Houston Rockets rookies…

by July 01, 2008

By Earl K. Sneed

Last season, the Houston Rockets struck “Black Gold” when they selected Argentina’s Luis Scola with the 56th pick in the second round. The 6-9 forward raised a lot of eyebrows across the L, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting to Kevin Durant and Al Horford, with a rookie campaign that saw him average 10 points and six rebounds, before elevating those totals to 14 and nine in the Rockets’ first round exit to Utah. Now, after a plethora of Draft Day trades, GM Daryl Morey and Head Coach Rick Adelman are hoping that they have found a rookie that can duplicate Scola’s output.

While Donte Greene, Joey Dorsey and Maarty Leunen likely will not assist Tracy McGrady in leading the Rockets to 22-straight wins, as Scola did, they maybe the final pieces to the puzzle for the Rockets and T-Mac to get out of the first round of the playoffs, a jigsaw that T-Mac is still trying to put together. If any of these three live up to their potential, and Yao Ming returns healthy next season from the stress fracture in his left foot that he suffered in February, then T-Mac may have the best supporting cast since the start of his tenure in Houston. So let’s look at what Greene, Dorsey and Leunen bring to Clutch City:

Donte Greene is a 6-11 small forward in the mold of T-Mac, so he will have the opportunity to learn from the man himself. In his lone season at Syracuse, Greene lead the ‘Cuse’ in scoring (17.7ppg) and was second in rebounds (7.2 rpg), earning him Second Team All-Big East honors and a spot on the conference’s All-Rookie Team.  The athletic and long Greene lived up to the hype with Syracuse that followed him coming out of his Maryland high school, but his shoot selection is suspect. Greene shoot just over 41 percent from the field, with questionable three point shooting (a .345 shooting percentage) often showcasing his youth and bad decision-making.  At age 20, Greene is still a raw talent, but if T-Mac can take him under his wings, Greene’s upside is unimaginable. While it is not expected that Greene will get a lot of PT early on, his game could prove to develop to All-Star quality over time, along the same lines of Rashard Lewis.

Daryl Morey says Joey Dorsey is the best defensive player in this year’s class of draftees. Dorsey may prove to be the second coming of Ben Wallace, in a 6-7 body. What Dorsey lacks in height, has makes up for with athleticism and hustle plays.  Dorsey is strong and wide enough to bang with power forwards in the paint, and his ability to block shots, rebound and get up the court makes him the ideal fit to put next to Yao Ming. At Memphis last season, Dorsey was on the receiving end of countless lobs from Derrick Rose. Now, Dorsey’s ability to run the court in the transition game will fit well with Skip-to-My-Lou and T-Mac, and will likely lead to a lot of finishes above the rim.  Dorsey is a tremendous rebounder, and his game figures to fall in perfectly next to Scola as the hustle players on the first and second units.  Dorsey seems to be a “can’t miss” player at the next level, and will likely have a long career as an interior defensive specialist. He is not near the project that Greene is, nor does he have the upside of Greene, but he will be ready to play from Day 1.

Lastly, don’t expect to see Maarty Leunen at all this season. Morey has plans to play Leunen overseas, while holding on to his rights, should they decide to ship him elsewhere or if his game expands out to be NBA ready in a year or so.   In his senior season at Oregon, Leunen averaged 15 points and 9 boards a game in the PAC-10, showing that he could help a team as a role player as some point. Leunen is scouted as a jump-shooting four at the next level, that should space the floor if he is ever paired with Yao Ming, but with Steve Novak already playing that role in Houston, there is no reason to waste Leunen’s development. While it is unclear if Leunen will ever suit up in a Rocket’s uniform, his value as trade bait depends on what potential he shows overseas.

While the player that the Rockets’ staff coveted was Greene, Dorsey’s impact should be felt right away as a team enforcer, on a team that lacks a fierce imposing figure. Dorsey may develop the offensive game that no one sees coming to accompany his defensive parlous, and if so then expect a big rookie season from the C-USA Defensive Player of the Year. If Greene reaches his potential then T-Mac may have his No.2 guy in a few years, and he could ultimately be the player that takes the torch from McGrady down the line. So, in the land where Texas billionaires make their fortune in the oil mines, the Rockets may have stroke “black gold” twice this summer.

Earl Sneed is a SLAMonline Contributor. You can contact him at earlksneed@aol.com.