More Sports:

July 08, 2022

Diving deeper on new Sixers player Danuel House Jr.

You've all seen the mock-ups of Sixers/Rockets hybrid logos. You've wondered aloud why Philadelphia has recreated part of a team that fell short of a Finals appearance even at their peak. Some of you are happy about what the Sixers have done so far this offseason, but the feeling seems to be that another shoe has to drop. So what happens if there isn't, and the Sixers end up heading into the season with De'Anthony Melton, PJ Tucker, and Danuel House Jr. as their biggest additions?

The other two guys are probably slightly more familiar to Sixers fans, in that one is a grizzled vet who has appeared on a ton of good teams, and the other is an ascending player who is arguably the most exciting of their pickups. That leaves us with House, the man whose road to this moment has been rocky and full of surprises.

This isn't, in case you weren't aware, House's first time through the Sixers' organization. When he came into the league out of Texas A&M (by way of a transfer from Houston), he spent time with Philadelphia's G-League affiliate (still named the 87ers at that point) while trying to earn a chance to play in the big leagues. House's work at the lower levels earned him a two-way contract with the Suns in 2017-18, stringing together some strong performances down the stretch of that year to put himself on the radar.

Moving back and forth between teams and duties is a process House has grown accustomed to over the years. Though he made his name in Houston as a complementary player alongside James Harden, House had to jump through hoops to establish himself. House was waived eight days after being called up from Houston's G-League affiliate in 2018, only to sign a two-way contract two days after that. The run he had from there was good enough that the Rockets burned through all of his available NBA days — two-way players were limited to 45 total days with the NBA team at the time, with only 33 prorated days available for House due to his midseason signing — forcing House back to the G-League in mid-January as the two sides tried to reach an agreement on his future. That initial run was enough for both sides to eventually reach an agreement in March to convert his deal to a standard deal, and House signed an $11 million extension in June 2019 to stick with Houston for another three years.

Houston was excited about what they'd seen, and they had good reason to be. House shot the lights out in his first year playing off of James Harden, though characterizing it as a product of Harden and Harden alone does a disservice to how good House was as a shooter that year. His excellent catch-and-shoot numbers (42.4 percent on 3.4 attempts per game) were supported by high-level pull-up shooting, House knocking down 39.5 percent of those attempts. Those both turned out to be high marks for House's career to date, though they do illustrate that House can offer more than simple standstill shooting on offense, even if you'd prefer to minimize his self-creation if possible.

The occasional stepback aside, House's shooting value is all about keeping it simple and getting to spots. He is a location and relocation shooter rather than a movement shooter, someone whose first job is to get to the spot his playmakers needs him to be in. Spacing is a topic Doc Rivers has harped on repeatedly over the last two years, so it's no surprise that he was one of the people happy to get House in the room. A lot of his time will ultimately be spent in the corners, but House has shown comfort as a shooter out of ball screens, and the Sixers will likely be able to run some of the 1-4 actions they ran with Harden and (for example) Georges Niang for House next season. The left corner, left wing, and trail spot have been his best bets for most of his career, though that flipped last season. 

For these reasons alone, you'd expect House to be a player in high demand. But results from deep haven't been there consistently over the last few years, which may owe in part to mechanics. Dating back to college, scouts knocked House for his tendency to release his jumper before he starts to come down, and that can explain a lot of the inconsistency he has shown from deep. The Rockets were also obviously in flux once Harden decided to force his way out of town, and when a shot-creating star hits the exit, shot quality goes down for everybody.

That explains how House ended up lost in the wilderness for a bit, ineffective in Houston, only worth a 10-day deal for the Knicks, and forced to battle through three more 10-day contracts with the Jazz to land on a roster full-time. In Utah, House finally reestablished himself as a reliable role player, which isn't shocking given that he was finally on a competent basketball team again.

