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Summer League Diary Day One: Rockets vs. Raptors

Live-blogging the Rockets' Summer League opener against the Toronto Raptors

LAS VEGAS - Welcome to Las Vegas and the first installment of Rockets.com’s running diary from Sin City. This promises to be a wild week of action for the Rockets, with so many first round draft picks (six, by my count, but it’s getting hard to keep track) and intriguing prospects to track.

First, the ground rules: Similar to the advice I’ve tried to give everyone regarding the tidal wave of Rockets-related rumors these days, the best thing I can relay to those either watching the games or simply reading about them is to do the best you can trying to put everything that happens in its proper perspective. Summer League games are a completely different animal than what transpires over the course of an NBA regular season; the contests here in Vegas typically take the form of organized chaos as young players do their best to adhere to systems and players they just became familiar with mere days ago. Great performances don’t necessarily predict greatness, just as underwhelming showings don’t necessarily doom anyone to certain failure. Summer League offers a small piece of the puzzle that represents a player’s pro potential; hardly the entire thing.

Now that that qualifier is out of the way, let’s get down to the business at hand and talk a little basketball.

First quarter: Rockets 22, Raptors 20

2011 draftee Donatas Motiejunas is already making things happen down on the low block for Houston. In fact, you couldn’t ask for a much better start: 9 points (including a three-pointer), 5 boards and a tremendous amount of effort and physical play in the post. If you’re familiar with D-Mo’s game, his comfort level down low won’t come as a surprise. He can finish around the basket with either hand and can fly up and down the floor. He can shoot, too, but early on I think it’s safe to say you’re going to see the Rockets use him much more like a traditional big rather than in a stretch four capacity. That will come in time as he develops NBA range.

Royce White picked up two assists in his first seven minutes of summer league action. His passing skills really stood out both in the film room and during practice this week, so it’s no surprise to see him making plays with his vision here. He’s also turned the ball over a couple times and I expect we’ll see plenty of that during his rookie season, too. White’s creativity will lend itself toward experimentation and he’ll no doubt suffer the consequences every once in awhile. But something else to keep in mind: a high turnover rate for rookies historically portends good things for those players as their careers unfold, precisely because it is frequently an indicator of a very creative basketball mind.

Halftime: Rockets 41, Raptors 40

I doubt we’ll see much of Chandler Parsons this week, but he’s getting plenty of run today and making the most of it. 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 assists so far, building off his strong rookie season that routinely saw him excel as a smart, jack-of-all-trades type player. The coaching staff wanted him to embrace a leadership role this week and he’s done it from day one, setting the tone and showing the Rockets’ expansive list of rookies and young players what it means to be professional. Should the Rockets head into training camp this young they will most definitely need guys to fill that role and it has to be heartening for the club to see Parsons show such a natural knack for it.

Newsflash: Jeremy Lamb can score. The UConn product produced 8 points in his first 10 minutes of action, but few will be surprised by his proclivity for putting points on the board. The Rockets coaches will want to see him use his talents in the other aspects of the game as well, so it was good to see him grab a couple boards along the way. With his go-go-gadget arms there’s really no reason why he shouldn’t become a much better rebounder as he progresses. From a scoring standpoint, too, it was a good sign to see him attack the rim and get to the line late in the second quarter; he can put so much pressure on a defense, and getting to the line with regularity will only add to his offensive arsenal.

Final:  Rockets 93, Raptors 81

Rough Summer League start for Marcus Morris so far. One wonders if he’s pressing somewhat. It’s no secret that the second-year player out of Kansas struggled during his rookie campaign so he’s no doubt feeling a fair bit of pressure to get his second season off to a strong start. It’s not happening for him at the moment, but it should be noted that Houston’s coaches have consistently remarked this week that Morris came into camp stronger, leaner and in much better shape than last year, and they’ve been impressed with the work he put in during the team’s practice sessions and scrimmages. He’ll no doubt have plenty of other opportunities to show just that in the days ahead.

Not struggling, however, is Terrence Jones. He’s played very under control and been a playmaker on both ends of the floor, which is precisely what the Rockets project/hope him to be. 17 points, 9 rebounds for Jones today.

The star of the show, however – as he’s been from the beginning, is Motiejunas. In the Rockets’ wildest dreams they couldn’t possibly have allowed themselves to wish for a debut like this. 25 points, 9 rebounds and 11-13 shooting (including 2-2 from deep). A few days ago D-Mo uttered his now famous line, “If you’re afraid of wolves, don’t go in the woods,” when asked if he harbored any concerns about making the transition to NBA basketball. After this performance, however, his opponents might need to take those words to heart. Of course Motiejunas isn’t scared of wolves. Why should he be afraid? Apparently D-Mo is a wolf.