Houston Rockets: Can Hasheem Thabeet Breakout in a Post-Lockout Season?

Patrick HarrelCorrespondent IISeptember 21, 2011

PHOENIX - NOVEMBER 25:  Hasheem Thabeet #34 of the Memphis Grizzlies blocks out Amar'e Stoudemire #1 and Jared Dudley #3 of the Phoenix Suns during the NBA game at US Airways Center on November 25, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Suns defeated the Grizzlies 126-111.  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.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

When you think of Hasheem Thabeet, what comes to mind? Typically the answer is some variation of "draft bust," but with a change of scenery in Houston, can Hasheem Thabeet be given a chance to change that image?

After an impressive career at UConn, Hasheem Thabeet was taken by the Memphis Grizzlies with the second pick of the 2009 draft, just after forward Blake Griffin.

While Marc Gasol was entrenched in the role of starting center for Memphis, the Grizzlies front office hoped that Thabeet could develop into a star defensive center and eventually displace Gasol from the center spot. However, as has been well documented, Thabeet has struggled horribly on offense and is unable to stay out of foul trouble on defense. 

Having been traded in a deadline deal to the Houston Rockets, Thabeet now has an opportunity to get regular playing time and potentially start at some point for the center-starved squad. After seeing a 6'6" Chuck Hayes start at center for the past two seasons, a full sized, shot-blocking center would be a welcome sight for Rockets fans. As valuable as Hayes' post defense was, the lack of a rim protector was sorely missed.

With Hayes being a free agent and most other center options just as unproven as he, Thabeet now must take advantage of his chance to be a consistent NBA center. While his struggles for the second year in a row were worrisome last season, he was buried on the bench and given few opportunities.

The argument could be made that he should have proved himself in practice and limited game action, but it seemed as if he was simply frittered away. 

So, if he was buried in Memphis, where is the improvement for him to earn playing time going to come from?

For the second year, Thabeet was sent to the D-League to work on improving his post game and defensive fundamentals and appeared to look more confident in his offensive moves than in the past.

Though he still has moments where he looks like Jared Jeffries in the post, he is improving to the point that it is not inconceivable to believe he could be an offensive contributor at some point. He has a decent jump shot, but still needs to work on his around-the-rim touch.

The fact is that Thabeet is 7'3", with an impressive reach and strong athleticism. With his height advantage over nearly every center in the league, he has a head start on everyone towards being an offensive player. With the best low-post player in NBA history as his head coach, Thabeet will have every opportunity to turn that potential into reality.

Defensively, Thabeet has one thing down—blocking shots.

At UConn, he was simply asked to stand below the rim and swat everything in the area, but he has struggled a bit in an NBA-style defense.

His shot blocking numbers are still strong, but his inability to stay out of foul trouble will be a huge detriment if he wants to stay on the floor. Once again, having a big-man coach like Kevin McHale to help him with his footwork will be beneficial, but this problem is more troublesome as foul magnets tend to stay that way.

When the Rockets picked up Hasheem Thabeet, it was one of their classic buy-low investments. In his short tenure with the team last spring, he did little to prove himself worthy of more playing time because he never got on the court.

Now, as he has fewer barriers to entry into the rotation, he must take advantage. If McHale can get through to him, there's no reason why he can't be the Rockets' breakout player of 2011-12.