With the Houston Rockets recently acquiring international point guard Issuf Sanon from the New York Knicks, let’s take a look at what exactly they’re getting in the young guard.
The Houston Rockets recently parted ways with reserve point guard Austin Rivers, as they finalized a sign-and-trade deal that sent him and the rights to Sergio Llull to the New York Knicks on Friday. Rivers’ looming departure was the worst kept secret, as it became clear when he decided to exercise his player option that he wouldn’t be returning to the Space City.
The surprise was the fact that the Rockets agreed to trade the veteran guard, as this hadn’t been speculated by any of the sources that follow the team. The trade created a trade exception worth upto $2.2 million, which gives the Rockets future flexibility.
The less discussed aspect of the trade is that the Rockets acquired international point guard Issuf Sanon in return, who was selected by the Washington Wizards with the 44th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. But who exactly is Sanon and what should Houston Rockets fans expect out of the 21-year-old prospect?
For starters, we should first acknowledge that there’s a high probability that Sanon may never actually play for the Rockets, as he could follow suit of Llull and remain overseas, or he could simply be included in yet another trade down the line by Rockets general manager Rafael Stone. But let’s assume he does in fact suit up for the team, for the purpose of this article.
What are the Houston Rockets getting in Issuf Sanon?
At 6-foot-4 and 183 pounds, Sanon has a nearly identical frame as the player he was traded for, as Austin Rivers stands 6’4 and weighs 200 pounds. Sanon is described as a great athlete who has a lethal crossover and is able to finish at the rim, either by dunking or by lay-up.
In addition, Sanon has a good floater and thrives in the pick-and-roll, as he’s able to get the ball to the rolling big more often than not. Sanon is also a solid on-ball defender, as he plays the passing lanes well and is able to get steals with ease.
Sanon first burst onto the scene in 2017 when he played on the Under 18 FIBA Junior Team, as he posted averages of 19.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 3.4 steals, at the age of 17. Sanon displayed two of his biggest weaknesses during the tournament, which were constant turnovers and poor free throw shooting, as he averaged five turnovers per game and made just 58.6 percent of his free throws.
Sanon’s all-around play made him a highly coveted player during the 2017-18 international season, as he played for four different clubs, but ultimately only received 15.1 minutes per game, as he struggled to connect from long-range, making just 25.3 percent of his triples. The 2018-19 season wasn’t much different, as he played just 17.1 minutes per game and made 24.7 percent of his treys while suiting up for Union Olimpija.
The 2019-20 season was easily Sanon’s best, as he averaged 12.6 points on a career-best 22.9 minutes per game, as he returned to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk for the third time of his career. Sanon flashed an improved jumper, as he made 34.4 percent of his treys and made 50.3 percent from the field and 79.4 percent from the charity stripe.
Sanon also impressed in the true shooting department, as he posted true shooting splits of 61 percent and had an effective field goal percentage of 56.4 percent, which were both career highs. Sanon has also had a good start to the 2020-21 season, as he’s posted averages of 9.6 points through five games, despite seeing his minutes drop to just 15.6 minutes again.
Sanon has already made 53.3 percent of his threes from long-range on three attempts per game, and has yet to miss from the charity stripe. This comes after his impressive showing in the 2020 FIBA qualifying round, as he had 13 points, five assists, five rebounds, four steals, and made three 3-pointers, hitting 75 percent of his long-range attempts in the match.
Sanon’s trajectory and upside have continually improved over the last several years, which is to be expected considering the age he burst onto the scene and his youth and lack of early playing time in international play. Sanon’s 3-point shooting has improved of late and his efficiency has also improved over the last several seasons.
In addition, Sanon has gotten much better with cutting down on his turnovers and figures to continue to improve. Although NBA competition is much different from international play across the board, many of the players Sanon has faced have been on NBA rosters, which bodes well for his transition to the NBA, if and when that happens.
With Sanon’s stock rising and him continuing to round out his game, he figures to be an asset in the near future, whether for the Houston Rockets or for another team in the NBA.