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Q&A With Isaiah Canaan

Rockets rookie point guard talks fit, phyique and what he's learned from Chris Paul

HOUSTON - It’s a tradition. Every August and September we try to catch up with the team’s players to find out what they’ve been up to as they unwind from the season before while simultaneously ramping up for the campaign to come. Last week Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman went one-on-one with Jeremy Lin, and then provided an exclusive look at Dwight Howard’s workouts with Hakeem Olajuwon.

Taking his turn in the hot seat today: sharpshooting rookie Isaiah Canaan.

JCF: I feel like you’re sort of the mystery man around here. In some form or fashion, I’ve seen just about everyone on this roster play this summer – except for you, due to your ankle injury during summer league. So how’s your ankle doing now and how has the early part of your NBA transition gone so far?

IC: It’s been fun. Like you said, I was injured early and I had a hill to climb just to get back to being 100 percent healthy. I thank God for helping me get back to who I am so the biggest thing now is just getting back to being comfortable doing all the things I could do before I got injured. But the ankle feels fine and I’m glad to be back on the court. I’ve been getting some good runs in all week and I’m just really looking forward to training camp.

JCF: What have been your early experiences going against NBA-caliber players?

IC: It’s been going well. There were a few things early on that I wasn’t used to that now I’ve adjusted to. It’s amazing the difference it makes getting that hands-on experience. But at the end of the day it’s all basketball. I try to learn from all the veteran guys and at the same time I love to compete so I go out there and try to push them as much as they push me.

JCF: What were some of the things you weren’t used to at first?

IC: Really just the spacing and how quick guys close out, and how physical it can get at times. I’m a stronger guard so that doesn’t really affect me too much – I think it’s fun. But the spacing and the quickness of the close-outs is definitely different from college.

JCF: You mentioned enjoying the physicality and that brings up one of the points I wanted to make: You don’t have the stereotypical NBA player build; you look more like a running back or a defensive back. Did you play football growing up in Mississippi?

IC: I played until the tenth grade and from that point on I stuck with basketball. But I train hard and work hard on my body because I know, being a smaller guard, you have to be able to take the pounding that gets dished out your way. So I built my body in college to be able to withstand that pounding because I was looking ahead even then. I’ve worked hard in that area and I have great trainers to help me maintain it.

JCF: Which of your teammates have you played with the most in pick-up settings this summer?

IC: I’ve been around guys like Pat [Beverley], Greg Smith, Terrence Jones, James [Harden] more than anybody. That’s a good group of guys to follow; they’ve been here, they know what to expect and James of course is an All-Star and one of the leaders of the team – you can learn a lot from him.

I’ve talked to Dwight [Howard] some. I saw Chandler [Parsons] out in LA, and I’m just looking forward to getting the whole team out here and all together so we can continue to build that chemistry.

JCF: Have you had a chance to play alongside James much?

IC: Oh yeah, we played together a lot when we were out there together in LA. I’m a release valve for him; when he gets in trouble, he knows I can make the shots so he likes kicking it to me. We’re going to try to build upon that throughout the season. Even with Dwight, when he gets doubled – or anybody else for that matter – I can be a release valve for him because I shoot the ball so well. That’s what the Rockets love: they love good shooters and I feel like I fit in real well because that’s definitely one of my strengths.

JCF: Do you see yourself as more of a combo guard or a pure point guard? Does that distinction even matter to you?

IC: I feel like I can do whatever I’m asked to do. I’ve been blessed to be able to score the basketball as well as I do, but at the same time I grew up being a point guard. In college I had to be more aggressive, I had to be more of a scoring guard for us to win big and I’m all about winning. That’s what the coaches asked me to do so that’s what I did.

On this level, I know I’m not going to be the first option to score the basketball so now I can go back to being more of a playmaking point guard. If defenses back off of me, then like I said I’m blessed to be able to score the basketball, and I’m confident so I’ll be able to take what the defense gives me. But at the end of the day, it’s all about doing whatever the coaches ask me to do in order for us to win – that’s what I’m going to try to do.

JCF: The pick-and-roll is obviously the bread-and-butter play in this league – what are your keys, what are you reading when you run it?

IC: I’m reading the big. And then once I get past him I’m reading the second wave of the defense. I was told by my home boy, Chris Paul: He told me never worry about the man that's in front of you because you should always feel like you can get by him. So I’m always reading the big and the next wave of the defense to see what person on my team is going to be open.

JCF: I remember you talking about Chris Paul and what he’s meant for you during your introductory press conference. I can’t imagine there being a better point guard in the league to have as a mentor. How has he helped to prep you for this league and what you can expect now that you’re here?

IC: Just to be a step ahead. He’s taught me the pace of the game: how to change my pace, how to read a lot of things before they happen. And more than anything he’s taught me how to compete; the harder you compete, the easier it will be. He also told me in the NBA certain things will be easier due to the fact that there’s better spacing which should help me do some of the things that I do well.

He’s always telling me to try to think the game so that I’m always a step ahead of everybody else. As a point guard you have to lead a team, and that’s what he’s so good at. I’ve learned a lot from him in that area.

JCF: I know he also devours a ton of film and has gotten into some of the game’s advanced stats – has he passed that on to you as well?

IC: I have to learn that part of it. He knows how to get access to all that stuff. That’s one thing that I’m going to have to learn and learn to ask all those questions on how to be able to use that technology. I’m always eager to learn so I’m sure I’ll be trying to get as much film and as much knowledge as I can.

JCF: Well I promise you that the Rockets will get you up to speed in that area. If you’re interested in film and numbers they’ll provide you with anything and everything you could possibly imagine.

Last thing: How has your life changed since draft night?

IC: It’s changed a lot. A lot more people know about me now. People in Houston, surprisingly, when they see me out they recognize me. It’s been a whirlwind because I’ve been traveling everywhere doing all the rookie duties that rookies have to do before the season even starts.

At the same time, it’s been fun. It’s been everything that I’ve been dreaming about. I’m just trying to enjoy it. I just got a place out here in Houston and I’m looking forward to moving in and getting everything ready to go. I love it. You just have to pick and choose your spots and try to stay out of that bad traffic.

JCF: Spoken like a true point guard. Thanks, Isaiah.