The 2012 NBA Draft takes place Thursday night on ESPN. In this draft, the Houston Rockets have two picks in the first round: picks 14 and 16. The 14th pick is the Rockets own draft pick, and they also have the 16th overall pick from the Knicks after the Tracy McGrady trade. Knowing this, which players should they draft in the first round?
The first order of business is to look at what holes Houston needs to fill on their team. At point guard, the Rockets have two solid players in Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic, so they will likely have to pick between the two. Either way, the Rockets are likely set at the point guard position. At shooting guard, the Rockets start Kevin Martin, an above average shooting guard in this league. At small forward, they have Chandler Parsons, who showed he could be a solid small forward in this league. At power forward they have Luis Scola, who is a very skilled offensive big man. At center the Rockets played big man Marcus Camby.
Houston right now is in no-man's land: they aren't good enough to really matter, but aren't bad enough to get a good pick. Management will have to make a decision which way they want to go before they go into the draft room. Looking at the roster itself, it is clear that the first big need is at the center position. While Marcus Camby is a great player and has been a great player throughout his career, he is getting up there in age and is not a player who can be relied on long term.
Other than Camby however, the team is solid all the way around. If I was Houston, I would want to infuse some young scoring talent, as Kevin Martin and Luis Scola are players who are nearing the wrong side of their career.
With the 14th pick, I think the Rockets should just flat out go for the best overall prospect left on the board, and take a chance on star potential. Because of this, I think Houston should pick Baylor forward Perry Jones III. Jones is a player who has fallen down draft boards after returning to school for another season, but who has all the physical abilities to be a star in this league. Jones was a player who disappointed at times in his time at Baylor, and is a player who does have bust potential. However, if put in the right position, he could be a top three talent in this draft, and a tremendous value pick at 14.
With the 16th pick, I feel the Rockets could easily address their problem at the center position. If he is available on the board, the Rockets should pick up Illinois center Meyers Leonard. Leonard is a player who has legitimate size, measuring 7'1" in shoes according to Draft Express. Leonard is a player who has great defensive instincts, but perhaps not so polished of an offensive game. It's doubtful that Leonard's offensive game will transfer very much, but his defense should be a factor from day one. More than anything, Leonard should be able to compliment both Luis Scola and, eventually, Perry Jones III.
I think the picks of Jones III and Leonard would be productive picks based on where the Rockets are right now as a team. Houston has two stars in Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, but those guys are significantly older than the rest of the team, so the Rockets would be best served taking a chance on star potential in this draft in Perry Jones III. It remains to be seen whether Jones will work out, but being coached by Hall of Fame big man Kevin McHale can't hurt. Meyers Leonard is a player who has questionable upside, but should be able to come in and contribute on the defensive end right away.
With these two picks, Houston should be in a position where they can either consider making a playoff run or trading their two stars for future assets. Either way, Houston has the flexibility to choose a direction for the team, and that is a smart place to be.