As the Houston Rockets beat the Detroit Pistons on Saturday night, the story was obviously Garrison Mathews. Mathews had just signed his first long-term NBA contract hours earlier and had a strong game to follow it up. What got swept underneath the rug, however, was Rockets rookie Josh Christopher starting in his first NBA game. It wasn’t a ceremonial start either, as the swingman tallied 10 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, and 1 steal on 4 of 6 shooting from the field. Christopher was also 2 of 3 from three-point range on Saturday.

Kevin Porter Jr., Jalen Green, and Armoni Brooks were all unavailable to play so Christopher had to step in. He’d actually found his way into the rotation as of late, playing a secondary ball handling roll off the bench. After the Rockets fell to the Knicks on Thursday night, Stephen Silas talked about Christopher becoming a more permanent fixture in the rotation. Silas also said that Christopher would be playing more minutes at point guard, making Saturday an obvious first test.

Josh Christopher has moments where he’s got blinders on, but he’s fairly impressive at operating in the pick and roll when he wants to be. He basically played full-time playmaker the moment Jalen Green went down at Summer League. Christopher has an impressive handle, he’s got a big and physical frame, and he’s been a guard all his life. The Rockets made him a combo wing because of his defensive ability, but he’s still a shot-creator at heart.

“They’re becoming dependable players,” said Silas of his young crop of talent (Christopher, Alperen Sengun, and K.J. Martin). “And that’s what you want. You want guys you can depend on to make the right play, to be in the right spot, and to produce when they’re in the game.”

This is big praise coming from Silas, considering Christopher wasn’t in Houston’s rotation for large stretches of the season. The Rockets just had a crop of veteran players in front of him and the guard position was crowded. The team’s injuries of course accelerated Silas’ need to believe in him, but what’s important is he’s in the rotation now. It’ll be interesting to see how much that changes when Porter Jr. and Green return to the lineup.

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“I didn’t even tell him,” said Silas of the decision to start Josh Christopher on Saturday. “We just assumed that that was what it was going to be. He assumed. We assumed. We just wrote it on the board and he was ready for it. It was probably a special moment for him for sure and a moment he’ll never forget.”

Brooks went down on Thursday against the Knicks and Christopher was the player Houston chose to start the second half with. Usually that’s a pretty big indicator of where the coaching staff’s head is at before a decision like this. It’s how they settled on Garrison Mathews becoming a starter. Still, nobody could have ever guessed that Christopher would start a game this season after seeing his rotation minutes at the beginning of the season.

“I didn’t have my contacts in yet,” joked Christopher on seeing his name on the board with the starters. “I was like “Does that say J.C.? And it did. So there was a little excitement, but was more just ready to go. Like ‘We’re here now. Let’s win a game.”

Christopher is definitely the most charismatic player on the team. But that’s not to confuse his jovial attitude with weakness. He seems to really get up to play for big games and his leadership qualities are kind of innate. His on-floor talent is obviously great: the secondary ball handling is helpful and his defense is promising. However, it’s this leadership quality and inner-confidence that will drive Christopher to a long NBA career if he keeps improving.

“Hard work is everything and just being ready,” said Josh Christopher. “Then when you do get your name called, seize the opportunity and maximize it. So you can just keep on building on it. Not to get too high or get too low. When things like this happen, you have to keep going super hard so more good things happen for you and the team.”