Houston Rockets: The Search for an Undrafted Gem

Chris Clemons #59 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chris Clemons #59 of the Houston Rockets (Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Houston Rockets had zero picks in this year’s draft, but do any of their undrafted rookies have the potential to make a difference moving forward?

The initial take on the 2019 NBA Draft was that it was light on superstar talent. The number four pick drew comparisons to Luol Deng, DeMarre Carroll, and Jae Crowder. This is not an ideal situation for teams hoping to turn things around in a hurry.

Though this isn’t to say the draft is a failure. De’Andre Hunter was the Defensive Player of the Year in the ACC and he has all the tools to be an elite 3-and-D wing for a long time. Not everybody can be an All-NBA player and this draft is littered with prospects that can be great role players moving forward.

Unfortunately, the Houston Rockets dealt both their first and second round picks. One for salary relief and one for a man who had previously been a 35-year-old rookie. So by the time the team had the ability to grab some young talent, 60 of the top players available already had a team.

The Rockets ultimately signed Shamorie Ponds of St. John’s, Chris Clemons of Campbell, and William McDowell-White out of Germany to Exhibit 10 contracts. Having only three rookies, all of the undrafted variety, is not the best situation, but previous trades handcuffed the Rockets on draft night.

As recently as last season, with Allonzo Trier, there have been undrafted rookies who demonstrated they have the talent to make it in the league. Houston still has both of its Two-Way contracts available going into training camp so at least one of the three rookies will likely get the ax.

McDowell-White currently seems like the most likely of the three to lose out when camp ends. The Australian native last played for the Baunach Young Pikes in Germany after a year at Fresno State. He only averaged eight minutes per game in the summer league and totaled 10 points in the four games. It seems most likely he’ll accept the bonus to stick with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers for the season.

Clemons seems more likely to at least be given a Two-Way deal and even though he is undersized, Clemons does bring at least one discernible NBA skill forward: scoring. The 5’9 guard averaged at least 24.9 points per game in each of his last three years of college basketball, topping out at 30.1 in his senior season. He knocked down the long ball at 36.3 percent for his career at over three attempts per game.

Clemons’ incredible speed and supposed 44″ vertical, made him unguardable in college. Scoring has never been a problem, but with bigger and faster players in the pros, his main problems will come on the defensive end. The pick-and-roll heavy offenses many teams run could force him into a mismatch on nearly every possession. Looking at players like Isaiah Thomas and Nate Robinson could give him some direction of how to make it with the Rockets moving forward.

Clemons also did light it up in the summer league. He averaged 20.8 points on 39.5/43.1/78.9 shooting splits. His field goal percentage leaves something to be desired, but his 3-point and free throw percentages show that the shooting stroke is there. Looking too deep into summer league numbers can be troublesome, but a good start could lead to a strong training camp.

The Rockets can always use more scoring punch off the bench, especially during load management scenarios. Even if it’s just spot minutes where Clemons comes in and knocks down a few shots, the added depth could be crucial during an 82 game season. Then if he eventually puts it together like Thomas did, who himself was Mr. Irrelevant in 2011, the Rockets may have a  spark plug off the bench for years to come.

Shamorie Ponds brings in the biggest name and will likely also garner a Two-Way when camp ends. His strong play last season for St. John’s led the team to a NCAA tournament birth. The 6’1 guard averaged 19.7 points on 35 percent from 3 and 5.1 assists to only 2 turnovers. He has better size than Clemons, but will need to add strength in the weight room to hold his own in the NBA.

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During the Summer League, Ponds struggled. He shot only 30 percent from the field and doled out less than two assists per game. Luckily for him, Chris Chiozza, who averaged the most minutes of all the Rockets’ guards at summer league, was waived last month. This will make the path to a Two-Way (or guaranteed) contract easier to attain and there isn’t a better team in the league for a lefty scorer to develop than the Rockets.