 of which came in the last six minutes. He would later go to win NBDL Rookie of the Year, averaging 23.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. 

The solid showing in the D-League was enough for the Rockets to invite Covington up for a cup of coffee in the pros last season. He played in just seven games and never scored more than six points in a single game. In fairness, Houston's roster was loaded with forwards at the time. 

This year, there is a little bit more of an opportunity for Covington to shine. Chandler Parsons' future in Houston, as of right now, is uncertain, Francisco Garcia is a free agent and Omri Casspi was underwhelming down the stretch last season. 

With a strong performance in the summer league and preseason, Covington could elevate himself up the ranks in Houston. At 6'9", he has the size to play either forward position. With Donatas Motiejunas likely playing backup center, it's not impossible to think Covington could beat out Casspi for power forward minutes behind Terrence Jones. 

Covington got off to a slow start in Vegas, scoring seven points on 3-of-8 shooting and committing four turnovers in the opener. Luckily, he still has time to find his rhythm. If Covington plays like the kid who dominated the D-League last year, he could end up being the best out of this group.  

This Rockets offseason was supposed to be about adding big names. Instead, LeBron James went back to ClevelandChris Bosh stayed in Miami, Carmelo Anthony re-upped with the New York Knicks and Dirk Nowitzki opted to finish what he started with the Dallas Mavericks. 

In an odd change of pace, a team determined to build a contender with established stars might get its biggest boost this season from a pack of good prospects.