Isaiah Canaan and Moving Up the Ladder

Apr 6, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Rockets guard James Harden (13) speaks with guard Isaiah Canaan (1) during the first quarter against the Denver Nuggets at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Sports

In the 2013 draft, the Houston Rockets selected one of the nation’s top scorers, Isaiah Canaan, with the 34th pick. The selection was seen as a bit of a surprise, considering the Rockets already had two high volume scoring guards in James Harden and Jeremy Lin.

Despite the potential logjam, the Rockets signed Canaan and assigned him to their NBA developmental league affiliate, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Under Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s direction, the Vipers have long been ahead of the curve of the developmental system, using the team as a testing ground for both strategy and player development. Troy Daniels, Greg Smith, and the recently resigned Jeff Adrien all spent time with the Vipers at some point during their time in Houston and each returned to Houston better players.

Canaan played 18 games in Rio Grande in 2013-14, averaging 22 points and 8 assists while shooting 37% from beyond the arc on nearly 9 attempts per game. The Rockets recalled Canaan in late February after trading Aaron Brooks to the Nuggets. Canaan saw limited action in 22 games as the third guard behind Patrick Beverley and Jeremy Lin.

With this week’s trade of Lin to the Lakers, Canaan appears to be the presumptive back up. Slowly but surely, Isaiah Canaan has worked his way up through the Rocket’s organization. I had a chance to speak with Canaan after the 83-60 Rockets win over the Clippers Tuesday afternoon at the Las Vegas Summer League about his time with Vipers and how it helped his progression.

“It taught me to always be prepared, always be ready, and at any given moment your name could be called. It taught me to always be ready for any obstacle that’s thrown at you, but also to have fun and enjoy [basketball],” he said.

Coming out of college, his supposed shortcomings included his size and a lack of lateral quickness. But tactics and strategy can make up for that, especially when a player is dedicated to the system like Canaan. The Vipers run similar schemes to Houston, and Canaan credits his time in in the Rio Grande Valley with improving his defense overall. He’s learned to how to better “keep people in front of me” and learned to “attack them defensively and make their jobs harder.” Canaan likes “being able to pick people up full court” as well. Judging from a one game sample against the Clippers, his footwork and anticipation have improved dramatically as he appeared to be a solid defensive guard.

When asked about his role next season, Canaan was cautiously optimistic. He said he hasn’t spoken to Coach Kevin McHale about his role this season.

“I haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk to him, to ask him what he expects”, Canaan said. “He told me after the season he expected me to go out [to Summer League] and play hard, play with a lot of energy, take care of the ball and knock down open shots.” He’s had a reasonable three game stretch in Las Vegas, averaging 13 points and 3.6 assists per game paired with a workmanlike effort on defense.

Isaiah Canaan still does not know if he’ll be a member of the Houston Rockets next season. He’s been moved up the depth chart by circumstances beyond his control. If and when Canaan becomes a full time roster member this season, his time spent preparing in the NBA D-league will have played a defining role.

Kirk Henderson