The Houston Rockets are extremely pleased with the way rookie point guard Isaiah Canaan has played since he was thrust into the rotation after Patrick Beverley tore his meniscus. With Houston’s second-round investment paying off, Jeremy Lin could be the most expendable part of the Rockets’ rotation heading into the offseason.
Canaan was the 34th overall selection of the 2013 NBA Draft — a draft in which Daryl Morey begrudgingly only owned one pick (Houston’s first-round pick went to the Oklahoma City Thunder as part of the James Harden trade). As a whole, the 2013 draft pool was weak, but several point guards have proven to be effective in their rookie campaigns.
Michael Carter-Williams (11th overall to the Philadelphia 76ers), Victor Oladipo (second overall to the Orlando Magic) and Trey Burke (ninth overall to the Utah Jazz) will almost certainly be 1-2-3 in the Rookie of the Year voting (probably in that order). Meanwhile, C.J McCollum (10th overall to the Portland Trail Blazers), Dennis Schroder (17th overall to the Atlanta Hawks) and Nate Walters (38th overall to the Washington Wizards, traded to the Milwaukee Bucks) have all displayed promise in their rookie years, with Schroder looking like a future starter (although he’s still incredibly raw) and McCollum and Walters looking like future effective second-string floor generals.
Canaan definitely hasn’t put up the kind of numbers that MCW, Burke and Oly have, but if he were put their shoes this season, I believe he’d be a Rookie of the Year candidate as well.
The most surprising parts of Canaan’s game are his confidence and on-ball defense. Canaan played four years at Murray State before making the jump to the NBA, and it’s clear that he’s far more polished than most of 2013 rookie class. From the minute Canaan stepped on an NBA court, he’s looked comfortable, possessing great body language and constant aggression.
Defensively, Canaan is much more evolved than most youngsters, with the strength to go chest to chest with stronger guards and the foot speed to stay in front of quicker ones. Canaan has turned the ball over at a very high rate (11 turnovers in the last six games in under 20 minutes a night), but that’s something I feel he’ll get better with as he adjusts to the speed of the game. In regards to shooting, he’s already displayed the ability to launch off the dribble and off the catch with a quick trigger — something that’s important since he lacks size at barely six-feet tall.
Canaan had his unofficial coming-out party Apr. 6 against the Denver Nuggets, draining four three-point shots and finishing with 15 points in less than 19 minutes of action. Once again the rookie’s confidence was in full swing, as he launched from all angles without a second’s hesitation.
While Canaan has been displaying confidence, Lin has been disappointing. Yes, Lin is still a much better starting option for this season’s Rockets (which he reinforced against the Nuggets, scoring 19 points and coming up with a clutch steal in crunch time to help Houston finish a comeback), but given Canaan’s youth and the size of Lin’s contract (due to make $15 million next season, $8.3 million against the cap), it seems very likely that Morey moves Lin and keeps Canaan as Beverley’s backup.
Morey has been very effective in his ability to replace more expensive, older players with younger, cheaper players who possess more upside. Of course, the possibility still exists that Houston scores an upgrade at the one this summer (a guy like Jeff Teague comes to mind) and the move could lead to either backup point guard hitting the road.
One thing is for certain in all of this: Morey sure knows how to draft in the second round.