Isaiah Canaan played sparingly last season for the Houston Rockets in his 43 games at the NBA level. The backcourt still featured an overpaid Jeremy Lin and James Harden, who saw 38 minutes a game from the 2-guard position. Aaron Brooks helped take some of the remaining minutes.
That left rookie Isaiah Canaan with precious little time to hit the court and show he could play.
But those fans who saw Canaan at Murray State knew the diminutive point guard could play.
His shooting last season was hardly indicative of what he’s capable of. Hitting just 35 percent from the floor and 32 percent from three, much of these numbers can be attributed to both a small sample size and lack of familiarity with his teammates and the NBA game.
At Murray, Canaan showed he was a lethal shooter. He connected on 41.9 percent from distance in his four years at the mid-major program, and in his senior season he posted 21.8 points and 4.3 assists per game.
It wasn’t enough to translate to a first round selection in 2013, as Canaan fell to the Rockets at the 34th pick of the draft. He spent a solid half of last season playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the NBDL.
In those 18 games, Canaan did not disappoint. He averaged 21.8 points and 8.2 assists per game while shooting a blistering 52 percent from the floor and knocking down 37 percent of his three-point attempts. That mark is a good indicator of what he can do from NBA distance, since his high marks were shooting at the college three-point line. The Vipers shot nearly as many threes as two pointers last season, which will serve Canaan well at the NBA level since the Rockets’ M.O. is much the same.
Canaan did not downplay the importance of the D-League stint. He said to CBS Sports, “It (was) very valuable…a big learning experience…you (get) a chance to actually play in games. (It) gives you a chance to actually go out there and work on the things you need to work on…the coaches and staff are watching you, so they evaluate you and make sure you’re doing the right things, (Making) sure you’re not playing with your head down because you’re down there.”
Canaan came to the Rockets prepared to make an impact, but it was another rookie who stole the show in the 2014 playoffs, Troy Daniels. Canaan will fight for some of the minutes that Daniels received, but it is Canaan who brings the playmaking and point guard skills to back up starter Patrick Beverley.
One issue may arise, however, as both are tiny guards who barely scratch six-foot with shoes on. Both are capable of playing pestering full court defense, but both are equally incapable of matching up with bigger and stronger point guards. Adding to this issue is the lack of defense played by James Harden, which makes switching defensive assignments a near-impossibility.
These are all issues for Kevin McHale to address next season, and the Rockets are still said to be in pursuit of combo guard Ramon Sessions according to Andrew Prue of Carolina Live. Should Sessions be signed, that will clearly cut into the minutes Canaan would have received, but it won’t render him obsolete either.
Sessions can slide over the 2-guard to give James Harden extended breathers. The pressure on Beverley could be lessened, which will help him avoid nagging injuries, while also serving as insurance policy should he go down for an extended period of time.
Jeremy Lin brought good play making ability as a backup, but he turned the ball over a lot, and still possesses an erratic jumper. The hope is that Canaan can play under control offensively, hit a higher clip—and play better defense than Lin.
If all three of those things happen, he’ll have been a great steal as a second rounder.
And if none of it does, the Rockets are still paying about $816,000 for his services (and $947,000 should the team option his 2015-16 season). It’s a low risk investment, as all second rounders are, and if Canaan replaces Lin’s production, it will have come at less than 1/15th the cost.