Houston Still Has Hidden Gems Amid Rough Season


In any poor situation, it is important to acknowledge the positives — if any — that come with it.

The Houston Rockets went from being championship contenders the past several seasons to the worst team in the NBA this year. Despite the fall from grace, Houston has discovered a few hidden gems that could be significant pieces moving forward.

Jae’Sean Tate

First and foremost, let’s start with Jae’Sean Tate. Tate has been a tremendous surprise around the league. After going undrafted in 2018, he spent time in Belgium and Australia. While in Belgium, he played for the Antwerp Giants and was selected to the All-Defensive Team there. In 2019-2020 as a member of the NBL’s Sydney Kings, Tate averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists– earning an All-NBL First-Team selection.

As a member of the Rockets, his game is translating extremely well. He can be compared to P.J. Tucker for being a tough, undersized forward, but is more well-rounded than Tucker has ever been. Tate averaged 11.3 points (51% FG, 31% 3PT, 69% FT), 5.3 rebounds and 2.5 assists over 29.2 minutes per game for his rookie campaign.

In addition, His defensive prowess is through the rough and he has put it on display so far this season. He is taking the league by storm and could be a sleeper in the Rookie of the Year conversation. He’s also ranked 3rd overall on the NBA Rookie Ladder, an extremely encouraging sign. The Rockets found their first gem with Tate, and he will be a critical part of the rotation next season as well.

Kenyon Martin Jr.

After Tate, the Rockets have Kenyon Martin Jr., who is looking like an absolute steal from the 2020 draft. Coming out of IMG Academy, he was originally drafted 52nd overall by the Kings, but then acquired by Houston. While we’re unsure how many Red Bulls this man drinks, he can FLY! 

Early on, he wasn’t part of the rotation, but has since become a critical piece. Although he didn’t come into the NBA as an adequate floor-spacer or passer, he has shown much improvement on that end to become an outside threat. KJ is also the son of former NBA player Kenyon Martin, and it’s obvious he will be able to live up to, if not surpass, his father’s legacy.

I would also like to reiterate– this man can FLY! His athleticism is unparalleled even among the best in the NBA, and KJ has already begun to make a name for himself as one of the best shot-blockers in the league.

And he’s only listed at 6’6.

For the season, he’s averaging 9.3 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 0.9 blocks on 50.9% shooting and 36.5% from beyond the arc. In seven games as a starter to end the season, KJ has averaged 19.1 points (50.5% FG, 44.4% 3PT), 8.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists per contest.

The potential on display is amazing for the 20-year-old, thus plenty more is to come.

Armoni Brooks

Next up is Armoni Brooks. Going undrafted in the 2019 draft out of Houston, he spent plenty of time in the G-League. While playing with the Rockets’ little brother in Rio Grande, he led the G-League in three-pointers made (57), averaging 3.8 made per game on 37.5% shooting.

With the Rockets having to experiment with various lineups due to their injury-riddled roster, Armoni showcased his skills with the big-brother crew, averaging 11.2 points on 38.2% shooting from three. He struggled with consistency through his first 13 games, but finished strong in his last seven appearances.

In the aforementioned 13 games, he averaged 7.2 points (33.3% FG, 32.9% 3PT), but elevated that to 18.4 (47.9% FG, 44% 3PT). With his stellar stretch, Armoni made the most three-pointers (46) by a rookie in their first 17 games EVER, surpassing Damian Lillard’s record (43). He can be a future spark-plug as a sixth man like Lou Williams.

Khyri Thomas

Finally, Khyri Thomas has been an impressive newcomer to the team. He’s not quite Kyrie Irving, but this dude has some game. Drafted 38th overall in 2018, he never found his footing in Detroit, spending time in the G-League with the Grand Rapids Drive and Austin Spurs before ultimately signing with the Rockets on a 10-day contract.

In just five games with the team, he posted 16.4 points (48.5% FG, 33.3% 3PT, 9/9 FT), 3.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists, 1.8 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. He shot 51.1% from the field and 40.6% from deep in college– proof that this recent success is nothing new for Mr. Thomas.

The best part? Houston inked Khyri to a multi-year deal on May 13, locking down their underrated young talent.

Hidden Gems Remain Amid Rough Season

It’s important for franchises not to focus solely on the stars of the league. Great scouts and organizations can seek talent and find ways to utilize their talents and strengths that will best fit the team’s system. Not to say all of these players will remain with the team moving forward, but it at least provides them a chance to become an asset for someone.

There are so many relatively unknown players that can play at this level, if only given the opportunity to hoop. Coaches and GM’s are in very critical positions to help display confidence in players and assist with development, and the Rockets have done that. Stephen Silas and Rafael Stone have certainly found young talent for the team.

With the addition of a top lottery pick plus the development of Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr., the future looks bright in Houston.

Follow us on Twitter @RocketsLead for the latest Rockets news and insight. 

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About Corey Randall

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