The Rockets will be looking to improve their roster to gear up for another playoff run next season. With the 25th and 42nd picks, Houston won't land a superstar, but it can still draft based on need. Especially with all of the talent in this draft class, GM Daryl Morey will be able to find someone who can provide an immediate impact.
Before looking at the prospects, let's determine the Rockets' areas of need. The starting five is probably set, but you never know for sure. Terrence Jones did a great job alongside Dwight Howard last season, but he was benched in the playoffs because LaMarcus Aldridge stole his lunch money.
Jones was replaced in the starting unit by big man Omer Asik, as Kevin McHale decided to use the twin tower lineup that failed to work early on in the season. Asik did a good job defending Aldridge, and Dwight's post game was working well enough for the offense to operate.
The question is whether the Rockets will use this lineup to start off next season. I think the starters will change on a game-to-game basis, depending on the opponent. Asik will start against teams with multiple dynamic big men, and Jones will get the nod against smaller teams.
With that sorted out, I still think the Rockets could improve their depth at the 4-spot with someone who can stretch the floor. There are a handful of big guys with some outside range that Houston should look out for.
The Rockets have three point guards right now, but the future is uncertain at that position. Jeremy Lin's contract expires after the 2014-15 season, Patrick Beverley may be better off the bench (if he can stay healthy) and it isn't clear if Isaiah Canaan has a particularly bright future. The fact of the matter is, none of these guys is a top-tier point guard, so the Rockets may want to keep their eye on some facilitators at the combine who can fill their greatest void.
Lastly, the Rockets just need some lights-out shooters. The Rockets jacked up the most threes in the league this season, but their average was in the middle of the pack. Houston must improve its long-range shooting, and the draft is a good place to start. An extra sniper on the bench alongside Troy Daniels could make this team lethal.
Other conspicuous needs would be any type of defense anywhere on the court at all, as well as an extra big man to help out Dwight and Omer if they get in serious foul trouble, like they did against Portland in the playoffs.
Without further ado, here are four realistic prospects the Rockets will be looking out for at this year's combine.
Adreian Payne, PF, Michigan St.
Payne had a solid senior campaign at Michigan State this past season. As opposed to the one-and-done freshmen phenomenons, Payne is an experienced 23-year-old who will be NBA-ready from the get-go.
At 6'10", Payne is most likely a power forward at the next level. He can do the necessary dirty work in the paint among the big men, but his best attribute as a big man is his outside jump shot.
Payne hit 42.3 percent of his shots from behind the arc, which is something that should immediately get Morey's attention. The Rockets love to shoot the three, and a big guy who can stretch the floor like that would be perfect in Houston's system.
Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman's mock draft has Houston taking Payne 25th overall.
Jarnell Stokes, PF, Tennessee
Stokes would be a good fit in Houston as that extra big man I talked about earlier. He may only be 6'8", but what he lacks in height he makes up for in explosiveness. His tenacity in the paint makes him a force to be reckoned with.
He may not have outside range like Payne, but he is a great finisher around the rim. NBADraft.net compares Stokes to DeJuan Blair. He is a high-energy player who can snag offensive rebounds and stand his ground in the post.
In Mike Chiari's mock draft for Bleacher Report, the Rockets are projected to snag Stokes at 25. He is a first-round type talent who could realistically drop due to the loaded talent in this year's class.
C.J. Wilcox, G, Washington
If the Rockets decide they are in fact headhunting for pure shooters, then look no further. Wilcox can light it up from downtown, which is exactly what Houston needs.
Wilcox played all four years for the Huskies, and he shot over 150 threes in each of those seasons. The sharpshooter hovered around 40 percent for his college career, and he can do the same in the NBA. With his quick release and ability to spot up, Wilcox could have a long NBA career wherever he winds up.
As B/R's Wasserman says, "Wilcox is really just one of those guys who's more comfortable from 27 feet away than he is from 10." Houston shoots a historically small number of mid-range jumpers, so it's almost like a match made in heaven.
DraftExpress.com has Wilcox going 45th overall in their mock draft. The Rockets could take him a few spots earlier at 42.
Patric Young, PF/C, Florida
Young was a big-time college player at a big-time program in Florida. He's a strong, physical presence inside with an impressive resume under his belt. He may be a bit short for his playing style at 6'9", but his width and strength help make up for his lack of size.
DraftExpress.com actually has Houston taking Young at 42nd overall. According to their scouting report, Young's profile is basically the same his senior year as it was during his freshman year, minus some of the potential. Has Young already reached his ceiling, or can he still improve his game?
Young was a dominant player in college, so he is certainly worth a second-round pick if you're the Houston Rockets. He can be that extra body off the bench that can body up in the paint, and he will excel with the Rockets by grabbing a ton of boards and running in transition.
Keep an eye on this guy at the combine, because he will be playing with something to prove to NBA executives.
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