By Dennis Silva II
With Marcus Morris and Greg Smith called back up to the adult club, it's only a matter of time before the Vipers' mascot gets a look, too.
Here’s a look at the Rockets’ minor league club at the All-Star break …
– VIPERS SIT 5th OVERALL: Thirty-seven games into this season, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers sit at 21-16 overall, 5 1/2 games back of Los Angeles (26-10) for the top seed in the NBDL. Overall, the Vipers sit fifth. The top eight teams by win-loss record make the playoffs. It’s been a rough week for the Vipers, who saw their top two talents – 6-foot-9 wing Marcus Morris and 6-foot-10 power forward Greg Smith – recalled by the Rockets last weekend as the adult club wanted a look at their prized lottery pick and undrafted diamond-in-the-rough forward. Hence, the Vipers have lost three of their last four games.
– VIPER ALL-STARS: The Vipers had one All-Star representative in Saturday’s game in Orlando, 6-foot-7 forward Tyren Johnson. Johnson, out of Louisiana-Lafayette, played 17 minutes and had 5 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. He shot 2-for-5 from the field and also made 1 of 2 3s for the West, which defeated the East 135-132. Gerald Green – a former Rocket, NBA all-star slam dunk contest participant and 18th pick in the NBA draft – was the game’s MVP with 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting. He plays for Los Angeles’ D-League team.
– CARACTER ON BOARD: Former UTEP star Derrick Caracter hooked on to the Vipers last week after being waived by the Lakers, who drafted Caracter with the 58th pick in the 2010 draft. Prior to his dismissal, the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Caracter had been with the NBDL’s D-Fenders (the Lakers’ D-League team) to work his way back from knee surgery. He played in four games, averaging two points and one rebound in about five minutes. Caracter was assigned to the NBDL’s Bakersfield Jam twice last season, averaging 8.7 points, 6 rebounds and 20 minutes in three regular season games. In two playoff games with the Jam, he averaged 7 points, 10 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 21.5 minutes. He played 41 games with the Lakers in 2010-11, averaging 2 points and 1 rebound in 5.2 minutes per game, shooting 48 percent from the field and 73 percent from the free throw line. He was once thought of to be a promising prospect for the Lakers. Here is a nice look on Caracter in a piece from the New York Times from March 2010. Intriguing story of his journey as a tantalizing high school player to the University of Louisville to the University of Texas-El Paso and then to the Lakers.
– OTHER PLAYERS OF NOTE: With Morris and Smith currently out of the picture, the Vipers are lacking star power, though it’s possible one or even both get sent back down to the Valley (Morris in particular). So who should Vipers fans be watching? Well, Caracter, for one. He seems to be the most mercurial talent on the roster. … There are also other quality names in former University of Houston guard Kelvin Lewis and former Florida guard and NCAA champ Lee Humphrey, who went 7-for-7 from 3 in his last outing in a win against Maine. Lewis leads the team in scoring and steals and has been the Vipers’ most consistent player. … Also, 6-foot-3 guard Ben Uzoh is with the team. He has NBA experience with the Nets last season (42 games) and Cavaliers (2 games) this season. He’s averaged 3.7 points, 1.6 assists and 1.2 rebounds in 44 NBA games. … And don’t forget about 6-foot-5 guard Jermaine Taylor, a former Rockets draft pick who was traded by the team last season before hooking up with the Kings and ending up in the Valley. Taylor is known for his scoring prowess, but just hasn’t grasped the pro game defensively. He’s averaged 5.4 points and 1.7 rebounds in 65 NBA games, shooting 44 percent from the field. He scored 16 points on 7-of-17 shooting (in 21 minutes) in the Vipers’ win against Maine last week.
– WHO’S GOT NEXT? The Vipers don’t play for awhile. They’re at Tulsa on Friday and Saturday before hosting Texas on Monday, March 12, at 7 p.m. So, yeah, they play three games in the next 15 days and they’re not home until about three more weeks. It’s very likely one of the Rockets’ two studs are back down with the team when they return to State Farm Arena against Texas.