After a hard-fought win earlier this summer at Houston’s NEX Pro League Pro-Am, Rockets Wire asked forward Danuel House Jr. a simple question during a postgame interview: “You’ve finally made it to the championship game. How are you feeling right now?”
The native Houstonian promptly responded with, “There’s unfinished business.” It’s a fitting quote because that’s the mentality he seems to have brought to his entire summer.
After first signing with the Rockets in November 2018, one month into the 2018-19 season, House Jr. became a surprisingly strong addition to the team. He was initially signed due to the injuries that plagued Houston early last season but he proved to be a productive wing with good size, athleticism and perimeter defense — something the franchise needed.
House signed a three-year, $11.1-million contract this offseason to stay with the Rockets and he seems to be on a mission to prove he is worth that money. With the Rockets in need of consistency from the wing position, and currently in win-now mode, this could be House’s best opportunity to show off his skill set.
Notable offseason improvements
In 39 regular-season games including 13 starts, House Jr. averaged 9.4 points and 3.6 rebounds in 25.1 minutes.
Now with an opportunity to play a full season with the Rockets, House Jr. has a lot of room for improvement, but could see a significant increase in his statistics and overall game. House Jr. has worked all summer toward making key adjustments.
Over the summer, the 26-year-old House Jr. has worked with Kenny Ellis, an NBA skills developer, with an apparent training emphasis on finishing in the paint. During games at the NEX Pro League, House Jr. displayed more craftiness around the rim, which allowed him to finish at a higher and more efficient rate.
Specifically, House showed a better ability to draw contact and still finish while driving into the paint at full speed. That’s something that was seen in only small doses last season, partly due to a limited sample size. However, expect to see House draw contact at a higher rate this season with an emphasis on finishing through contact.
Playing alongside James Harden and his legendary step-back jumper, House Jr. has been able to learn some tips on how to create space just by watching Harden. Dating back to late last season, House Jr. has been working on his step-back and he just might have mastered it this offseason in his work with Ellis.
Because of his long frame, House is able to take a wide step-back and create just enough space to get a clear shot off. Clips of him utilizing the move in games at the NEX Pro League have been encouraging by how similar it looks to Harden’s move.
Utilizing this move could open up opportunities for House Jr. to succeed offensively. It could give him a boost in efficiency if he can regularly create that kind of space.
With House Jr. standing 6-foot-7, scouts knew he had the ability to hit contested shots over bigger defenders. But nobody knew he would be able to improve his shooting so dramatically and at such a fast rate. His three-point shooting rose from 25.9% in 23 games the previous year in Phoenix to 41.6% with the Rockets last season.
In watching some of House’s games at the NEX Pro League, he seems much more comfortable taking heavily contested shots down the stretch of a game. He appeared to welcome pressure from his opponents and actually shot better as the stakes increased by connecting on shots over larger defenders, often using the step-back. It’s a scenario he works on repeatedly in practice, too.
With the Rockets needing more size late in games, House Jr. could find his way into getting more crunch-time minutes if he continues to progress in this area.
Starting lineup outlook
The Rockets have searched for a wing with good size and athleticism, and they might have found a gem in Danuel House Jr., who fits the traditional height and length requirements. That’s something the Rockets have longed for since losing Trevor Ariza in July 2018.
That length might become more important in the 2019-20 season given the roster composition of other Western Conference championship contenders at the forward spot, such as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George with the Los Angeles Clippers and LeBron James and Anthony Davis with the Lakers.
If House Jr. starts at small forward as has been rumored, it could provide more benefits to the team beyond his physicality. In fact, having House Jr. start over Eric Gordon could enable Gordon to go back to being the scoring anchor of the bench unit, similar to his role when Ariza started and Gordon won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award in the 2016-17 season.
It could also allow Gordon to be fresher as the season moves on, lowering his injury risk. After all, the 14 games Gordon missed last season due to injury contributed to the Rockets signing players like House Jr. to fill the scoring void.
By all indications, House is ready to take a leap this season, and starting him could be just the first step. His offseason improvements have been big, and his size is needed in the starting lineup. He looked impressive in team workouts last month at UCLA, and he was raved about by team officials all summer, including general manager Daryl Morey, who referred to House Jr. as a core part of the team.
If everything goes according to plan, all signs point to Danuel House Jr. having a big year for the Rockets in the 2019-20 season.
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