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Rockets 2023-2024 player previews: Tari Eason

Chaos is part of Eason’s appeal. Can he reign it in this season?

2023 NBA Las Vegas Summer League - Portland Trail Blazers v Houston Rockets
Tari Eason wants it more than you do
Photo by Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images

A second chance. It’s a lot to ask for. Life doesn’t hand out a lot of second chances. Neither does a game of NBA basketball. Unless you’ve got Tari Eason in your rotation. In that case, you may well get a second chance:

Plus a third, fourth, and fifth.

Eason’s rookie season game logs are hilarious. Go on, find one, and take a look.

Jalen Green misses 14-foot pull-up jumper

Tari Eason offensive rebound

Tari Eason misses layup

Tari Eason offensive rebound

Tari Eason misses layup

Tari Eason offensive rebound

Tari Eason misses layup

Dwight Powell defensive rebound

Tari Eason steal

Eason was an extra-possession monster as a rookie. He ranked fifth in steal percentage (2.6) and 13th in offensive rebound percentage (12.0). Who else ranked in the top 15 in each category, you ask?

No one. Nobody did.

That’s really important. This is basketball in its most reduced form. The goal is to score, but you must have the ball to score. So the goal is to get the ball. Nobody gets the ball like Tari Eason. What else can he do?

That’s the key question for Eason heading into this season. His offensive game is...confusing. Eason is an agent of chaos, but too often, he’s also a victim of it.

Saying he missed layups last season would be like saying Taylor Swift has some hits. Eason was smoking bunnies like they were victory cigars and he was Red Auerbach in the ‘60s. On the other hand, his jumper was a pleasant surprise. His 34.3 percent from long-range wasn’t exceptional, but with everything else that the kid brings to the table, it will do.

Full disclosure: Eason is my favorite player in the NBA right now. I said it. Still, we shouldn’t be delusional about his role next season.

For what it’s worth, it does feel like Coach Udoka wants as many people handling the ball as possible. Eason will have the rock in transition - he’ll be the one to play the passing lane, and his open floor handle is more than functional. In halfcourt sets, he may get a fair shake - but in all likelihood, he’ll be on the other end of a pick-and-roll (or pop).

Eason should be the first forward off the bench. He’s a combo wing - Udoka can deploy him at the three or the four without a worry. Frankly, he should be challenging for a starting spot too. The Rockets are now a meritocracy - nothing is off the table. Eason could usurp Jabari Smith Jr. in spite of their respective draft pedigrees. He could surpass Dillon Brooks no matter which tax bracket he’s in. Who knows? Smith Jr. could take over as the center and all three could start.

In order to do so, he’ll have to carve out a more defined role in the halfcourt. Either he downsizes his game to focus on catch-and-shoot opportunities, or his finishing improves. Otherwise, he’ll still be a valuable sparkplug off the bench.

Just don’t be surprised if he earns a chance to start, either.