4 biggest things Rockets learned from 2023 NBA Summer League

After adding a couple of household names to elevate the team defensively and amassing one of the best young cores in the NBA, the Houston Rockets and their fans can’t wait for the 2023-24 season to start. Especially with Rockets face of the franchise Jalen Green locked-in all summer, looking to take his game to yet another level after averaging a career-high 22.1 points per game in what was just his second NBA season.

With that in mind, over the past week, all eyes have been tuned into the Las Vegas Summer League.

For Rockets fans specifically, this event gives them and the organization their first in-depth look at how 2023 No. 4 pick Amen Thompson and 2023 No. 20 pick Cam Whitmore could perform with the big boys. For fan favorites Tari Eason and Jabari Smith Jr., both entering their second career season, it’s a chance to see just how much they improved.

Suffice it to say, everyone has been impressed.

Biggest things Rockets learned from Summer League

Amen Thompson is the goods

It was just game. Not even a full game, at that.

Nonetheless, in the three quarters that Houston Rockets point guard Amen Thompson did play, he showed exactly why the franchise was enamored with him before selecting him with the No. 4 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft.

The explosiveness was electrifying. The court vision and passing prowess was eye-popping. His defense may have been even more impressive than his offense and he scored 16 points in 28 minutes on 6-13 shooting from the field. Then, when considering his elite size at the position (6-foot-7 and 209-215 pounds), the Rockets have every right to believe that he can be their point guard of the future, and more.

In fact, Thompson is so good that it wouldn’t be surprising to see calls for him to start by midseason. Fortunately for the Rockets, the lucrative three-year deal that Fred VanVleet agreed to has a team option for the final season, lowering the potential for lingering tension or dissension if Houston does move FVV into the starting lineup by the end of his rookie year.

Cam Whitmore is legit

For whatever reason, be it character or medical concerns, a talented forward that was a standout for the prestigious Villanova men’s basketball program slipped all the way to the 20th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft. A player that not only won the Big East Freshman of the Year award last season but was named MVP of the 2022 FIBA U18 Americas Championship tournament and 2022 Gatorade Maryland Boys Basketball Player of the Year just before landing at Villanova.

All that is to say, what Cam Whitmore is capable of producing on the court has never been in question.

So, when the fresh-faced 19-year-old averages 17.0 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game like he has through three Las Vegas Summer League appearances, it’s not supposed to be surprising. It’s supposed to be even more evidence that the Houston Rockets got one of the biggest draft night steals relative to where they were selected.

Prior to the trades of Kenyon Martin Jr. and Usman Garuba, Whitmore would have had a bit of a challenge to get in the rotation early on in his rookie season. However, with those two players gone, Whitmore could come off the bench to be a legitimate contributor sooner rather than later.

Tari Eason is underrated

Houston Rockets 3-and-D forward Tari Eason is one of the most valuable players in the organization when considering his youth and skillset. In fact, Eason — the 17th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft — is starting-caliber forward whose intensity, maturity, and confidence only serve to enhance what he brings to a team on the court and in the locker room.

Unfortunately for Eason, the Houston Rockets opted to sign controversial wing Dillon Brooks to a lengthy and expensive contract, hoping for the latter to set the tone for the defense. Consequently, a player that could have fit neatly in the starting lineup will back up either Brooks or Jabari Smith Jr., along with one of Cam Whitmore or Jae’Sean Tate.

For the record, Eason is averaging 23.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 3.0 blocks and 1.0 steals per game during Summer League, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from 3. He’s playing so well, in fact, that the addition of Brooks — like the addition of Fred VanVleet — leads to questions about whether or not their money would have been better spent elsewhere.

Jabari Smith Jr. is leveling up

In an increasingly impatient league, a ‘bust’ label seemed to be reserved for 2022 No. 3 pick Jabari Smith Jr., as the Georgia native underwhelmed offensively for the vast majority of his rookie season.

However, Smith did start to turn the corner after the 2023 All-Star Break, shooting 44.6 percent from the field (compared to 38.9 percent prior to the All-Star Break). He even knocked down 40.0 percent of his 3-point attempts in April (4 games), his first month shooting above 35.1 percent from 3 the entire season.

Of course, with such a small sample size, those without rose colored glasses still had reservations about how Smith would look this season. While his defensive impact has long been felt, ‘sophomore slumps’ aren’t just a figment of the imagination.

That concerns may be in the rearview now though, as a sharp and confident Smith tore up the strip in the Las Vegas Summer League, averaging 35.5 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting from the field.

The post 4 biggest things Rockets learned from 2023 NBA Summer League appeared first on ClutchPoints.

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