Young Houston Rockets named as standout defenders for Team USA

The Houston Rockets' Amen Thompson takes the tough assignments for Team USA.
The Houston Rockets' Amen Thompson takes the tough assignments for Team USA. / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

The Houston Rockets want to be known for their defense.

That's what happens when you hire Ime Udoka. He's a defensive stalwart. If the rest of the roster doesn't fall in line, they aren't likely to play for Udoka for very long.

It seems like the team is off to a good start. The Rockets' Defensive Rating of 112.8 ranked 10th in the NBA last year. Amen Thompson and Jabari Smith Jr. were both positive contributors on that end of the floor.

That trend has carried over into Team USA.

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Thompson's success shouldn't surprise anybody. His Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) of 1.8 last season was an outstanding mark for a rookie. He demonstrated the ability to defend multiple positions and should make multiple All-Defense appearances throughout his career.

By contrast, Smith Jr.'s defensive impact has been mixed. His DBPM of 0.1 last season indicates mediocrity. As a prospect, defense was supposed to be one of Smith Jr.'s calling cards.

Perhaps he's been miscast in Houston. In college, Smith Jr. funneled offensive players into Walker Kessler - a drop big. Playing alongside Alperen Sengun has broadened the scope of his responsibilities.

Should Rockets fans be encouraged by his Team USA performance?

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Why not?

Sure, we are, in the immortal words of Allen Iverson, talking about practice. We're also talking about a practice featuring several of the best basketball players in the world.

Yet, Smith Jr. was apparently responsible for defending LeBron James - and doing well. The Rockets may need to find a scheme that allows him to thrive, or he may simply continue to improve.

Thompson's success should be no surprise, but it's still encouraging. Any time a 6'7" player can be trusted to (at least try) to guard Steph Curry. it's notable.

If nothing else, it should earn him favor with Udoka.