2014 NBA Draft Prospects Houston Rockets Should Be Considering

Dave Leonardis@@FrontPageDaveContributor IIIMarch 15, 2014

2014 NBA Draft Prospects Houston Rockets Should Be Considering

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    The Houston Rockets' current focus may be on making a long postseason run, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't pay some attention to the future. The 2014 NBA Draft will be here before you know it and there are a few prospects that would be intriguing additions to the franchise. 

    As it stands, Houston is set up pretty well with a solid, young nucleus that includes Dwight Howard, James Harden and Chandler Parsons. The Rockets also have a couple rising stars in forward Terrence Jones and point guard Patrick Beverley. There are also guys like Robert Covington and Isaiah Canaan waiting in the wings as well. 

    Still, drafting well is key to a team maintaining prolonged success in the NBA. Since the Rockets will be theoretically near the bottom of the first round for the next few years, it is important that they continue to restock by finding steals late in the draft. 

    For as good as Houston is (44-21, as of Mar. 14, fourth-best in the Western Conference), they still have needs. First and foremost, the team could use someone that can defend on the perimeter. The team could also use a young big man that they could bring along slowly behind Howard and eventually replace Omer Asik as D12's backup.

    Now, seeing as most (if not all) of these potential prospects are underclassmen, there's the issue of whether or not they'll actually declare for this June's draft. Assuming they do,  they should be on Houston's radar. 

    The Rockets should be picking at the bottom of the first round. They also own the New York Knicks' second-round pick. These prospects will be candidates for either of those spots. 

    As always, reader participation is encouraged. So, if you have someone in mind that you would like to see donning the red and white next season, feel free to make your case for him in the comments section. 

P.J. Hairston, SG, North Carolina/NBDL

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    P.J. Hairston spent two seasons with the North Carolina Tarheels before leaving the school in late December. From there, Hairston ended up in the NBA's D-League, where he currently plays for the Texas Legends. 

    In 20 games, Hairston has proven capable of holding his own. He's averaging 21.2 points per game on 45 percent shooting from the field, including 36 percent from downtown (NBDL stats courtesy of RealGM.com)

    The 21-year-old may not be entering the league in the most conventional of ways, but he has the talent to be an offensive weapon. The Rockets could groom him behind James Harden and he would form an exciting one-two punch on the second unit with forward Robert Covington. 

    Given the depth of this year's draft, Hairston will probably be available in the mid-to-late first round. DraftExpress.com has the former Tarheel ranked No. 21 in their list of the Top 100 prospects, while NBADraft.net has him listed at No. 32 on their big board. 

    If he's still there when Houston is on the clock, he's certainly worth a flier. 

K.J. McDaniels, SF, Clemson

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    On one hand, Clemson's K.J. McDaniels is the kind of prospect that would fill many of Houston's needs. He's a scorer with the athleticism and defensive chops to also be a factor on the other end of the court.

    On the other hand, McDaniels' big junior season has come out of nowhere, so the opinions vary among draft websites on just how good he is. DraftExpress.com has the 21-year-old ranked No. 22 on their Top 100, while CBSSports' Gary Parrish has him listed at No. 98 out of 115 prospects. NBADraft.net doesn't even have McDaniels in their Top 100 nor is he in their two-round mock draft

    Still, this season's numbers suggest McDaniels has the goods. He's averaging 17.2 points per game on nearly 45 percent shooting from the field for the Tigers. He's also contributing 1.2 steals and an astonishing 2.7 blocks per game as well (stats courtesy of CBSSports.com). 

    DraftExpress.com also said this in their write-up about McDaniels, which should be music to the Rockets' ears: 

    Despite the considerable improvement he's shown offensively this season, where McDaniels really shines as a NBA prospect is on the other end of the floor. His size, length, and tremendous athleticism allows him to guard up to four positions at the college level, and give him the potential to emerge as a lockdown defender in the NBA.

    Does that not sound like someone Houston could use to you? McDaniels' relatively-low profile probably puts him in Houston's range at the end of the first round. If that's the case, he'd be the perimeter defender and occasional scorer they've been lacking.   

James Young, SG, Kentucky

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    James Young is yet another young scorer that could provide a spark on Houston's second unit. The Kentucky freshman is averaging 14.4 points per game and shooting just under 40 percent from the field for the Wildcats this season. 

    At 6'7" and a little over 200 pounds, he has the size to play shooting guard or small forward. He could be a nice backup behind James Harden and might even be able to spell Chandler Parsons at times as well. 

    There are certainly plenty of reasons for Young to stay in school. At just 18 years old, he's still very young. He could also use some extra time working on his outside shot (33 percent from behind the arc) as well as improving on defense. 

    Plus, given how deep this year's draft class is, he'd likely fall out of the lottery despite his immense talent. That would obviously work in the Rockets' favor, as they would be getting a steal that they could develop over time. 

    If he does come out, there's a lot to like about the kid. He's a lefty with a quick release on his jumper and has an amazing 6'11" wingspan. He's a solid athlete that will only become a better prospect with time. 

    The question becomes how patient Young is willing to be with his NBA future. 

A.J. Hammons, C, Purdue

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    We have reached the big man portion of the article and Purdue's A.J. Hammons is definitely big. The 21-year-old center is listed by DraftExpress.com at seven feet tall and nearly 280 pounds (although other sites have him between 250-260lbs). 

    The sophomore is currently averaging 10.8 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game for the Boilermakers. He's also shooting 51 percent from the field and 70 percent from the free-throw line. He has a 7'3" wingspan, which he uses to his advantage when protecting the rim or grabbing boards. 

    Although, Hammons isn't without his faults. DraftExpress.com called Hammons a "mediocre passer, at best" and said his fundamentals on defense are "overall quite poor". However, the site goes on to say that the big man possesses "excellent size, long arms, a strong frame, shot-blocking prowess, rebounding potential and a budding offensive game". 

    He's going to be a bit of a project, but the Rockets could afford to wait on his development with Dwight Howard in the fold. There aren't many big men in this draft with Hammons' size and his progress will only be helped by learning behind the best center in the NBA. 

Mitch McGary, F/C, Michigan

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    Michigan's Mitch McGary is another big man with some girth. The 21-year-old (who will be 22 in June) is listed at 6'10" and 255 pounds. Some will remember McGary's name from his run during the 2013 NCAA Tournament when he averaged 14.3 points and 10.8 rebounds in six contests. 

    This season, McGary didn't really capitalize on that momentum. He played in just eight games before his season was cut short by surgery on his lower back in January (h/t to ESPN's Jeff Goodman for the news). Before going down, the sophomore was contributing 9.5 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. 

    The back surgery is certainly a red flag that warrants monitoring should McGary decide to declare for the draft. If he does come out, he could be this year's Jared Sullinger: a potential double-double machine who dropped in the draft due to health concerns. 

    As with A.J. Hammons, the Rockets can afford to shelf McGary until his back is ready. They've carried Greg Smith as their third center all season while he dealt with knee issues that held him to just 11 appearances this year. 

    When healthy, McGary has the talent to be one of the better big men in this draft. DraftExpress.com ranks him No. 37 in their Top 100 and CBSSports' Gary Parrish has McGary at No. 30. However, the back issue and lack of ideal athleticism will probably cause him to fall, maybe even into the second round. 

    If he makes it to either of Houston's picks, the Rockets would be hard-pressed to find another big man with McGary's upside that late in the draft.