Rockets Summer League Finish Gives New Life To A Rebuilding Franchise

Brian Barefield | 7/19/2023, 3:46 p.m.
The Houston Rockets fell short of accomplishing their goal on Monday of winning the NBA Summer League Championship, losing to …
Photo Credit/Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets fell short of accomplishing their goal on Monday of winning the NBA Summer League Championship, losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers by a score of 99-78 and finishing with a 5-1 record.

Yet, what they learned throughout the six games played may help them become more successful in phase two of their rebuilding process this season.

Jabari Smith Jr. Is On A Mission

Although he only played in eight quarters of basketball in Las Vegas, Smith used six of those to show the rest of the NBA world was he was capable of. The former third overall selection in the 2022 NBA Draft averaged 35.5 points, seven rebounds, and four assists per game. Smith set the tone early for the rest of the Rockets roster to follow by hitting a buzzer-beating three-point basket with 0.6 left on the clock in game one against the Portland Trailblazers.

Can I Get An Amen

The Rockets got a blessing in disguise in guard Amen Thompson whom they drafted with the fourth pick in this year’s draft. Thompson was limited to one game of summer league play after he suffered a Grade 2 ankle sprain against the Trailblazers.

What the point guard out of Overtime Elite showed before he sustained his injury is a reason for the Rockets and their fanbase to be excited. Thompson finished the game with 16 points (6-for-13), four rebounds, five assists, three steals, and four blocks. His versatility and athleticism were on full display in front of the crowd in Las Vegas, which hopefully will carry over into the regular season.

The Other Guys

Houston’s run to the championship game allowed some of the other players on the roster to get noticed. With Smith and second-year forward Tari Eason being removed from the rotation and Thompson’s ankle injury sidelining him for the remainder of the games, summer league head coach Ben Sullivan was able to use players who may have a shot of receiving some regular season minutes for the Rockets or other teams.

Guard Trevor Hudgins, who signed with Houston as an undrafted player in June 2022, had a six-game stretch where he helped lead the summer league’s best scoring offense by averaging 14.5 points per game while shooting 38 percent from three-point range. Hudgins spent most of his time last season with the Rockets’ G League affiliate team, Rio Grande Valley Vipers. His ability to shoot from long range was a key factor in Houston giving him another two-way contract at the start of free agency.

Once famous for his mullet-style haircut while playing for the Baylor Bears, Matthew Mayer did everything needed to help the Rockets reach the championship game on Monday. The 6-foot-9-inch guard/forward from Austin, Texas, displayed his shooting and defensive abilities in front of head coach Ime Udoka and general manager Rafael Stone.


Rookie forward Cam Whitmore is very observant and a quick learner. Smith and Eason set the tone for how the Rockets wanted to compete during summer league play, and Whitmore finished it by being named the 2023 Summer League MVP. He also was named to the All-Tournament First Team on Monday after scoring 19.3 points per game on 44 percent shooting from the field.

The former Villanova Wildcats player also displayed his quickness on the defensive side of the ball by averaging 2.5 steals per game, including a summer league record eight in a victory over the Golden State Warriors.

The Rockets’ summer league players and coaches gave the organization something to be proud of heading into a two-month break before the start of training camp in October.