Year In Review: Isaiah Canaan
Reflecting upon Isaiah Canaan's past, present and future following the 2013-14 campaign
As expected, Isaiah Canaan spent most of his inaugural NBA season riding the roller roaster back and forth between Houston and the Rockets’ D-League affiliate in Rio Grande Valley. While with the Vipers, the rookie point guard did pretty much everything asked of him, averaging nearly 22 points and more than eight assists per game while bulling his way to the free throw line approximately six times per contest as well. An injury to Patrick Beverley in late March then opened up an opportunity for Canaan to see time as Houston’s primary backup at the point guard position. During that seven-game stretch, he averaged 9.3 points and two assists in more than 21 minutes of action per game while shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc.
In back-to-back games during the season’s final month, Canaan established and then matched his career-high for scoring, tallying 15 points against the Nuggets in a 130-125 Rockets win before repeating that feat two nights later in Los Angeles when Houston thumped the Lakers 145-130. The rookie showed off his shooting chops in both contests, sinking seven of the 11 triples he attempted during that stretch while shooting 11-of-16 from the field overall.
THE NEXT STEP
There’s little in the way of mystery when it comes to sussing out the essential ingredients required for offensive success for the players who figure to ply their trade alongside the likes of Dwight Howard and James Harden. Priority one: Knock down open shots. And just in case you were wondering, the response is the same for the priorities numbered two-through-five as well.
While that might be an oversimplification bordering on hyperbole, it serves to get the primary point across. Howard and Harden are going to attract an enormous amount of attention on the offensive end, creating scores of quality looks for their teammates. Those shots must fall with regularity. It really is as simple as that.
Canaan came into the league with a reputation as a sweet shooting marksman, having compiled a .419 career hit rate from downtown during his four years at Murray State. He showed off that deep range plenty of times during scrimmages on the Rockets’ practice court, and did so again during the aforementioned two-game stretch in early April. Now it’s time for him to put in the necessary work to ensure that skill set shows up on a more consistent basis.
Canaan is a far better shooter than his .327 3-point shooting mark revealed him to be this past season; he’s better, in fact, than his D-League hit rate of .369. With a year of pro experience now beneath his belt, it’s a solid bet that he’ll spend a goodly portion of the 2014-15 campaign proving the veracity of that statement.
In the meantime, this offseason also offers an essential opportunity for the 22-year-old to further hone his point guard chops as well. He’ll be able to take part in Summer League – something an injury prevented him from doing last year – which will give him a chance to serve as the primary caretaker of the club’s offense. And while that may not be a regular part of his job description with the Rockets next season, the experience will still serve him well going forward whether he most often finds himself in a backup role or as a secondary playmaker sharing the floor with lethal on-the-ball threats like Harden. To that end, it’s worth noting that Canaan put up excellent numbers – both with the Rockets and Vipers – this season as a pick-and-roll ball handler according to Synergy Sports. And though the sample size from his reps with the Rockets is obviously woefully small and filled with all kinds of noise, Canaan showed similar proficiency in college so the early returns at the pro level bode well for his ability to build upon that foundation going forward.
On the defensive end, Canaan must negotiate the same steep learning curve that awaits all rookies, and one that is doubly difficult for point guards given the golden age of talent the league is currently enjoying at that position. Still, with his bowling ball build (seriously, Canaan’s physique would look right at home in an NFL defensive backfield) and quick feet, there’s no reason why he can’t eventually develop into a decent-to-plus defender as he acquires additional seasoning and experience. In this regard, he ought to be able to benefit greatly from sharing the same locker room as defensive bulldog Patrick Beverley. Canaan doesn't have to duplicate what Beverley does on that end of the floor - few can, to be honest - but the rookie would do well to mimic and employ a similar sort of zeal and tenacity, especially during those times when he's only being asked to fill in for short bursts here and there.