House's shooting came back in a major way in Utah, but it was as important, if not more important that he showed the other part of his game that earned him playing time in Houston. While Utah's offense was ever so slightly worse with House on the floor, having House in the game was a bigger indicator of defensive success than Rudy Gobert being on the floor*. Utah's defense was 9.3 points better per 100 possessions whenever House played, the best mark of anyone on the team and in the 97th percentile of all NBA players last season, per Cleaning The Glass. That's not to say House is anything close to a Gobert-level defender or that you should expect that sort of impact on this team, only that he is capable of raising the Sixers' floor by replacing worse options in the rotation.

(To be clear, House spent most of his time on the floor with Gobert, so if you're asking me, this mostly illustrates that your defense will succeed if you put competent defenders around Gobert instead of turnstiles. But with House playing in front of another excellent rim protector in Joel Embiid, I'd expect him to continue adding value on that end of the floor.)

House, you may have heard, has excellent size for a modern NBA wing, standing 6'6" and weighing in at a sturdy 220 pounds. What you can ask him to do outweighs what he's not up for as a result of that size — House outplayed Royce O'Neale for basically the entire stretch run in Utah, earning opportunities to play over O'Neale (who just got traded to Brooklyn for a 2023 first) in playoff crunch time. House is not a stopper, but he's a competent, competitive option against a variety of players from 2-4. House has enough athleticism to stick with small-ish wings, enough size/strength to deal with bigger wings, and he's sturdy enough to hold up against burlier forwards if he must. You probably don't want him tracking smaller, quicker guards too often, but you wouldn't expect him to spend much time on those types of players if they can help it, with the group of Tyrese Maxey, De'Anthony Melton, and Matisse Thybulle guys you either want or need to take those assignments.

One big plus with acquiring House is that he has been a helpful defender in multiple scheme contexts. In Houston, the Rockets switched early and often, and House's aforementioned traits helped him succeed within that style of play. In Utah, House made his mark while playing for a group built around Rudy Gobert in drop coverage, a style Sixers fans are familiar with. He might end up playing both this season depending on the lineup. The Sixers are now better equipped to mix-and-match styles with the additions of House and Tucker, and the emergence of Paul Reed during last year's playoff run gives them a long, athletic defender who can protect the rim and empower Philly to switch everything when they roll out lineups sans Embiid. I also have a feeling (an educated feeling, we'll say) that Tucker could spend some time as the nominal "center" this year, and players like House who can handle switching and offer something on the other end harden the foundation of those lineups.

The human side of House is where I suspect we (and certainly I) will have to learn more about him over time. I think the fairest way to describe him, based on discussions with people around the league and the view of his career from afar, is as a live wire. He was, rather infamously, the guy who got kicked out of the NBA's Disney World bubble after it was determined he broke protocol and brought an unauthorized guest to his hotel room. He has given some, well, we'll call them interesting quotes about what he wants to bring to the table for a team. For example, here is House explaining his goal of being a water purification system for the Jazz:

“This is a good organization. And they believe so much in me, they’re pouring into me. So my job is, if they’re pouring into me, to make sure that when the water hits the glass, make sure it’s purified enough for us to drink.” [Salt Lake Tribune]
When asked why he didn't make it to an Ice Cube concert Jazz players attended this past winter, House explained his absence as follows.

I would have loved to melt down with the Cube. But I had to find a place to live. [KSL]
Maybe we should just try to avoid water-based analogies for House. Goofy quotes and seductive visitors aside, House raised some eyebrows for an animated reaction on Utah's bench during their brief playoff run, the veteran wing noticably distraught as numerous teammates attempted to get him back in the proper headspace.

If you're asking me, this looks like the sort of fire the Sixers have desperately needed as a team in recent years. Within a Utah group wearing the scars of repeated playoff humiliations, it may just be that House stood apart from a beaten-down group. A tinge of chaos isn't going to hurt Philadelphia, so long as it's coming from the right place.

Finding consistency on all fronts will be what makes or breaks House's time in Philadelphia. On a steady diet of threes and a spot in the middle of a more switchable Philadelphia lineup on the other, House has a better-than-decent chance to exceed the value of his contract and help the Sixers move closer to contention.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleNeubeck

Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice Sports